DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Max Scherzer earned his 21st win and the Detroit Tigers clinched their third straight AL Central title, beating the Minnesota Twins 1-0 on Wednesday night.
Torii Hunter’s single followed a leadoff triple by Austin Jackson in the first inning, and that was all Scherzer (21-3) and manager Jim Leyland’s Tigers needed to start the party.
Scherzer gave up two singles in seven innings. Jose Veras and Drew Smyly teamed up for the eighth and Joaquin Benoit worked the ninth for his 24th save in 25 tries.
A few dozen Tigers fans in attendance at Target Field cheered from their seats while Miguel Cabrera and his teammates mobbed Benoit in front of the mound after he struck out Josh Willingham to end the game.
The celebration picked up even more in the clubhouse, where the Tigers sprayed bubbly.
Scherzer spun one more solid start for the AL Cy Young Award voters to consider, except for the season-high six walks and 123 pitches. He struck out 10 and lowered his ERA to 2.90, ensuring he’ll finish the season with the most wins in the major leagues. Jordan Zimmermann, the next closest, has 19 for Washington.
Second-place Cleveland beat the Chicago White Sox, but the Tigers maintained their 4½-game edge. The Indians control the second AL wild-card spot.
Kevin Correia (9-13) did his best to give the Twins a chance, giving up seven hits and one run over seven innings to finish his first season with the Twins with a 4.18 ERA. He leads the team in wins, starts, innings and strikeouts.
The Twins beat the Tigers in an epic 163rd game to decide the division title in 2009. Now, the Twins are barely a shell of that team while the Tigers have taken off.
The clear favorites to win the Central again after getting swept by San Francisco in last year’s World Series appearance, the Tigers haven’t had a losing month this season. They tightened their grip on the division with a 12-game winning streak shortly after the All-Star break.
Cabrera has followed his Triple Crown season with another spectacular year despite persistent midsection injuries. The supporting cast of Prince Fielder, Omar Infante, Jackson and Hunter has helped Detroit stay one of baseball’s best-hitting teams.
The rotation has been even better. Anibal Sanchez and Scherzer have turned star right-hander Justin Verlander into an afterthought at times, and Doug Fister and Rick Porcello are two of the best fourth and fifth starters around. The bullpen, shaky at the start, has been more stable with Benoit as the closer.
Now it’s on to the postseason, where the Tigers have had some success under Leyland but still fallen short of the ultimate goal, the team’s first World Series title since 1984. They were American League champions in 2006 and runners-up in 2011.
It’s still too early to tell which team the Tigers will play in the division series.
Scherzer struck out four straight in one stretch. The first hit, by Chris Parmelee in the fourth inning, was a slow roller that didn’t reach third base. Scherzer snagged it but had no play, grimacing about the blemish on the scoreboard. He retired the next batter on an infield popup.
Then in the fifth after a single and a walk with one out, Scherzer went to a 3-1 count against Brian Dozier, who has quietly become perhaps this depleted Twins team’s best hitters with Justin Morneau now in Pittsburgh and Joe Mauer recovering from a concussion.
Scherzer struck out Dozier on a mid-80s mph slider and watched catcher Alex Avila fire a perfect throw to third base that caught Alex Presley stealing. Scherzer pumped his arm as he walked off the mound.
With Phil Coke and Bruce Rondon out because of elbow soreness and Al Alburquerque unavailable because of fatigue, the Tigers needed a long start from Scherzer.
“Minimum of nine,” Leyland said half-jokingly before the game, realizing Scherzer has never pitched a major league complete game.
NOTES: Leyland said he hopes SS Jose Iglesias (left hand) will play Friday in Miami, where Porcello (13-8, 4.38 ERA) will pitch against RHP Tom Koehler (4-10, 4.45 ERA). … With the Tigers losing their DH for the weekend, Victor Martinez could catch some and give Fielder a few innings off at 1B, Leyland said. … Twins RHP Mike Pelfrey won’t pitch again this season, finishing with a 5-13 record and 5.19 ERA in 29 starts after Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his elbow. … Twins OF Oswaldo Arcia had a precautionary MRI test on his sore right knee that showed no structural damage. They’d like him to play this weekend. … The Twins will send LHP Andrew Albers (2-4, 3.98 ERA) to the mound on Thursday night, with RHP Zach McAllister (9-9, 3.88 ERA) pitching for the Indians.
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