For the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, two teams who have been separated by less than three games every day since July 26, it has all come down to Tuesday.
One game. Win or go home.
The White Sox, with their 8-2 victory over Detroit on Monday night, will play the Twins in a tiebreaker game at U.S. Cellular Field at 6:37 p.m. CT on TBS and MLB.TV. The winner will be declared the American League Central champ and will face Tampa Bay in the first round of the AL Division Series, beginning Thursday at Tropicana Field.
The Twins began Monday waiting to see if they would board a plane for Chicago or St. Petersburg. Chicago's come-from-behind win left the Twins and White Sox deadlocked at 88-74, and set the Twins on a course for the Windy City for a Central showdown.
"Get your rest. That's all. And take the next game the way they approach every game," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said, when asked what he told his team. "A lot of people are gonna be nervous, some people might lose sleep, but be ready to show up to the ballpark tomorrow and be ready to win the game.
"Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself, we fight all the way through the end and we have a chance to win it. That's all you can do, and don't change the way you play or try to do too much. Just go out there and perform the way you have been performing and everything else will take care of itself."
John Danks will become the fourth straight White Sox starter to work on three days' rest, with Nick Blackburn starting for the Twins.
If the Twins win, it would be their fifth AL Central crown in the last eight years (2002-04, 2006). The White Sox last won the division title en route to the 2005 World Series, when they defeated the Astros.
Chicago won the right to host the tiebreaker game via coin flip earlier this month. That could be a huge break for the Sox, considering they lost eight of nine games at the Metrodome this season. The Twins are 2-7 at U.S. Cellular Field, and 35-46 on the road this season.
Winner take all
|The results of the six previous one-game tiebreakers in MLB history.|
|Oct. 1, 2007||NL Wild Card||Rockies 9, Padres 8, 13 innings|
|Oct. 4, 1999||NL Wild Card||Mets 5, Reds 0|
|Sept. 28, 1998||NL Wild Card||Cubs 5, Giants 3|
|Oct. 2, 1995||AL West||Mariners 9, Angels 1|
|Oct. 6, 1980||NL West||Astros 7, Dodgers 1|
|Oct. 2, 1978||AL East||Yankees 5, Red Sox 4|
"It's time to head over to Chicago," Twins shortstop Nick Punto said upon exiting the home clubhouse at the Metrodome after watching the White Sox-Tigers game with his teammates. "We have a one-game playoff and this is what it's all about. This is exciting stuff."
Tuesday's contest will mark only the fourth one-game tiebreaker in American League history. The last time such a contest was played in the AL was back in 1995 when the Seattle Mariners defeated the California Angels, 9-1, at the Kingdome. The National League had a one-game playoff last year when the Colorado Rockies defeated the San Diego Padres in 13 innings at Coors Field.
Blackburn will go to the hill in place of Kevin Slowey, whose bruised right hand will not enable him to make the start. Blackburn is 2-2 with a 5.67 ERA in five starts against the White Sox this year. The right-hander comes in off five days' rest as his last start came against the White Sox during Minnesota's three-game sweep at the Metrodome last week.
Blackburn held the Sox to two runs on eight hits in five innings in that game and didn't seem to impress White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen all that much.
"Blackburn? I don't give credit to the people who don't deserve credit," Guillen said after the game. "We [didn't] hit in the clutch. He was [not] that good. Believe me, when people throw good against us, I will say so. He was one pitch away [from] being out of there."
On Monday night, Guillen stood by his comments.
"I'll take my chances against him if he pitches the way he pitched last time against us," Guillen said. "He [didn't] pitch well. When you got the bullpen warming up in the second inning, we just [were] not approaching him the right way."
Blackburn is looking forward to facing the challenge of a win-or-go-home game.
"I mean, somebody has to do it," Blackburn said on Sunday of the start. "It happened to be my turn in the rotation, so I don't look too far into it. Obviously, I'm excited. It's something you want to do. Pretty much all through Spring Training, you are thinking about pitching in the playoffs."
Danks, 1-1 with a 7.91 ERA in four starts against Minnesota this season, said it's the first time in his career that he can ever remember coming back on short rest.
"Going on three days' rest might actually help a little bit because I won't feel quite as strong," Danks said. "I'm not going to feel like I can throw it 100 mph like I did the last game. I really need to just stay within myself and let the defense work for me."
Danks has struggled in four starts against the Twins this season, going 1-1 with a 7.91 ERA.
"We've faced him plenty of times, we know a lot about him, he knows a lot about us," Punto said. "It should be fun."
With the AL East champion Rays awaiting the winner on Thursday.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.