KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – The Detroit Tigers had a 220-bottle champagne celebration Sunday and they hope to have even a bigger one later this week.
The Tigers fought off their late-season slump and clinched their first playoff berth since 1987, scoring nine runs in the second inning Sunday and coasting to an 11-4 win over the Kansas City Royals.
“I’ve been waiting for this,” said Brandon Inge, who was given a champagne shampoo by teammates. “You don’t think about this in spring training, and then something like this happens.”
Enjoying a turnaround season under new manager Jim Leyland, Detroit assured itself of no-worse than the AL wild-card berth and headed into the final week of the season with a 1 1/2-game lead in the AL Central. The Tigers, who regained the best record in the major leagues at 94-62, went ahead early for the second straight day, following up on Saturday’s 10-run first.
“We want to send a message that we’re not happy just going to the playoffs,” Tigers closer Todd Jones said. “We are trying to win our division.”
Craig Monroe hit a three-run homer that gave Justin Verlander (17-9) an 8-0 lead and chased starter Runelvys Hernandez (6-10). Inge then homered on Todd Wellemeyer’s first pitch.
Detroit’s last trip to the postseason was 19 years ago, when the Tigers won the AL East and lost to Minnesota 4-1 in the AL championship series.
“It is really overwhelming,” said Tigers owner Michael Ilitch, who bought the team in 1992. “It is probably one of the highlights of my life. In the final outs, we were all holding our breath. After the final out, I did a lot of hugging. We had a bump in the road in late August, but that can be expected over a 162-game season. I never felt like it is not going to happen, but was concerned.”
Detroit spurted at the start of this season, taking sole possession of the division lead on May 21 and staying in first place ever since. The Tigers opened a season-high 10-game margin on Aug. 7, when they were a major league-best 76-36, but then went 15-26 before arriving at Kansas City for the weekend series with their division lead down to a half-game over second-place Minnesota
“The Tigers are solid all the way through,” Royals interim manager Billy Doran said. “They don’t have any holes. People who play them in the playoffs are going to have their hands full.”