OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – Away from the madness of a cigar party for a moment, Jim Leyland nearly cried.
For everybody who figured there was no way he would manage the Tigers beyond this season, for all those who couldn’t envision a comeback after Detroit fell behind by eight games in early May, Leyland sat in his office puffing on his own celebratory stogie, a black “2011 MLB Playoffs” hat on his head.
Detroit is AL Central champion.
Newcomer Doug Fister pitched the Tigers to the division title on Friday night, beating the Oakland Athletics 3-1 to secure a first-place finish for Detroit for the first time in nearly a quarter-century.
Fister (9-13) retired 17 straight during one stretch to win his third straight start and fifth consecutive decision, and Wilson Betemit hit a go-ahead triple off Trevor Cahill (11-14) in the sixth. Don Kelly had a solo homer in the seventh after an earlier RBI single.
“We were seven games behind the Cleveland Indians at one point and people weren’t really talking about us at all,” Leyland said. “They deserved it. They worked hard. They stuck together. There are special moments you can’t put a price tag on and you just enjoy them. I’m an emotional guy, we all know that.”
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,” reliever Phil Coke said. “We’ve gone out every day and handled our business. We’re all hungry. We’re all ready for this.
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(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)