Good Thursday morning. The Tigers are in position to sweep a series for the first time since June 8, also against the Rangers. They lost that series finale 7-3.

Leading Off: Clutch homers, this one from Alex Avila, gave the Tigers and Doug Fister a 5-4 win over the Rangers. Fister pitched seven innings, scattered eight hits and managed to neither fan nor walk a single hitter. He’s the first Tigers pitcher to work seven-or-more innings in a start while not allowing a walk or recording a strikeout since Justin Verlander did it in eight innings of work on May 17, 2006 against the Twins. Jose Valverde earned his 30th save of the year (in 30 tries) but why doesn’t it seem that dominant? Maybe it’s his 3.04 ERA.

Around the Central: The Tigers gained ground on the Indians, 5-4 losers to the Red Sox, and the White Sox, delightfully pummeled by the Yankees, 18-7, while the Royals (6-2 over the Orioles) and Twins (11-4 over the Angels) were both winners.

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The Tigers are in first place, four games ahead of the Indians. It’s their largest lead of the year.

Today’s Game: Brad Penny (7-8, 4.89 ERA) vs. RHP Alexi Ogando (10-5, 2.88 ERA) | 1:05 p.m. – MLB Network/FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Penny has lost both of his last two starts, compiling a 9.58 ERA in the outings. He has suffered the loss
in four of his last six decisions dating back to June 10.

In his 21 starts with the Tigers, Penny has posted a 1.75 ground ball/fly ball ratio (229 ground balls/131 fly balls). He’s seventh in the A.L. with a 1.75 ground ball/fly ball ratio this season.

Happy 63rd Birthday, Johnny Grubb. Short-time Tigers catcher Terry Humphrey is 62 today. The late Ray Oyler, a member of the 1968 World Series champs, was born on this date in 1938.

On this date in 1998, Mike Mussina carried a no-hitter into the eighth before allowing a double to Frank Catalanotto. Ernie Harwell celebrated his golden anniversary, starting as an announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers on this date in 1948.

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Coming Up: Following this afternoon’s game, the Tigers hit the road for a nine-game trip to Kansas City, Cleveland and Baltimore.

Fister and Sean Douglass, Forever Linked: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Fister snapped a personal seven-game losing streak with a victory in his Tigers debut, a 5-4 win over the Rangers. Over the last 20 years, only two other pitchers ended a losing streak of seven or more games in their first appearance for a new team: Sean Douglass with the Tigers in 2005 and Aaron Sele with the Dodgers in 2006. (Both had lost their previous seven decisions.)

Looking Back to 2004 Draft: If you want to know when the Tigers’ fortunes began to change, look back to June 2004 when they selected Verlander number two in the draft. Dave Schoenfield looks back on an amazing crop of talent … on which the Padres whiffed big time.

One particularly interesting nugget is Baseball America’s assessment of Verlander:

Verlander had better pure stuff than Weaver, but command issues led to a mediocre 21-18 record at Old Dominion. “He has a tall, upright delivery with a lighting-quick arm, and a fastball that tops out at 99 mph with hard run and sink,” wrote Baseball America. “He complements it with a curveball that has good late depth and sharp bite, and a deceptive changeup that has fastball arm speed and late fade and sink. Verlander’s biggest obstacle is his lack of command as he struggles to repeat his delivery.” He also had big bonus demands, but there was no denying the ability.

This Weekend’s Rotation: Friday at Kansas City, Rick Porcello (11-6, 4.50 ERA) vs. RHP Felipe Paulino (1-4, 3.51 ERA); Saturday, Justin Verlander (15-5, 2.24 ERA) vs. LHP Danny Duffy (3-4, 5.05 ERA); Sunday, Max Scherzer (11-6, 4.23 ERA) vs. LHP Bruce Chen (5-5, 4.37 ERA)

Finally, Happy 67th Birthday to Richard Belzer, whose finest work, methinks, was in the NBC series “Homicide: Life on the Street.”