Newcomers help Tigers stay atop AL Central
DETROIT (AP) David Price has been with the Detroit Tigers for about two months, Ian Kinsler for less than a year.
It was those two newcomers who helped deliver the team's fourth straight AL Central championship on the regular season's final day.
Price took a shutout into the eighth inning before giving way to the bullpen, and Kinsler contributed a homer and an RBI single to lift Detroit to a 3-0 win over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. The victory gave the Tigers the division by one game over Kansas City - and a spot in an AL division series against Baltimore.
''There's nothing like celebrating a championship,'' Kinsler said. ''You work so hard during the offseason - every single guy in here committed to the championship - to have it come true is a great feeling.''
After reaching the AL championship series the last three years, and winning the pennant in 2012, Detroit came into spring training with a slightly different cast. Manager Jim Leyland had stepped down and was replaced by Brad Ausmus, and right-hander Doug Fister had been traded to Washington. The Tigers were also part of an offseason blockbuster when they dealt Prince Fielder to Texas for Kinsler.
Even after Detroit pulled off another major trade at the deadline - acquiring Price from Tampa Bay - the race for the division title was tight down the stretch. With Kansas City still within striking distance Sunday, Price took the mound and allowed only four hits in 7 1-3 innings, striking out eight.
Then Joe Nathan - the most maligned of Detroit's newcomers - pitched a perfect ninth for his 35th save.
''The only thing I can keep doing to help this city, to help this team, to help myself, was keep fighting and know I was going to get better,'' said Nathan, who struggled through the regular season after signing with the Tigers as a free agent. ''I continue to thank everybody for their support. ... A challenging year, but I'm so happy to be where we are.''
The Tigers wrapped up at least a wild card during the final week, but the division came down to the wire after Minnesota pounded Detroit pitching for 23 runs over two games Friday and Saturday. Ausmus' team knew another loss could lead to a one-game playoff with the Royals on Monday for the division title.
But Sunday's victory allowed the rookie manager and his players to celebrate in a jubilant clubhouse.
''It probably feels a little bit better than I thought it would feel,'' Ausmus said. ''I think partially because of going through the ups and downs, and I think partially - as a manager, you're responsible for everybody. As a player, you're not.''
Detroit started the season 27-12, but the Tigers fell back to the pack just as quickly. There were exasperating moments, to be sure, but Detroit seemed to play well when it needed to - especially against the challengers from Kansas City. The Tigers went 13-6 against the Royals.
''We've got a bunch of guys that just stay calm at all times,'' outfielder Torii Hunter said. ''Once we get on the field, we try to take care of business, and we try to be professionals and get the job done.''
The Tigers have not won the World Series since 1984. Last season looked like one of their best chances to end that drought, but a six-game loss to Boston in the ALCS dashed Detroit's hopes.
Sunday's win gives the Tigers a bit of a breather before heading to Baltimore for Thursday's ALDS opener.
''You always want that chance,'' Hunter said. ''Last year, we did what we had to do, and this year we did what we had to do.''