DETROIT (AP)—Kenny Rogers slammed the ball off the rubber and it rose over his head just before he walked off the mound following an awful start.
A few hours after he left the field, what was left of the Detroit Tigers’ AL Central lead was gone, too.
Rogers was roughed up Thursday by the Toronto Blue Jays, who built a seven-run advantage before holding off Detroit for an 8-6 victory.
Minnesota rallied in the ninth inning and beat Kansas City 2-1 in 10 innings, leaving the Tigers and Twins tied atop the AL Central at 95-64 with three games left. Both teams are assured of playoff berths, and Detroit has the tiebreaker for the division title because it won the season series.
Detroit, which led the division by 10 games before play on Aug. 8, closes the regular season at home with a three-game series against the Royals. The Tigers are trying to finish first and get homefield advantage in the first round.
“I’m not going to give them a Knute Rockne, let’s go get ‘em type of thing. I can tell you that right now,” manager Jim Leyland said. “If we win three games, we’re the champs. That’s one break we’ve got. If we can’t take advantage of it, shame on us.”
Rogers, who likely will start Detroit’s first playoff game since 1987, gave up seven runs—five earned—on eight hits, a walk and a hit batter. He lasted just 3 2-3 innings, his shortest outing in two months and one of the worst in what has been a stellar season.
“I’m not going to dwell on it too long. I’ve done pretty well for a long period of time,” Rogers said. “I’d rather have a mediocre to poor one now rather than later.”
The 41-year-old Rogers (17-7) won seven of his previous 10 starts with a 1.72 ERA and had a chance to match his career high for victories. But it was quickly clear that Thursday would not be his day.
Toronto’s first two batters reached on errors, one by Rogers, to take a 2-0 lead. The Blue Jays added another run in the second and made it 7-0 in the fourth.
“He was mixing up his pitches like he usually does,” said Gregg Zaun, who scored two runs and had two hits. “But he got some of them up, and fortunately we were able to hit them.”
The Tigers pulled within a run with a three-run seventh, capped by Sean Casey’s two-run homer, after scoring two runs in the sixth and one in the fourth.
Toronto went ahead 8-6 in the eighth on a double-play groundout.
When Leyland went to the mound to take the ball from Rogers, the pitcher bounced it in disgust and walked off the field.
It was the second straight poor outing by a Detroit starter that led to a loss. Nate Robertson allowed six runs in 4 2-3 innings Wednesday night, when the Tigers lost 7-4.
“I’m not concerned, but that doesn’t make any difference now because those are our guys and I’m very comfortable with them,” Leyland said. “If they’re good in the playoffs, we’ll do OK. If they don’t, we won’t.”
Toronto maintained its lead over the Boston Red Sox for second place in the AL East by winning the three-game series and 10 of its past 14 games.
The Blue Jays (85-74) were mathematically eliminated Sept. 19. But they’re motivated to finish better than third for the first time since winning the World Series in 1992-93.
“It’s a good sign that guys aren’t quitting and resting on their numbers,” Zaun said. “I would just like to look up at the end of the season and see Toronto under New York in the standings.
“For us to not quit and be thinking about the end of the season says a lot about these guys. I think there’s a lot of pride in this locker room. It would be a nice consolation prize to finish second.”
“All he does is give us more optimism,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “You hope he duplicates that next year. When he’s getting his curveball over and spotting his fastball, he can get anyone out.”
Three pitchers limited Detroit to a run, then B.J. Ryan pitched the ninth for his 37th save.
Alex Rios led the Blue Jays offensively with two RBIs, two hits and two runs.
Rogers had his second-shortest start of the season, behind only the July 25 game at Cleveland, where he was replaced after getting just two outs. … Toronto tied the six-game series with the Tigers. … Burnett, who struck out eight, has pitched into the seventh inning in his past 10 starts. … The Blue Jays improved to 28-19 against left-handed starters. … Detroit OF Magglio Ordonez (back) did not start, but was used as a pinch-hitter in the seventh.