DETROIT (AP) -- The Detroit Tigers were down after absorbing a difficult loss in the opener of their critical day-night doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins.
Their ace took over from there.
Justin Verlander kept the Tigers on top in the AL Central, pitching eight innings in a 6-5 victory Tuesday night that restored their two-game lead over the scrappy Twins.
''After the first game, this win was huge,'' Verlander acknowledged.
It wasn't easy, but it never is against the pesky Twins.
''They showed whey they're so good,'' Detroit manager Jim Leyland said.
Minnesota briefly pulled within one game of the Tigers when it won the doubleheader opener 3-2 in 10 innings. Brandon Lyon (6-5) set up Orlando Cabrera's go-ahead single with a pair of wild pitches.
If the Tigers can beat the Twins at home on Wednesday and Thursday, they'll win their first division title since 1987.
If Detroit doesn't take the next two games of the series, the AL Central won't be decided until the weekend - or early next week - with each team closing the regular season with a three-game set.
Minnesota has clinched the season series and would host the tiebreaker if one is necessary, likely on Tuesday because Brett Favre and the Vikings are playing Green Bay on Monday night at the Metrodome.
''This is playoff baseball - we just got started a little early this year,'' Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The intensity of the day, with the crowd focused on every pitch, certainly had the feel of October baseball.
Verlander (18-9) struck out eight, giving him a baseball-best 264 this season, and allowed four runs and eight hits on a season-high 129 pitches. Fernando Rodney pitched the ninth for his 36th save in 37 chances, overcoming shaky defense that allowed Minnesota to pull within a run.
Brian Duensing (5-2) gave up five runs over 4 2-3 innings in his ninth career start for the Twins, who had a chance to at least tie the game in the eighth and ninth.
Delmon Young started the Minnesota ninth with an infield single that was misplayed by second baseman Placido Polanco. Rodney retired the next two batters and Nick Punto followed with a fly ball to center that Curtis Granderson misjudged, allowing it to go over his head and helping the Twins pull within a run.
''You're looking for a break and we got one there,'' Gardenhire said.
Rodney then got Denard Span to hit a game-ending fly to left.
And, the Motor City exhaled.
Detroit finished the day in the same position it was at the start of the doubleheader, delighting the crowd of 30,240.
''I thought both teams put on a good show for the fans for this time of year in a pennant race,'' Leyland said.
''If you didn't enjoy today with these two games, you aren't much of a baseball fan,'' Gardenhire said.
Verlander set the tone early in the nightcap, retiring the side on swinging strikeouts in the second as part of a dominating stretch in which he retired 10 straight.
''There were innings where we didn't have much of a chance,'' Gardenhire said. ''And, he was still winging it at 98 after 120-some pitches. That guy's a stud.''
Miguel Cabrera hit a no-doubt homer to left. Magglio Ordonez, who started the day hitting an AL-best .408 in September, put Detroit ahead 3-0 in the third with a sharply hit double.
Detroit's Brandon Inge - the first to face Bobby Keppel - hit a two-run single in the fifth inning for a 5-0 lead.
Minnesota pushed across two in the sixth and two in the eighth to get within one.
The Twins had their star, Joe Mauer, at the plate with two on and one out in the eighth. Verlander threw a wild pitch, allowing the runners to advance to scoring position, and Mauer hit a run-scoring groundout.
''That was big with him up in that situation,'' Verlander said. ''Who knows what happens if he does more than that.''
Jason Kubel followed with an RBI double. Leyland left the dugout for a brief chat with Verlander, whose glove covered his mouth on the mound, and the ace stayed in the game.
''I basically told him, 'I don't have anybody better than you,''' Leyland recalled. ''That's the line I usually use and with him, I mean it.''
Verlander validated the decision when Michael Cuddyer grounded out.
''I knew he was staying in,'' Cuddyer said. ''There was no way that Justin Verlander was going to let anyone him take him out of that game.''
Granderson hit his 30th homer in the eighth to give Detroit a two-run cushion that proved to be important.
Jon Rauch (4-1) earned the win in the first game and Joe Nathan picked up his career-high 45th save.
NOTES: Verlander tied his career high in wins. ... Granderson homered for the third straight game. ... 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 LLC. ... Mauer decided to catch the second game instead of serving as the team's DH. ''Joe came in and told me he was good to go. When Joe Mauer says he's catching, I'm not going to argue with him,'' Gardenhire said.