for this game

First-inning meltdown prevents Tigers from clinching home field

Oct 1, 2006 - 4:24 AM DETROIT (Ticker) -- The Detroit Tigers will have one more day to prove they are No. 1.

Zach Miner and Andrew Miller combined to surrender seven runs in the first inning and dropped a 9-6 decision to the lowly Kansas City Royals.

After Minnesota lost, 4-3, to the Chicago White Sox on Friday, Detroit (95-66) was just three outs away from reducing its magic number for clinching the American League Central Division to one.

But Kansas City, which had won just once in 15 games against the Tigers this season, scored a run in the ninth against closer Todd Jones and tacked on four more in the 11th to post a 9-7 victory.

Minnesota (95-66) suffered a 6-3 setback earlier Saturday, giving Detroit a chance to clinch the division. However, that opportunity evaporated nearly as fast as the Tigers' 10-game lead on August 7.

"This is good preparation for the playoffs," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We've been trying to give it to each other and neither one of us is taking it so far, but tomorrow it will be decided. "

Now Detroit needs a win on Sunday behind Jeremy Bonderman or a loss by Minnesota to secure home field in the AL Division Series. Since the Tigers won the season set, they would win the division crown should they finish even with the Twins.

"The nice part of it is if they win and we win, we're the champs. If we lose and they win, obviously they're the champs. This is what it's all about. Everybody knows I was accurate on one thing this year - I said it was going to go down to the wire."

Pitching in place of rookie sensation Justin Verlander, Miner was making his first start since August 18. The righthander allowed five runs and five hits and retired just one batter before being relieved.

"I knew I didn't have many innings," Miner said. "But I would have loved to go more than a third. Getting hit around like that sucks, but we've got Bondo (Bonderman) tomorrow and I think he's going to pitch great and we're going to win it, so this will just be a little hiccup on the road.

"Hopefully it won't make that big a difference." Miller, a first-round pick in 2006, surrendered two runs, two hits and two walks before escaping the disastrous inning.

Verlander had his last start skipped to keep him fresh for the postseason.

The Tigers got back three runs in the third and added single tallies in the fourth and fifth to close within 8-6 after six innings. But Jeff Keppinger provided an insurance run in the seventh, and relievers Todd Wellemeyer (1-2) and Jimmy Gobble kept the Tigers at bay.

"I'm not disappointed because so far we have a pretty good season," Tigers shortstop Carlos Guillen said. "It's going to be fun tomorrow; last game of the season, play hard tomorrow, win the division, have fun in the playoffs."

Wellemeyer allowed just a run and three hits in four innings before Gobble pitched a perfect ninth for his second save.

Joey Gathright started the first-inning battering for Kansas City with a double and capped it with a two-run single. Mike Sweeney, who hit his eighth homer in the first, finished with three hits and three RBI.

"We had a great first inning and then we just hung on," Royals interim manager Bill Doran said. "We knew they would come roaring back with that offense, so we were going to need every run we could get. We did enough to win, which is the important thing."

Matt Stairs had two hits and two RBI and Placido Polanco, Sean Casey and Magglio Ordonez added two hits apiece for Detroit, which stranded nine runners.

"It was a disappointing night," Casey said. "It's hard to come back from seven runs down, but we battled them hard. We all we be be up for tomorrow's game."

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