Cabrera's big night helps Tigers clinch Central

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Cabrera's big night helps Tigers clinch Central

From Comcast SportsNet

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- There could have been some infighting when the Detroit Tigers were languishing below .500 midway through the season, or even when they trailed the Chicago White Sox deep into September.

This was the team, after all, that won the AL Central last year, and was only supposed to get better with the signing of Prince Fielder. But the lofty expectations out of spring training had been long forgotten by everyone outside the clubhouse, the season so often close to being written off.

Then the White Sox started to falter, the Tigers finally started to play defense, and all the pieces came together for a joyous ride that ended in a raucous celebration Monday night.

The Tigers, paced by MVP front-runner Miguel Cabrera, beat the Kansas City Royals 6-3 to clinch back-to-back division titles for the first time since the 1934-35 seasons.

"It was a rocky road, it was a tough season, but in this business, you have to be able to take some hits," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "This isn't a place for the faint-hearted, hell, we took a lot of punches, a lot of them justified, some of them maybe not, but hey, we can take a punch."

They're just as likely to come out swinging, too.

Cabrera had four hits on the night, including a homer during a decisive five-run sixth inning, to prop up his chances of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since 1967.

Gerald Laird added a bases-loaded double, Rick Porcello (10-12) pitched shutout ball into the sixth inning and Jhonny Peralta went deep off Bruce Chen (11-14) to give the Tigers a big lead.

After hanging over the dugout railing the entire ninth inning, they streamed onto the field behind the pitchers' mound to celebrate their division title the moment Jose Valverde got Alcides Escobar to ground out to shortstop with a runner on second for his 35th save in 40 chances.

"We always knew it wasn't going to be easy, and the guys handled it great," Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "This is the first step. We want to go a couple more, too."

The Tigers were even mindful of their victory celebration, choosing Fre Brut -- an alcohol-removed sparkling wine -- in deference to Cabrera, who's had alcohol abuse problems.

"It feels really good," Fielder said. "I mean, it wasn't easy, but we got it done."

The Tigers (87-73) will have the worst record among AL division champions, which means they'll open the playoffs Saturday at home against the division winner with the second-best mark.

Not that when and where matters much to Leyland's bunch.

They're just glad to be back in the playoffs.

"You've got to take your hat off to them. They're the champs," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "They've got the starting pitching, the power, a great bullpen. They've got a chance to go deep."

It hasn't just been Cabrera, either. Justin Verlander is closing in another Cy Young Award, right-hander Anibal Sanchez has been terrific down the stretch, and Fielder has delivered everything that Detroit had hoped for when they signed him, including four more hits Monday night.

"You get that kind of momentum, usually it ends up very good," said team owner Mike Ilitch, who has spent a lot of money to chase the Tigers' first World Series title since 1984.

The Tigers clung to a 1-0 lead, provided by Peralta's homer, until their big sixth inning.

Cabrera broke a tie with the Rangers' Josh Hamilton for the major league lead in homers with his 44th, a solo shot to right, and two fielding mistakes by David Lough in center led to another run.

Laird's bases-loaded double knocked Chen from the game, and effectively knocked the White Sox out of the playoffs, though they didn't do much to help themselves down the stretch.

Chicago beat the Indians 11-0 earlier in the night for just its third win in 13 games.

Meanwhile, the Tigers have won seven of their last eight as they surged to the division crown, including five straight against the Royals, who have dropped eight of their last nine.

Porcello kept the Royals off the scoreboard until the sixth, when Alex Gordon's homer to right field finally gave Kansas City some life. Leyland wasted no time lifting his right-hander, who'd done enough to end a string of six straight losses and pick up his first victory in nine starts.

Cabrera had singles in the fourth, seventh and ninth in addition to his homer in the sixth, pushing his AL-leading batting average to .329, ahead of the Angels' Mike Trout and the Twins' Joe Mauer. Cabrera also moved his RBI total to 137, by far the best in the majors.

Cabrera was only part of the party Monday night, though, slapping backs and exchanging high-fives with the rest of his teammates as Detroit locked up its place in the postseason.

He could be the center of the celebration when the regular season ends Wednesday night.

