It’s almost unbelievable to think that after a 162-game regular season two teams in the same division would finish with the exact same record. It’s even more amazing when it happens two years in a row to the same team, yet that’s exactly what fate conjured up for the Minnesota Twins. After a furious rally in the season’s last month, the Twins found themselves deadlocked with the Tigers, both sporting 86-76 records, and both having one game to prove that they belonged in the postseason (or at least deserved to lose to the Yankees).
For the Twins, the game was a shot at redemption after last year’s gut-wrenching 1-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox in the season’s 163rd game. For the Tigers, it was a chance to save face after blowing a 7-game lead in the last month of the season, and of course to lift the spirits of a downtrodden city (it worked out well for Michigan State!) The Tigers trotted out 20-year-old Rick Porcello to the mound (sporting a dynamite playoff beard) to oppose Twins’ right-hander Scott Baker in a game for all the marbles. After a season full of bad blood between the two teams, many feared that this game might turn ugly, but instead it became an instant classic.
Despite a record crowd of over 54,000 rabid fans in the Metrodome, young Rick Porcello exhibited the poise of a seasoned veteran, blowing away Twins’ hitters and quieting the home crowd with a career-high tying 8 strikeouts. He was staked to a 3-0 lead after the Tigers turned a lead-off walk from Baker in the third into 3 runs on a single from Magglio Ordonez (sans Sampson-esque locks) and a 2-run bomb from the “domestically challenged” Miguel Cabrera. The Twins answered in the bottom of the frame, with Matt Tolbert scoring on an errant pick-off attempt from Porcello.
Both pitchers settled down and the game quickly moved into the 6th inning when Jason Kubel, who had stranded runners in both his previous at-bats, launched a towering shot into the upper-deck to bring the Twins within one run. The Tigers ran into more trouble in the 7th. Reliever Zach Miner took over for Porcello and promptly coughed up the lead as light-hitting Orlando Cabrera drilled a pitch just over the wall in left field to score Nick Punto and give Minnesota a 4-3 cushion. It didn’t last long though, as Ordonez evened up the game with a HR to left field off Twins pitcher Matt Guerrier to open up the 8th inning. The Tigers threatened again in the 9th, but an Ordonez line-drive to Cabrera turned into a double play as an over-aggressive Curtis Granderson got caught in between first and second, sending the game into extra innings. Would you want it any other way?
Both teams scored in the 10th, with the Tigers taking a 5-4 lead on a Brandon Inge double before allowing the Twins to tie the game on a Tolbert bouncing ball back up the middle. The 11th inning passed quietly for Detroit and Minnesota, setting up a thrilling finish to the game. The Tigers appeared to score in the top of the 12th when a Bob Keppel pitch grazed Inge’s uniform with the bases loaded, but umpire Randy Marsh saw otherwise, and Inge eventually grounded to second where Punto fired home for a force out. Keppel ended the inning with a strikeout of Gerald Laird. Carlos Gomez opened the Twins’ half of the 12th inning with a single and then advanced to second on a Michael Cuddyer groundout. A tiring Fernando Rodney intentionally walked Delmon Young to bring Alexei Casilla, hitting only .198 on the season, to the plate. With the Metrodome rocking and homer hankies waving in all parts of the ballpark, Casilla lined a single into right-field, easily scoring the speedy Gomez from second and setting off a rampant celebrationg from Minnesota players and fans.
The party will likely be short lived for the Twins though, they travel to New York tomorrow to face the 103-win Yankees team. Although they will be heavy underdogs against the mighty Yankees, (they went 0-7 against New York this season) the fiesty Twins have kept the Metrodome open for at least one more game, (they are scheduled to move into their new stadium next year) and after winning 18 of their final 22 games to squeak into the postseason, the team believes anything is possible.
Will the Twins keep on rolling? Or will they be stopped by the buzzsaw that is the New York Yankees? Will America finally appreciate how good Joe Mauer is? Can Alex Rodriguez salvage his reputation with a clutch performance? Should Minnesota ask Brett Favre to start Game One?
It’s the postseason in baseball…anything can happen.
Filed under: AL Central, Baseball, world series | Tagged: Alex Rodriguez, alexei casilla, bob keppel, bradon inge, brett favre, carlos gomez, chicago whitesox, curtis granderson, detroit tigers, fernando rodney, gerald laird, joe mauer, joe nathan, Magglio Ordonez, matt tolbert, miguel cabrera, minnesota twins, New York Yankees, orlando cabrera, rick porcello, ryan raburn, scott baker |