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Twins close dome with must-win game

Twins close dome with must-win game

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's been a flawless October for the Minnesota Twins, and after three scintillating victories in three days it all comes down to Sunday and right-hander Carl Pavano, who threw his worst start with the Twins last Wednesday -- the last day of September. Since then, the Twins are 3-0, the Tigers are 0-3 and the AL Central is deadlocked with one game to play.

On Thursday, the first day of October, the Twins battled back to take the finale of their four-game set with the Tigers to get back to just two games down with three to play. On Friday, rookie Jeff Manship defeated the Royals while Chicago's Jake Peavy blanked the Tigers -- and the lead was one.

The biggest hurdle for the Twins, everyone believed, was facing Royals ace Zack Greinke on Saturday afternoon. But the Twins sacked Zack for four runs, withstood a Royals rally and won when outfielder Michael Cuddyer blasted a go-ahead homer in the eighth. Later that night, the Tigers sent rookie Alfredo Figaro to the hill for his third career start. He lasted 1 1/3 innings and the Tigers lost again.

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And so now the focus is Sunday -- and Pavano. It was just four nights ago that he stood by his locker inside the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park in Detroit expressing hope that he had not thrown his final pitch for the club this season.

In that start against Detroit, Pavano had the chance to pull the Twins to within one game of the first-place Tigers in the American League Central race. Instead, he allowed seven runs in 4 2/3 innings and the Twins were a seemingly insurmountable three games back with four to play.

As he walked off the mound in the fifth inning that day, manager Ron Gardenhire told him there was no one he would rather have out there in that situation.

"I wish I could have put a better effort forward that he didn't have to have that conversation with me," Pavano said at the time. "But you never know, I might get a chance to redeem myself."

And indeed he will, taking the hill against Royals right-hander Luke Hochevar (7-12, 6.24 ERA) in the 1:10 p.m. CT game that may, or may not, decide the AL Central division and be the final game at the Metrodome. The Tigers, at home vs. the White Sox, send ace Justin Verlander (18-9, 3.45) to the hill against Sox left-hander Jon Danks (13-10, 3.69) in a game that starts an hour earlier, at 12:05 p.m. CT.

If the Twins can complete the series sweep over the Royals on Sunday and the White Sox can defeat the Tigers, then Minnesota will capture the division title outright and the Metrodome lives on to host Game 3, and possibly Game 4 of the ALDS vs. the Yankees on Sunday and Monday of next week. It would mark the first time in history that a team has come from three games back with four to play and won the division outright.

If both teams win or both lose on Sunday, the Metrodome will host a one-game tiebreaker to decide the AL Central champion on Tuesday at 4 p.m. CT.

"It's like déjà vu," said Nick Punto, referencing last year's 1-0 loss in game No. 163 with the White Sox. "Last year it was the same thing. A lot of these guys have been through this. Best part about it, I think that breeds confidence, just knowing you've been in a position like this before.

Pavano was not with the Twins last year, but he certainly brings his share of experience to the table having pitched for the 2003 World Series champion Marlins.

The veteran right-hander will be pitching on three days' rest in the start, but he got the nod over rookie left-hander Brian Duensing, who would be pitching on regular rest. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said that Duensing would be available in relief, if necessary.

"You go with a veteran in this situation," Gardenhire said of Pavano. "He should have the ball. He's been there."

Gardenhire was referencing Pavano's experience pitching for the Marlins during their 2003 World Series title. But this won't be the first time that Pavano has started on short rest either. He's made two regular-season starts in his career on three days' rest, however all of those came prior to the 2005 season.

Pavano said Saturday that he and pitching coach Rick Anderson discussed him possibly starting this game prior to the club's off-day on Sept. 17. At the time, the club was discussing whether to give Pavano an extra day of rest due to the open date. Instead, they decided to have him pitch on regular rest to allow for him to be available on this Sunday, if needed.

And following his last start, Pavano is clearly happy to get the chance to pitch Sunday in a big situation and perhaps even earn his team a division title in the process.

"Watch what you ask for, huh?" Pavano joked. "This is what it's all about. Obviously my last start fell short. That's beyond me. I get another chance to go out there and definitely redeem myself and put us in a good position."

Pitching matchup
MIN: RHP Carl Pavano (13-12, 5.07 ERA)
The Twins looked to the veteran Pavano to deliver against the Tigers on Wednesday. A win would have pulled Minnesota to within a game of Detroit with another game to play against the Tigers. Instead Pavano had his worst outing as a Twin, allowing seven runs on seven hits while lasting just 4 2/3 innings. He'll be going on just three days' rest when he takes to the hill in a game that could make or break Minnesota's playoff chances. He's 3-3 with a 6.63 ERA this season against Kansas City but 2-1 vs. the Royals as a Twin.

KC: RHP Luke Hochevar (7-12, 6.42 ERA)
The big inning always seems to find Hochevar. Last Monday night in the Bronx, the Yankees scored one run in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, and just as Hochever seemed to be exercising good damage control, New York dropped a five-spot on him in the seventh before he could get a single out. After surrendering just two home runs in his previous seven starts, he gave up two to the Yankees, including a grand slam. Twice this season he has pitched complete-game victories, and in one nine-start stretch, he had a 6-1 record. But he has been 1-9 since.

Tidbits
Orlando Cabrera extended his hit streak to 14 games with his fourth-inning single on Saturday. He is batting .403 with 18 runs and 12 RBIs during this span. ... Michael Cuddyer has hit seven home runs in his past 18 games and five in his past eight home games.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• WFTC

On radio
• TRN 1500, KMNV / KMNQ (Español)

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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