"I don't know what else to say," Leyland said. "If he's not the MVP then there's no such thing."

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

Haggerty: Rask puts up, makes critics shut up

BOSTON -- The decision to sit out Saturday night's game against the Islanders, for whatever issue needed healing, worked wonders for Tuukka Rask.

Rask looked fresh, strong and determined while stopping 24 of 25 shots in a 4-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday night, and, at the very least, temporarily quieting talk of his missing Saturday's win over the Islanders because of a lower-body injury that wasn't disclosed until the day of the game. It also snapped his personal four-game losing streak, in which Rask had allowed 15 goals on 95 shots (an .842 save percentage) and hit rock bottom while surrendering a couple of damaging soft goals in last week's loss to the Lightning.

After watching Anton Khudobin battle, brawl and double-pad-stack his way to a huge win in Brooklyn on Saturday, Rask played with his own battling style Tuesday, fighting through Nashville attackers as he limited the the Preds to one goal.

"I loved [his battle]," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "He really worked hard to find pucks in traffic. They created some good opportunities, and even the goal against, he found it. They just tipped it at eye level so it was going to be a tough one, and we need to be better in the shooting lane on that one.

"But I thought he was terrific, very pleased with his performance. If you've got to track pucks, you've got to find pucks and you've got to fight through bodies, and he did a real good job with it.

"I thought we played well in front of him, but when we broke down it seemed to be in those areas where we couldn't break the puck up below our goal line. [There were] lot of bodies, a lot of point shots. This is the type of team, [Ryan] Ellis, [P.K.] Subban, [Roman] Josi, they rely on that part of the game and traffic. It was going to be a test for [the defense] there. I thought [Rask] answered the bell and in a terrific manner."

There were no two ways about it, Rask was truly excellent in a game where he had to be.

He made a save in the second period on Viktor Arvidsson when a David Backes turnover at the half-wall gave Arvidsson a wide open look at the net, and made 9 of his 24 saves in the third period as the Predators ramped up the desperation once Craig Smith had broken through on a tipped Josi shot. He also was the beneficiary of 24 blocked shots from the defenders in front of him. Adam McQuaid had five of the blocks all by himself,  absorbing all kinds of bumps and bruises in the process.

It was clear that the Bruins, as a team, were in late-season urgency mode.

"Well, we needed [a win]," said Rask. "Personally, I mean, I've lost four games but played a couple good games there, and we just didn't get the bounces. But we kind of got in winning habits there in [Broooklyn] and me stepping in here, I just wanted to make sure that I gave us a chance to win. The guys did the rest. So, it was a great team effort today, I think. As I said before, we blocked a lot of shots, which is huge."

So does one solid performance mean everything is settled for the B's No. 1 netminder after sitting out last weekend?

It certainly goes a long way toward putting some distance between Rask and whatever lower-body injury popped up and then disappeared just as quickly, and it puts a bit more of an optimistic spin for the remainder of the season. Rask didn't actively listen to any of the criticism of the last couple of days, but he fully understands that it comes along with the territory of being the No. 1 goalie in a city that takes hockey seriously.

"I can't do anything about what people say," said Rask, who took a pretty good hit on a Predators drive to the net in the third period but kept right on trucking. "I'm not staying home because I want to say home. I'm not playing because I don't want to play. I don't think any athlete does that. Obviously what's happened where I missed a game [vs. Ottawa] last year, people are going to talk about it. That's just the nature of media people, and what they talk about. It's fine.

"[All you can do is] you try not to read any of it, you stay even-keeled and you play the game the right way."

But the bottom line is the Bruins need much more of what they saw from Rask on Tuesday -- determined, tough-minded, a strong No. 1 goalie -- in the final six games if they want to be a playoff team this year.

He played well enough in the first few months, carrying the Bruins through the early portion of the season, to make people forget about calling in sick against Ottawa in the final game of last season. That's to Rask's credit. But last weekend's action, or lack of it, brought some of those same nagging questions back. He needs to build on Tuesday's encouraging performance to continue instilling confidence that he's a big-time No. 1 goalie.

Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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Morning Wrap: Looking at C's potential first-round foes

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