DETROIT — In an AL Central race that went down to the last day, Detroit's extra ace made the final difference.
David Price pitched the Tigers to their fourth straight division title with the type of performance they acquired him for, taking a shutout into the eighth inning of a 3-0 victory over Minnesota on Sunday. Detroit clinched the championship while second-place Kansas City was still playing in Chicago against the White Sox. The Royals ended up winning to finish one game behind the Tigers.
"It felt good to be able to step up," Price said in Detroit's jubilant clubhouse after the game. "These guys have done a great job of making me feel a part of the team, especially in the locker room and the dugout."
The Tigers face the Orioles in an AL division series. Game 1 is in Baltimore on Thursday.
Price (15-12) came to the Tigers from Tampa Bay in a blockbuster deal moments before the trade deadline, but what looked like a dream rotation for Detroit never fully materialized. Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander dealt with injuries, while Price, Rick Porcello and defending Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer all had their share of shaky outings.
The Tigers wrapped up at least a wild card during the final week, but the division remained in doubt, especially when Minnesota pounded Detroit pitching for 23 runs over two games Friday and Saturday. Then Price took the mound and allowed only four hits in 7 1-3 innings in the finale.
"He was unbelievable," said manager Brad Ausmus, who guided the Tigers to a first-place finish in his first season after taking over for Jim Leyland. "On a day where we needed an enormous outing after giving up 20-something runs over the previous two, he stepped right up. He showed why he's a true No. 1."
Joba Chamberlain relieved Price in the eighth, and Joe Nathan finished for his 35th save in 42 chances. Nathan has been a target of frustrated fans throughout the season, finishing with a 4.81 ERA, but with the Twins down to their final out, the home crowd was chanting "Let's go, Joe!" at Comerica Park.
"The only thing I can keep doing to help this city, to help this team, to help myself, was keep fighting and know I was going to get better," Nathan said. "I continue to thank everybody for their support. ... A challenging year, but I'm so happy to be where we are."
Nathan retired Oswaldo Arcia on a foul popup to end it, and the Tigers spilled onto the field to celebrate in front of a delighted crowd at Comerica. Detroit hadn't clinched a division title at home since 1987 — and this game was eerily similar to that one for a while.
Detroit won 1-0 in that '87 clincher at Tiger Stadium, with Frank Tanana pitching a shutout. Price throws nothing like the soft-tossing Tanana, but the 29-year-old left-hander etched his own name into Tigers lore Sunday.
Over the last four years, Detroit's most triumphant moments have generally occurred on the road. The only exception was in 2012, when the Tigers finished off the New York Yankees at Comerica to win the American League pennant.
"I've been very fortunate to be here and be a part of so many celebrations," Scherzer said. "Any time you can do it in front of your fans and let them experience the energy as well, there's nothing like it."
Detroit started the season 27-12, and the Tigers looked like heavy favorites in the division after acquiring Price, but they ended up in a tight race throughout September.
"We've been kind of envisioning this type of celebration for a few days now," Ausmus said. "Kansas City has played extremely well this last week — and really pushed us to the limit."
Minnesota's Kyle Gibson (13-12) nearly matched Price, but Ian Kinsler homered in the third to open the scoring. Kinsler added an RBI single in the eighth to chase Gibson, and Torii Hunter followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-0.
"That was a fun day. It was definitely a playoff atmosphere against a team that's pretty good and David Price on the other side," Gibson said. "There was definitely a lot of positives today. But I wish I would've finished that eighth inning a little bit differently."
Price struck out eight with two walks and passed Cleveland's Corey Kluber for this year's major league lead in strikeouts with 271.
There was an audible groan from the crowd when Ausmus pulled Price in the eighth after 112 pitches, but Chamberlain and Nathan retired the last five Minnesota batters without a hitch.
Now Detroit will try to reach the AL championship series for the fourth straight season as well. The Tigers have not won the World Series since 1984.
Tigers OF Rajai Davis sat out after leaving the previous game with a sprain around his midsection, but trainer Kevin Rand said he was "very encouraged" by the fact that Davis was feeling pretty good before the game Sunday.
The Tigers went 5-1 against the Orioles during the regular season.