Twins, Tigers to play day-night doubleheader to open crucial series

DETROIT -- The AL Central showdown was put on hold.

Steady rain Monday night postponed the opener of a crucial four-game series between the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins. The first-place Tigers lead the Twins by two games with seven to play.

The rainout will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday. Minnesota first baseman Michael Cuddyer thought it was the right call.

"We didn't want to start and then call it and start again," Cuddyer said.

Tigers rookie Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.14 ERA) and Minnesota's Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.18) were slated to pitch Monday night, but both were pushed back to the 12:05 p.m. game Tuesday. In the nightcap at 7:05 p.m., Detroit ace Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.41) and Brian Duensing (5-1, 3.33) of the Twins will make their previously scheduled starts.

The Tigers might have caught a break with the postponement because Minnesota's star catcher, Joe Mauer, could be relegated to designated hitter Tuesday night.

"I have a catcher I'd like to play all four games and he probably won't," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He'll play the first game and we'll see about the second."

If Detroit can win three of four against the Twins, it will win the division crown.

If the Tigers split or do worse in the series and end up finishing second, they'll make history.

No major league team has remained in first place from May 10 -- or sooner -- until losing the division title in the last week of a season, according to STATS.

The Tigers moved into a first-place tie on May 10 and have at least been in a tie atop the AL Central since that date. They had a seven-game cushion on Sept. 6 that has dwindled to a two-game lead over the consistently scrappy Twins.

Detroit manager Jim Leyland didn't expect it to be easy.

"I thought it would go down to the wire and obviously that's going to be the case," Leyland said.

Instead of worrying about the pressure, Leyland wants his team to embrace it.

"I hope they have some butterflies, but there's a difference between nervous and scared," Leyland said Monday afternoon. "Afraid of the challenge is one thing, being hyped up is another."

Gardenhire said he learned something about contending for division titles and playoff spots from Joe Torre, and he has tried to pass along the thought to his players.

"Let's enjoy it, take a look around," Gardenhire said he told his team. "Have some fun with it."

Gardenhire said he senses the Twins are doing just that.

"On the bench, you can see it," he said. "They're excited and laughing. When a guy makes a mistake, they're making fun of them. That's the sign of a loose team."

The Twins rallied to beat Detroit for the division championship in 2006 and Gardenhire recalled Torre telling him to enjoy the moment that season.

"I didn't listen," Gardenhire said. "I wish I would have."