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Tigers top Twins, 2-1, close in on Central title

By Joe Christensen, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –

MINNEAPOLIS — Every time Fernando Rodney finishes off a win for Tampa Bay, he pretends to shoot a bow and arrow into the sky, a gesture his former Tigers teammates couldn’t wait to see this weekend, with the Rays playing the White Sox.

“You can tell Fernando Rodney that if he shoots that (arrow) three times in the next three days, I’ll be his cupid forever,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Friday.

On Sunday, the Tigers used a two-run, eighth-inning home run from Prince Fielder to defeat the Twins 2-1 at Target Field, and watched from their clubhouse televisions as Rodney closed out a 6-2 victory over Chicago.

Shouts echoed through the Tigers clubhouse, as this gave Detroit a three-game lead over the White Sox with three games remaining. The Tigers can clinch their second consecutive American League Central title by winning one of three games in Kansas City this week, or with one loss by the White Sox in Cleveland.

“We’re not all the way happy yet,” Fielder said.

No, but the worst they can do now is tie Chicago, which would mean a one-game tiebreaker on Thursday in Detroit.

The last-place Twins gave the Tigers a fight, sweeping a doubleheader in Detroit on Sept. 23, winning Friday behind Scott Diamond, and then taking a 1-0 lead into the eighth inning Sunday.

Rookie righthander Liam Hendriks, who is 1-8 with a 5.59 ERA, held the Tigers to five hits over seven shutout innings.

“That was a big performance his last start of the year,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’m sure he’ll breathe a little bit easier.”

Even though he has just one victory in 20 major league starts, Hendriks can reflect on Sunday’s outing, along with his 1-0 complete-game loss to Felix Hernandez and the Mariners on Aug. 27, as proof that he can handle big league pressure.

“I’d like more than one win, but I’m glad I got the first one out of the way,” said Hendriks, who defeated Cleveland on Sept. 19. “Now I can look forward to next year and move forward.”

This was almost win No. 2 for Hendriks. Pedro Florimon’s RBI single off Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez broke a scoreless tie in the seventh inning. Jared Burton, who had a 0.74 ERA in his previous 37 appearances, entered for the eighth inning and gave up a leadoff single to Austin Jackson.

After Miguel Cabrera lined to shortstop for the second out, Fielder lined a first-pitch fastball for an opposite-field homer to left.

Cabrera might be fighting to become baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in 45 years, but the guy hitting behind him now has 30 home runs and 108 RBI.

“The attention’s supposed to be on (Cabrera) — all of it,” Fielder said. “This is his team. I just want to come and help and be a part of it.”

The Twins, who close the season with three games in Toronto, finished 31-50 at home, drawing 2,776,354 fans, after drawing at least 3.1 million their first two years at Target Field.

“We haven’t won enough games for our fans,” Gardenhire said. “They deserve wins, and all I can say is these guys put it out there. They tried. They were really getting after it again today.”

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