Victory seals Tigers' third straight AL Central title

Victory seals Tigers' third straight AL Central title

Published Sep. 25, 2013 10:34 p.m. ET

More than a century has passed since the Detroit Tigers celebrated a three-peat.

They did it in style Wednesday night, after beating the Minnesota Twins, 1-0, to claim a third consecutive American League Central Division crown.

It's been 104 years since the Tigers made the playoffs in three straight seasons. Those Tigers (1907-09) won the American League pennant each year, then went on to lose World Series.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland got choked up when FOX Sports Detroit’s Mario Impemba -- in a one-on-one interview in the manager’s Target Field office -- asked him about the significance of that.

“This was a tough year for the guys,” Leyland said with tears streaming down his cheeks. “Expectations were so high. It was almost set up for us to fail.”

Leyland then repeated that message to his players: “Don’t get caught up in the expectations. Get caught up in how we are going to live up to those expectations.”

Leyland, his voice still cracking, thanked the fans for their support after what was also his 700th victory in Detroit.

At that very instant, Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter -- wearing a division championship T-shirt soaked in non-alcoholic grape juice -- bolted into the manager’s office. He put his arms around Leyland, picked him up and carried him like a sack of potatoes into the middle of the celebration.

Players poured the bubbly on Leyland, who broke into an impromptu dance that was part Chubby Checker and part Michael Jackson -- some kind of twist-moonwalk combo.

Leyland sang in a band while in high school and gave those watching a rare look at another side he has. He can be a handful of contradictions: gruff and stubborn but then sappy and sentimental.

The skipper enjoyed the celebration for a brief time and then returned to his office to thank everyone in the organization, from owner Mike Ilitch all the way down to the interns.

Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski was asked about the significance of three consecutive division championships by FOX Sports Detroit’s John Keating.

“Well, it’s huge for me,” Dombrowski said. “But it’s huge for the organization. We want to add a few more steps, but it’s great for everyone involved.”

The Tigers, who last won a World Series in 1984, got swept by the San Francisco Giants in last year’s Series.

Hunter -- who drove in the game’s only run, with a first-inning single -- led the team in something that closely resembled a Samoan war chant on the field after the final out and then in the clubhouse.

Inside the clubhouse, Hunter started the celebration by stating, “We still got work to do! But right now, we’re going to enjoy this.”

Max Scherzer -- before having one of the funniest celebration reactions -- threw seven shutout innings despite struggling with his control. He managed to blank the Twins by not allowing a hit until Chris Parmelee’s infield single with two outs in the fourth. That put two on, but Scherzer got Chris Herrmann to pop out.

Minnesota’s best chance to score came in the fifth, when they had runners on first and second with one out. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire put the runners in motion with dangerous Brian Dozier batting, but he struck out swinging, then catcher Alex Avila threw out Pedro Florimon on a close play to complete the double play.

“It was my worst best start of the year,” said Scherzer, who gave up only two infield hits but a season-high six walks.

Drew Smyly got two big outs in the eighth inning after Jose Veras allowed a one-out infield single to Trevor Plouffe.

Joaquin Benoit finished it off for his 24th save with a 1-2-3 ninth inning, getting Josh Willingham to strike out swinging to set off the celebration.

Before settling down for his postgame TV interview, Scherzer -- who wore goggles with a blue and brown lens to match his different-colored eyes -- whooped and danced while his teammates doused him.

His next start will, most likely, be in the first game of the ALDS against either the Oakland A’s (94-65) or Boston Red Sox (96-63), whichever finishes with the second-best record. The team with the best record will host the wild-card game winner.

The Tigers (93-66) must finish a game ahead of the A’s -- who own the tie-breaker by virtue of taking the season series between the teams -- to get home-field advantage.

Scherzer finished 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and a career-high 240 strikeouts and 214 1/3 innings. His .875 winning percentage is the highest in 113 years of Tigers baseball.

“Wild” Bill Donovan of the 1907 Tigers, who began that stretch of three straight trips to the World Series, had held that record for nearly 100 years with an .862 percentage and 25-4 record.

The Tigers wore “WE OWN THE CENTRAL” T-shirts but now begin the quest to possess much more than that.

“This is our third one,” left fielder Andy Dirks said. “And the third time’s a charm. Our goal is to win the World Series.”

Hunter added: “Ten wins, that’s what we are trying to get -- 10 more.”

Should they get those 10 wins, you can only imagine what Leyland’s reaction might be.