The nonalcoholic sparkling wine flew in every direction Wednesday in the visitors clubhouse at Target Field. Then Torii Hunter looked around and realized something was missing.
“I’m gonna go get Skip,” Hunter said.
Hunter headed for the manager’s office, picked up Jim Leyland and carried him into the clubhouse. “I’ve got Skip!” he yelled, and several teammates roared as they drenched their 68-year-old leader. Leyland, who won his 700th game with the Tigers on Wednesday, hopped around for a few seconds then bounced out of the clubhouse as the celebration continued.
Detroit grinded out a 1-0 victory over the Twins to lower their magic number to zero. They won the AL Central Division for the third consecutive season, the first time a Tigers team has done that since 1907-09. Righthander Max Scherzer, the first pitcher to win 20 games, improved to 21-3 behind seven strong innings. He walked a season-high six but struck out 10.
The Twins got two hits off Scherzer. One was Chris Parmelee’s slow roller toward third base in the fourth inning that Scherzer fielded but had no play on, the other a Pedro Florimon grounder in the fifth that kicked off Omar Infante’s glove at second.
Two infield hits.
“He was tough,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He had great pitches.”
Scherzer is part of a Tigers starting rotation that has dominated the Twins at times while winning 11 of 19 games of the season series. Justin Verlander struck out 12 batters Monday in a game the Twins came back to win against Detroit’s bullpen. Anibal Sanchez nearly no-hit them on May 24 at Comerica Park.
Scherzer needed a visit from pitching coach Jeff Jones in the first inning after he walked Brian Dozier and he took second on a wild pitch. Scherzer made it through that inning, then took off. He struck out the side in the second and had 10 strikeouts by the end of the sixth, with Twins hitters having no chance against his fastballs darting between 94 and 96 miles per hour.
Twins batters — the “Sultans of Swish” — already have set a team record for strikeouts in a season and just keep adding on. With 1,382 strikeouts, the Twins moved into fifth place on baseball’s single-season records list.
With Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello, the Tigers have a rotation to get them deep into the postseason.
“That’s their bread and butter,” Gardenhire said. “Their offense is good, they’ve got the big boys. [But] playoff baseball is all about starting pitching.”
Hunter told the story of how he called General Manager Dave Dombrowski during the offseason and told him he wanted to play for the Tigers. He liked the roster, from the rotation to the daily lineup — and liked that there was an opening in right field. Hunter, 38, drove in the game’s only run with a first-inning single, and now is headed to his seventh postseason.
“This is what I anticipated,” Hunter said.
A couple teammates then walked by with cigars.
“Hey!” Hunter yelled again. “Give me one of those!”