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Tigers lose, surrender sole possession of first place

Sep 21, 2006 - 11:12 PM BALTIMORE (Ticker) -- For the first time in four months, the Detroit Tigers did not have sole possession of first place. But it lasted just a few hours.

The Tigers blew an early three-run lead, squandered a huge opportunity in the fifth inning and watched reliever Fernando Rodney falter in a 4-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

"We didn't break it open and we didn't hold it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "There are no excuses here. We lost it straight."

Detroit (91-62) had held sole possession of the top spot in the American League Central Division since May 19. However, the Tigers have lost 26 of their last 41 games and were caught by the hard-charging Minnesota Twins, if only for a short time. Minnesota lost to Boston, 6-0, Thursday night.

"Every game right now is very important to us," Rodney said. "We got two very good teams behind us that are playing really well. You have to keep playing very well right now and keep going."

"The key is getting to the playoffs," catcher Vance Wilson said. "Obviously the ultimate goal is to win your division. You think about the playoffs and what history has shown it doesn't matter if you're (the) wild card or win your division. Anybody can win once you make the playoffs and it is the hottest team. The biggest thing is we want to play good baseball this last week."

Still virtually assured of a postseason berth, the Tigers took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the eighth inning and handed the ball to Rodney (7-4), who surrendered a single to pinch hitter Brian Roberts and hit David Newhan with a pitch.

"Rodney was a little erratic today," Wilson said. "His ball was up."

Chris Gomez, who earlier extended his hitting streak to 14 games, fouled out trying to bunt, bringing up Melvin Mora, who was mired in a 3-for-27 slump and took two quick strikes.

Mora battled Rodney, fouling off a handful of pitches and working the count to 2-2. On the next pitch, the runners executed a double steal as Rodney fired a pitch in the dirt. On the 10th pitch of the at-bat, Mora stung a double inside the third base line, scoring both runners to give the Orioles the lead.

"To face any of those guys in the bullpen is tough," Mora said. "They have one of the best bullpens in baseball. They all throw 95-over. Rodney with that nasty changeup, I was just trying to put the ball up the middle and stay behind it."

Baltimore left 12 runners on base, including the bases loaded in the third, fifth and seventh innings.

The hit made a winner of starter Kris Benson (11-11), who overcame a rough start. He gave up three runs, eight hits and two walks in eight innings, striking out four.

"It definitely feels nice, it is a long time coming as far as being in a late-inning game and getting a W out of it," Benson said. "It is nice to continue to finish up strong."

In the ninth, Chris Ray worked around a walk with two strikeouts for his 33rd save.

Detroit starter Nate Robertson allowed two runs, five hits and five walks in six innings, striking out five. The lefthander was coming off eight scoreless innings in a win over Baltimore on Saturday.

"He did a good job," Leyland said. "He have us a chance to win. He did his job."

The Tigers wasted no time jumping on Benson. Curtis Granderson led off with a double and scored one out later on Magglio Ordonez's 24th homer. In the third, Granderson led off with his 16th homer.

The Orioles got to Robertson in the fourth. Miguel Tejada led off with a single, Ramon Hernandez walked and Kevin Millar belted an RBI double off the right field wall. One batter later, Fernando Tatis lifted a sacrifice fly.

Detroit wasted a golden chance in the fifth. Wilson singled, Granderson walked and Alexis Gomez bunted for a hit to load the bases. But Sean Casey lined out, Ordonez fouled out and Carlos Guillen grounded out.

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