KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Detroit Tigers had a 220-bottle champagne celebration Sunday and they hope to have even a bigger one later this week.
The Tigers fought off their late-season slump and clinched their first playoff berth since 1987, scoring nine runs in the second inning Sunday and coasting to an 11-4 win over the Kansas City Royals.
"I've been waiting for this," said Brandon Inge, who was given a champagne shampoo by teammates. "You don't think about this in spring training, and then something like this happens."
Enjoying a turnaround season under new manager Jim Leyland, Detroit assured itself of no-worse than the AL wild-card berth and headed into the final week of the season with a 1½-game lead in the AL Central. The Tigers, who regained the best record in the major leagues at 94-62, went ahead early for the second straight day, following up on Saturday's 10-run first.
"We want to send a message that we're not happy just going to the playoffs," Tigers closer Todd Jones said. "We are trying to win our division."
Detroit's last trip to the postseason was 19 years ago, when the Tigers won the AL East and lost to Minnesota 4-1 in the AL championship series.
"It is really overwhelming," said Tigers owner Michael Ilitch, who bought the team in 1992. "It is probably one of the highlights of my life. In the final outs, we were all holding our breath. After the final out, I did a lot of hugging. We had a bump in the road in late August, but that can be expected over a 162-game season. I never felt like it is not going to happen, but was concerned."
The Tigers set an American League record for losses in 2003, going 43-119, then improved to 72-90 in 2004. But Detroit went 71-91 last season, losing 29 of its last 39 games en route to its 12th straight sub-.500 finish. General manager Dave Dombrowski replaced manager Alan Trammell with Leyland, who teamed with him to lead the 1997 Florida Marlins to a World Series title.
"Those guys out there in the clubhouse made me pretty smart," Leyland said. "I don't take the credit. I think I've been a beneficiary of catching them at the right time. They've done it. They are good players. A lot of guys could have managed this team. I'm so happy for these guys. They are winners now, and forever will be winners.
Dombrowski gave a great deal of the credit to Leyland.
"He steered the ship," Dombrowski said. "He's just a great manager. He's just what we needed."
Leyland had not managed since 1999 with the Colorado Rockies. In addition during the offseason, the Tigers added free-agent pitcher Kenny Rogers, who anchored a staff that included rookies Verlander, Joel Zumaya and Zach Miner. Detroit's offense already had been rebuilt somewhat with the signing of catcher Ivan Rodriguez after the 2003 season and Magglio Ordonez after the 2004 season. The Tigers also acquired shortstop Carlos Guillen from Seattle in January 2004.
Detroit spurted at the start of this season, taking over sole possession of the division lead on May 21 and staying in first place ever since. The Tigers opened a season-high 10-game margin on Aug. 7, when they were a major league-best 76-36, but then went 15-26 before arriving at Kansas City for the weekend series with their division lead down to a half-game over second-place Minnesota
The Tigers swept the Royals, extending Kansas City's losing streak to six. The Royals must win five of their last seven games to avoid their third straight 100-loss season and fourth in five years.
Curtis Granderson's sacrifice fly and Ordonez's two-run, two-out single put the Tigers ahead 3-0, and Guillen and Matt Stairs followed with RBI singles.
Hernandez allowed eight runs, seven hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning, but just one of the runs was earning because of a throwing error by third baseman Jeff Keppinger on Omar Infante's sacrifice.
Verlander, 4 years old when the Tigers last went to the playoffs, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings.
"The Tigers are solid all the way through," Royals interim manager Billy Doran said. "They don't have any holes. People who play them in the playoffs are going to have their hands full."
David DeJesus hit a two-run double in the Kansas City third. Rodriguez doubled in a run in the fifth and Stairs homered in the sixth off Ryan Braun.
- The Tigers lead the majors with 49 road wins.
- The Royals are 0-3 since manager Buddy Bell left the club to have throat surgery on Friday. He will not return this season.
- The Royals went 34-47 at home, matching 2005.