Kansas City, Mo. In another season of lessons learned for the young Kansas City Royals, manager Ned Yost had no interest in letting his guys hang around to see how the Detroit Tigers celebrated an AL Central title.
“I want them to feel it,” Yost said, after a 6-3 loss to the Tigers wrapped up the division race. “They can witness it all they want, but I want them to feel it.”
As the old maxim goes, maybe next year.
Miguel Cabrera had four hits Monday night, including a homer during a five-run sixth inning, as he closes in on the first Triple Crown since 1967.
Gerald Laird added a bases-loaded double, Rick Porcello (10-12) pitched shutout ball into the sixth and Jhonny Peralta went deep off Bruce Chen (11-14) to help Detroit reach the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 1934-35.
“We wanted to win this game. That was our goal, to win this one,” Cabrera said. “We did it.”
After hanging over the dugout railing the entire ninth inning, the Tigers streamed onto the field and behind the pitchers’ mound to celebrate their accomplishment the moment Jose Valverde got Alcides Escobar to ground out to shortstop with a runner on second for his 35th save in 40 chances.
The Tigers (87-73) will have the worst record among AL division champions, which means they’ll open the playoffs Saturday at home against the division winner with the second-best mark.
Not that when and where matters much to Jim Leyland’s bunch.
They’re just glad to be back in the playoffs.
“It was a rocky road, it was a tough season, but in this business, you have to be able to take some hits,” Leyland said. “This isn’t a place for the faint-hearted. Hell, we took a lot of punches, a lot of them justified, some of them maybe not. But hey, we can take a punch.”
After winning the division by 15 games last season and signing Prince Fielder in the offseason, the Tigers entered spring training with lofty expectations. But they got off to a surprisingly slow start and were below .500 in early July. They were still well behind Chicago early last month.
The White Sox faltered, though, and the Tigers took advantage.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Fielder, who also had four hits, “but we got it done.”
The Royals began the season with similarly high aspirations, hoping this might be the year that they finally broke through.
But a lousy start combined with miserable starting pitching doomed them to another season spent watching other teams celebrating their accomplishments.
“It’s never fun for them to celebrate on your home field,” said Alex Gordon, whose homer gave the Royals a bit of life. “Maybe it will give some of the guys the motivation to do it themselves.”
The Royals certainly had chances Monday night.
They were trailing 1-0 in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with two outs. Escobar hit a hard grounder to second base, but Omar Infante ranged to his right and then made a nice glove-flip to Peralta covering the bag to end the inning.
That’s when the Tigers piled up their big inning.
Cabrera broke a tie with the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton for the major league lead in homers with his 44th, a solo shot to right, and two fielding mistakes by David Lough in center led to another run.
Laird’s bases-loaded double knocked Chen from the game, and effectively knocked the White Sox out of the playoffs, though they didn’t do much to help themselves down the stretch.
Chicago beat the Indians 11-0 earlier in the night for just its third win in 13 games.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have won seven of their past eight as they surged to the division crown, including five straight against the Royals, who have dropped eight of their past nine.
Rick Porcello kept the Royals off the scoreboard until the sixth, when Gordon’s homer to right field finally gave Kansas City some life.
Leyland wasted no time lifting his right-hander, who did enough to end a string of six straight losses and pick up his first victory in nine starts.
Cabrera had singles in the fourth, seventh and ninth in addition to his homer in the sixth, pushing his AL-leading average to .329, ahead of the Angels’ Mike Trout and the Twins’ Joe Mauer. Cabrera also moved his astonishing RBI total to 137, by far the best in the majors.
Cabrera was only part of the party Monday night, though, slapping backs and exchanging high-fives with the rest of his teammates as Detroit locked up its place in the postseason.
He could be the center of the celebration when the regular season ends Wednesday night.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime player,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “I talked to him and he said, ‘The Triple Crown is important, but it’s not the most important thing. I want to win a championship.’”
NOTES: The Royals celebrated the 20th anniversary of George Brett’s 3,000th hit, which occurred on Sept. 30, 1992. ... RHP Doug Fister will start for Detroit on Tuesday night against RHP Jeremy Guthrie of the Royals. ... Royals 1B Eric Hosmer and 3B Mike Moustakas could miss the final two games of the season. Hosmer has a strained right shoulder and Moustakas has a groin injury.