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Tigers must wait to celebrate after Twins rally late

Verlander fans 12 over six in no-decision, but bullpen opens the door

MINNEAPOLIS -- All that was lost on Monday was an opportunity. Still, what an opportunity it was.

In the end, there was very little difference in the visitors' clubhouse at Target Field on Monday night after Brian Dozier's game-tying homer in the ninth and game-winning run in the 11th sent the Tigers to a 4-3 loss. All that was left was a bullpen to piece together and a third baseman to keep upright for another chance to clinch on Tuesday.

"This is not going to change. We've got to win two games somehow," manager Jim Leyland said. "The math doesn't change. It changes if you win a game. So somehow we have to win two games."

One win or a Texas loss clinches no worse than an American League Wild Card spot and a tie atop the AL Central. Two wins or two Cleveland losses, or one of each, clinch Detroit's third consecutive division crown.

But the Tigers weren't going to be celebrating even if they had clinched a postseason berth on Monday. They have bigger goals in mind, so there were no champagne bottles to stash away, no cigars to put in a closet after four unanswered Twins runs.

All they had to put away was this game, tough as that might be.

"Obviously, it's tough. We're sitting here knocking on the door, and every win counts," said Justin Verlander, whose six shutout innings and 12 strikeouts went unrewarded. "It's a tough pill to swallow, but that's the lovely thing about baseball. We come out here tomorrow and we have another day, another crack at a win."

Verlander, meanwhile, will start preparing for his final start, in Sunday's season finale at Miami. If he can bring back the curveball and slider he threw at Twins batters on Monday, he'll have some momentum heading into the postseason.

If the postseason is still a question by then, they're in trouble.

By then the Tigers hope to have their bullpen in order for the postseason as well. With hard-throwing rookie reliever Bruce Rondon cleared to pitch as soon as Tuesday, they have a key piece whose absence was clearly felt when the Twins rallied on Monday. With Phil Coke cleared as well, they'll have a little more left-handed depth if he can regain the finish on his pitches.

The Tigers used six relievers on Monday, four to get through the eighth. The Twins' comeback didn't come close to the six-run rally the Tigers enjoyed on Saturday, but they erased what had been a three-run deficit at the seventh-inning stretch. Back-to-back RBI doubles by Eduardo Escobar and Ryan Doumit off Jose Veras put the tying run on second base in the eighth inning, prompting Leyland to turn to Joaquin Benoit for a potential five-out save.

Benoit, 22-for-22 in save chances entering the night, got the outs he needed to end the eighth. Once he came back out for the ninth, however, he paid for a 94-mph fastball that Dozier jumped on for a drive to left-center to tie the score at 3.

"My plan is to hit the ball hard. Whether it gets out or not depends on where I make contact with the baseball," Dozier said. "But I put a good swing on it, and he left it in the zone."

It was the just the fifth home run all year off Benoit, who allowed 14 last season, and it ended his perfect mark since taking over closer duties from Jose Valverde in June.

"To me, I don't even consider that a blown save," Leyland said. "I mean, you're asking a guy to do a little bit more than you want to ask him. That's a tough ticket for me. He's been absolutely fantastic. He's a very, very outstanding pitcher. I think you saw that after the home run. Some guys might have caved in and given up another run. Not him. That's how good he is."

After Jose Alvarez stranded the potential winning run on second base in the 10th, Dozier's leadoff single in the 11th put the Twins' offense in motion off Luke Putkonen (1-2). Josh Willingham struck out on a Putkonen changeup in the dirt, but the ball bounced away from catcher Brayan Pena, allowing Dozier to advance to second.

Pinto's line drive to right sent Dozier around third, testing former Twin Torii Hunter, whose throw sailed over Pena at the plate.

"I didn't have a grip on it," Hunter said. "I threw it like a palmball. I tried to be quick, and I just didn't have a grip on it. It slipped out of my hands."

It was a fitting end to a bizarre night that saw Verlander toss six shutout innings, set a Target Field record for strikeouts by a visiting pitcher, yet not record an out at first base. He got an Alex Presley popup to short to open his outing, then recorded his next 10 outs by strikeout, including six in a row his second time through the Minnesota order. He allowed just five balls in play through the first four innings, three of them for base hits.

The only time Prince Fielder touched a ball in play behind him was a leaping catch behind the bag to snare an Escobar liner with a runner on second. The only groundout recorded was a fielder's choice at third when Presley took off from second base on a grounder to short.

"I think I had the best breaking ball I had all year," Verlander said. "It was really sharp. I was able to go to it when I wanted to, throw it for strikes and expand the zone with it. Fastball location was better than it has been, and I was able to execute for the most part."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
Read More: Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander, Joaquin Benoit