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  Friday, Sep. 1 7:05pm ET
Sparks powers Tigers above .500

DETROIT (AP) -- Once again, the Detroit Tigers hope that reaching one goal is merely a means toward another.

Steve Sparks won his sixth straight start as the Tigers moved over .500 for the first time since opening day, beating the Texas Rangers 7-5 Friday night.

The Tigers (67-66), who remained five games behind in the AL wild card race, have recovered from a 9-23 start. They are 21-11 in their last 32 games.

"The big thing isn't getting over .500," said Tony Clark, who hit a two-run double in his first game in seven weeks. "The big thing is whether we go up or down from where we're at. This is a whole new ballgame now.

"We're focused on winning as many as we can and hopefully sneak in the wild card back door."

The only other time the Tigers were over .500 was after winning their season opener. They lost their next five en route to their terrible start.

"It's significant from the 9-23 start," manager Phil Garner said. "We battled back from that, and that's significant. It takes a lot of guts and determination to do that; a lot of perseverance."

Detroit had three chances recently to get above the break-even mark. "We've had four tries now and we've done it," Garner said. "This is not the objective. Now we've got to keep pulling and keep going."

Juan Gonzalez had three RBIs, including a two-run single, against his old teammates.

Sparks (6-2), who had an AL-best 1.69 ERA in August, allowed three runs and six hits in 7 1-3 innings. The knuckleballer has allowed just 10 earned runs during his winning streak, which matches his career best.

"Sparks has been doing an outstanding job, especially his last six starts," Clark said.

Todd Jones pitched the ninth for his AL-leading 37th save in 40 chances. Jones allowed a one-out solo homer to Luis Alicea and then loaded the bases before striking out Gabe Kapler and Ricky Ledee.

Rick Helling (14-10) lasted just 3 1-3 innings, allowing six runs, seven hits and six walks, and lost his second straight start.

"Tonight, stuff-wise I felt better," Helling said. "I just had trouble throwing strikes. I was behind practically every hitter. Not many balls were hit hard tonight, but when you're behind a lot of those balls fall in."

Helling is winless with a 6.75 ERA in four starts since an Aug. 12 win over Boston. "It was not, command-wise, Rick's best outing," Rangers manager Johnny Oates said.

Clark's two-run double highlighted the Tigers' three-run first. Two walks sandwiched around Bobby Higginson's double loaded the bases for Dean Palmer's sacrifice fly. Clark, out since July 14 with back problems, flared an opposite-field double down the left-field line to make it 3-0.

"I was just happy to be back, it had been so long," Clark said. "I was fortunate my first at-bat to get a ball to fall in and we got a couple of runs early."

The Rangers got one back in the second when Bill Haselman was hit by a pitch and came all the way around as Mike Lamb's two-out fly ball fell in front of center-fielder Juan Encarnacion for a double.

Helling left in the fourth when Billy McMillon hit an RBI single before Gonzalez's two-run single upped the Tigers' lead to 6-1. Gonzalez drove in another run on a bases-loaded force play in the sixth.

"Juan is a great presence," said Oates, his manager the previous five seasons. "But it takes more than Juan. They had people on base. If nobody's on base you're never going to pitch to him."

Haselman doubled in the seventh and scored from third when Royce Clayton hit into a double play. Back to back RBI singles from Ricky Ledee and pinch-hitter Frank Catalanotto made it 7-4 in the eighth.

Game notes
RHP Jonathan Johnson, recalled Friday from Triple-A Oklahoma, relieved Helling in the fourth. The Rangers also activated LHP Darren Oliver from the 15-day DL (left shoulder weakness). ... The Tigers activated Clark and 1B Robert Fick (separated right shoulder) from the 15-day DL. Detroit also recalled LHP Sean Runyan from Triple-A Toledo and purchased the contract of OF Rodney Lindsey from Double-A Jacksonville. ... The Rangers have not won two straight since a four-game winning streak July 25-28. ... Jones is one away from the Tigers' season save record of 38 reached by John Hiller in 1973.

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