DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers’ once-cozy cushion in the AL Central is long gone.
If things do not go Detroit’s way on the final scheduled day, its season will be over.
The Tigers dropped into a first-place tie with Minnesota, looking listless Saturday night in a 5-1 loss to Freddy Garcia and the Chicago White Sox.
Detroit is in danger of becoming the only team in baseball history to be in first place on May 10 and stay atop a division until losing the title in the last week.
The Tigers had been alone in first place since play ended July 24 and had a seven-game lead less than a month ago. Minnesota hasn’t been in first — alone or tied — since May 14.
“If we don’t win, shame on us,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said hours before gametime.
Then, the Twins beat Kansas City 5-4 and their 85-76 record now equals Detroit’s in the race for the only playoff spot a team from the division will earn.
“We’ve played 161 games and it’s amazing to see it come down to one day like this,” Detroit catcher Gerald Laird said. “If you’re not nervous, why are you even here?”
The Tigers allowed a season-high six stolen bases, and lost for the fifth time in seven games.
If the Tigers and Twins are still tied at the end of the Sunday, there will be a one-game playoff Tuesday at the Metrodome and Leyland said he would start rookie Rick Porcello if that game is necessary.
Garcia said the Tigers — who have lost three straight and six of nine — are playing uptight.
“They got to play more relaxed,” said Garcia, who played for the Tigers last season. “If you can’t relax in a situation like this, you’re not going to make anything happen.”
Leyland has encouraged his team to enjoy its pressure-packed games, but suggested another tact might work better.
“I hope they get tight,” Leyland said. “Maybe if they tense up, they’ll do better.”
Detroit will start ace Justin Verlander (18-9) against John Danks (13-10) on Sunday.
“You always feel good with Justin pitching, but we have to score some runs,” Leyland said.
Detroit star Miguel Cabrera was hitless in four at-bats with runners on base and the light-hitting team simply could not overcome his lack of production.
Placido Polanco’s RBI single pulled Detroit within three runs in the eighth, ending a 17-inning scoreless streak. But two on and no outs, Magglio Ordonez lined out and Cabrera hit into an inning-ending double play.
“You want your big boys to step it up,” Leyland said.
Leyland made two pitching changes in the second inning, but Detroit’s bats were a bigger problem than its arms.
Garcia (3-4) gave up one run, six hits and struck out seven in seven-plus innings.
“Freddy always kicks it up a notch in big games,” Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. “Even if this wasn’t big for us, it was big for baseball.”
The Tigers used three pitchers in the first two innings and six total.
Alfredo Figaro (2-2) made the third start of his career — first since June 27 — and got just four outs. He gave up two runs on three hits and two walks over just 1 1-3 innings.
“I don’t know how tough he is,” Guillen said. “But that was one of their biggest games in years and they had to throw him out there.”
Carlos Quentin hit a leadoff homer in the Chicago second.
Notes: Garcia pitched at least seven innings and allowed one or fewer runs for the first time since 2006. ... Ordonez extended his hitting streak to 11 games and since Sept. 1, he has an AL-best .416 batting average. ... Quentin has hit homers in four straight games vs. Detroit. ... Polanco’s 72nd RBI extended his career high. ... Chicago combined to pitch 27 straight scoreless innings until Detroit scored in the eighth. ... Cabrera had an abrasion on his left cheek, but Leyland said he didn’t know the first baseman had a cut on his face. ... The six steals were the most allowed by Detroit since 2003.
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