Detroit Tigers Win AL Central, 1st Division Title Since 1987
By JANIE McCAULEY, AP Baseball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Pitcher Phil Coke yelled through the victorious clubhouse looking for Jim Leyland.
His turn had arrived to douse Detroit’s manager with beer and champagne.
“Where’s the skipper?” Coke shouted amid the cigar smoke and showers.
Leyland had already tucked himself away in the quiet confines of his office, reflecting for a few minutes on all the milestones in the Tigers’ run to the AL Central title while also preparing for the next step: lining everything up just right for what he hopes is a deep October run.
Newcomer Doug Fister pitched the Tigers to the division title on Friday night, beating the Oakland Athletics 3-1 to secure Detroit’s first top finish in nearly a quarter-century.
“A bunch of ‘em nailed me, and they should,” Leyland said of being soaked. “I want them to spray me. What the hell?”
Detroit is headed to the playoffs for the first time since winning the AL wild card in 2006 and losing to St. Louis in the World Series. The Tigers (88-63) had not finished on top since winning the AL East in 1987, three years after their last World Series championship.
“It’s been pretty much magical this whole second half,” Coke said. “We’ve gone out every day and handled our business. We’re all hungry. We’re all ready for this.”
When Josh Willingham grounded out to third to end it, the victorious Tigers sprinted out of their dugout. Closer Jose Valverde pumped both arms, then turned as catcher Alex Avila jumped into his embrace.
Leyland stood some 10 feet from the pitcher’s mound and waited for a hug from each of his players.