By the time Francisco Liriano secured the game's final out, Detroit had already claimed a 5-3 win over the White Sox. So, the Twins knew that they needed a victory to not only extend their season, but also to extend their residency at the Metrodome.
Sunday had been scheduled to be the final regular-season contest for the Twins in the place they have called home since 1982. Minnesota planned an hour-long postgame ceremony to celebrate the Dome's storied 28-year history, but it didn't seem ready to say goodbye to baseball just yet.
With the curtain raised for a second straight day, 51,155 fans -- the largest regular-season crowd since April 6, 1993 -- packed underneath the teflon roof on Sunday. And that crowd began waving its homer hankies early, thanks to Jason Kubel delivering a pair of three-run homers to help his club get out to an early 7-0 lead.
It was a home run kind of day for the Twins in the place once called the "Homerdome." Delmon Young added two solo homers and Michael Cuddyer went deep with a two-run homer in the eighth to give the Twins their 16th win in their past 20 contests.
"These guys are playing with a lot of confidence and momentum right now," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "You get on a roll and you just kind of feel like you're going to find a way to win."
Trailing by three games with four left to play in the season, the Twins have won four straight to finish the 162-game schedule tied atop the division with Detroit (86-78) and become the first team in baseball history to play in back-to-back tiebreakers.
"Again another 163rd game," Gardenhire said. "But this time, it's at our place."
And after losing 1-0 in a tiebreaker in Chicago last year -- when the location was decided by a coin flip and not head-to-head records -- the Twins certainly seem happy to be hosting this play-in contest.
Winner take all
|The results of the seven previous one-game tiebreakers in MLB history.|
|Sept. 30, 2008||AL Central||White Sox 1, Twins 0|
|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|
"When we needed a win, where did we go?" said former Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek during the postgame ceremony . "We went to the Dome."
The Twins certainly created some magic at the Metrodome this weekend in their sweep of the Royals. And on Sunday, in their latest of what's been a string of must-win contests, the Twins turned to Carl Pavano on three days' rest.
Pavano delivered a solid start, giving up four runs and striking out seven in 5 2/3 innings, and early in his start it seemed like perhaps he might be helping his team to clinch the title outright.
While the Tigers had a 4-0 lead when the Twins contest began, the White Sox trimmed the lead to 5-3 at about the same time as Minnesota took a 7-0 advantage. So the crowd inside the Metrodome took notice of Chicago's score and began chanting, "Let's go White Sox!"
But Detroit held on to win, and it seemed like perhaps the Twins had gotten too comfortable with their own 8-1 lead.
Having allowed just one run in the fourth, Pavano found trouble to start the sixth. He gave up three runs, as the Royals trimmed the lead to 8-4 on Alex Gordon's solo home run. And that's when the Twins turned things over to the bullpen.
With the bases empty and two outs in the sixth, Bobby Keppel and Ron Mahay combined to the load the bases, bringing Billy Butler to the plate representing the tying run. Jon Rauch entered the game and froze Butler, striking him out to get the club out of the inning unscathed.
"Going out there with the bases loaded against their best hitter, best RBI guy, that's a shaky feeling for a manager," Gardenhrie said. "I walked out there and said, 'Let's go. You've got to make a big pitch and get a big out.' And boy did he make a good pitch there."
From there, the Twins only added to their lead and found a way to make sure that the postgame ceremony would not be able to crown this the final game in the Dome, even if they have to play one more game before determining if another postseason series will be played under the roof.
"There's still one game left," Cuddyer said. "We're not in the playoffs yet, even though it's going to be a playoff-like game."
As recently as Sept. 6, the Twins sat seven games back in the AL Central. They then faced another uphill battle as they trailed by three games, after losing two of the first three of their four-game set in Detroit last week, with four to play.
"Everybody has written us off, and rightfully so," Gardenhire said. "We looked pretty ugly. But we didn't write ourselves off and that's all that matters."
So, the Twins will now play for their fifth division title in the past eight seasons. They'll have a day off before they are set to play host to the Tigers on Tuesday. The day off is due to the Metrodome already being booked on Monday for the Vikings-Packers football game. But the Twins didn't mind having to wait an extra day to play, especially since they seemed more than happy just to be in this position.
"It would have been a lot nicer if we could have finished it off today, but we can't complain either way," closer Joe Nathan said. "To force Game 163, I think a lot of people around here definitely didn't think this game was going to happen."