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Your 2009 Minnesota Twins: AL Central Winners

Alexi Casilla singles to right field, Carlos Gomez scores.

I’m not sure what else I can add to the already salient commentaries out there on yesterday’s epic tie-breaker victory for the Twins over Detroit in 12 innings. Just check my “Minnesota Gurus” section in the margin to read them.

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photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

All in all it was a tremendous, exciting, nerve-wracking, roller coaster of a game that in some ways pretty much mirrored both the Twins’ and Tigers’ up-and-down seasons. Rick Porcello pitched beautifully and silenced the 54,088 very lucky people who got to watch in the Metrodome, and with a 3-1 lead and Miguel Cabrera putting all his off-field troubles behind him, I must admit I was a little worried that the Twins had finally found their match.

But, like so often this year, Minnesota somehow found a way to fight back, and everyone seemed to contribute somehow, whether in the right way or the wrong way. The game was exciting because it had a little bit of everything: some bad umpire calls (but some great ones too), some sensational fielding but some errors of judgment, base-running mistakes by both teams, patient at-bats (yes, you Nick Punto — that was quite a job you did out there) and some absurd first-pitch impatient ground-outs (sorry Delmon Young, you’re back in the doghouse despite your recent heroics). The teams looked nervous out there, like they were fighting for their lives, and it pretty much made for the most exciting game I’ve ever seen at the Metrodome (and maybe beyond), and probably up there with the 1987 and 1991 World Series games in terms of historic victories. It was a game for the ages, and everyone who saw it will no doubt always remember it.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

I know Tigers fans will blame some of the loss on missed calls and the crazy Metrodome but seriously, some calls also went against the Twins too (and many more earlier this year). The so-called ‘plunking’ of Aubrey Huff was a very close call which looked like it merely brushed his leg, Brandon Inge should really start to wear a tighter-fitting shirt instead of that Tellytubbie-sized thing he puts on before every game, and Ryan Raburn diving for a ball which he could have just played on the bounce instead of trying for the Sportscenter web gem probably turned Michael Cuddyer’s single into a triple: but of course that was because of the Metrodome lights…

So many excuses, but really, Detroit played an incredible game, were a little unlucky, and didn’t win this division because they failed to hold a lead both in this actual tiebreaker, but more costly, over the entire month of September. This time last month, the Twins were seven games back. Entering the final games of the year, they were three back with four to play. Minnesota went an outstanding 17-4 over the last 21 games and finally found the team spirit and battling nature that had somewhat eluded them previously. Detroit fans should be well aware that even though it didn’t happen for them this year, some time in the future they will have an opportunity to turn the tables at the Twins’ expense: it’s just how this game works sometimes.

So, the Yankees huh? The Twins are totally over matched, to be honest, I don’t think they stand a chance. Then again, Minnesota’s odds of winning even the AL Central a week or so ago were something absurd like 5%. Anything could happen, and I’m just delighted to have been following this scrappy, crazy, small-market team for the past few years and seeing what they can achieve. It’s David & Goliath for sure in the play-offs, but if the Twins can keep things competitive (and that’s really all you can ask), it could be an interesting few games ahead.

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One final note before I go though. What the hell was with FOX and their AL play-off promos the past few weeks? As many of you probably saw, these promos featured the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Angels, and, you guessed it, the Tigers. I know the major networks just hate it when the small franchise clubs make it to the post-season, but you’d think by now they’d be smart enough to never second guess the game of baseball. If I was a Tigers fan, I’d be a little pissed about these, it’s almost like it jinxed them. I talked to a buddy of mine who told me that FOX were guilty of the same crime with the ’07 and ’08 Mets, so I’m thinking they might need to stop with their stupid promos preempting events in a sport that is notorious for its “anything can happen” mentality.

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Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

The Twins managed to win two out of three against the Tigers at the Metrodome, which was a pretty damn good result against the division leaders. Minnesota is now two games back, and the White Sox, who split a series with the Royals this weekend, are just 2.5 games behind Detroit.

Extra-inning games can be particularly cruel, especially to the team that doesn’t win them. The Twins remarkable comeback on Friday night pretty much meant nothing in the end, and simply managed to tire out all concerned, as the Tigers topped the Twins 11-9 in the 16th inning.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Kevin Slowey had another terrible outing unfortunately, and Detroit
were quickly 6-0 up by the second inning. Somehow, Minnesota managed to
rally from a 7-1 deficit and tied the game at 7-7 in the sixth inning.
By then, Slowey was long gone, and it was revealed later that he’s been
put on the DL after suffering sharp pains in his wrist. Anthony Swarzak
has been recalled from Triple-A Rochester, and will likely make a start
sometime this week.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Anyway, back to Friday night, and the game
went to extra innings, prolonging the agony for Twins and Tigers fans
everywhere. In the 14th, the Tigers looked like they may have finally
secured victory when they made it 8-7, but Minnesota rallied to tie it
up again. Finally, some time around 7:00 AM two weeks later, the Tigers
hit three runs in the top of the 16th off an undoubtedly tiring RA
Dickey, and the game was essentially over. Frankly, the Twins should
have just conceded defeat in the second inning, the result would have
been the same, and the home plate umpire’s strike zone was positively
cavernous all evening, it was even more remarkable the game lasted so
long. Amazingly, Delmon Young ended up being one triple shy of the
cycle, and Denard Span had a crazy night going 5-for-8 with two RBIs.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

Saturday’s game was a little more conventional. Francisco Liriano
pitched very well for most of his outing. Having retired a string of 13
straight batters, he took a 2-0 lead into the top of the seventh. But,
the inevitable implosion occurred as the Tigers managed three hits in
as many balls, one of which was a three-run homer to Magglio “I’m not
even in form” Ordonez, as the Twins relinquished their lead and found
themselves 3-2 down. Incredibly enough, Minnesota managed to tie it up
with a single run in the bottom of the seventh. Even more incredibly,
in the eighth, Nick Punto hit a cheesy blooper off his magic bat which
saw the usually ineffective Matt Tolbert (pinch-running for Jason
Kubel) score the go-ahead run with a head-first Punto-style dive, a
pinch-running decision by Gardy that probably won the game, something
I’ve rarely witnessed before with the Twins. Joe Nathan easily mopped
up the Tigers in the ninth, and Minnesota tied the series one game
apiece with a 4-3 win.

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photo: AP/Yahoo!

On Sunday, Nick Blackburn was just a couple of outs away from a
complete game shut out. He’d pitched beautifully again, but gave up a
two-run homer to Brandon Inge in the ninth inning. A few weeks ago against the Pirates, Blackburn had done something similar, taking a shutout into the ninth but blowing it. Nevertheless, Blackburn
prevailed for a complete game anyway as the Twins ran out 6-2 winners.
Minnesota did all the damage in the fourth inning. With Joe Mauer on
base, Justin Morneau cranked home run number 21 for the season, and then the
floodgates opened, with the Twins scoring four more runs, including
three on a throwing error by Adam Everett.

So a satisfactory weekend of baseball, despite Friday’s nastiness, and it was good to see the Twins bouncing back from that disappointing night so well. Next up, visits from the Yankees and the White Sox before the All-Star Game, which won’t see Justin Morneau starting at first base despite having one of the best seasons of his career, though he was selected as a reserve at least.