Twins fever on the riseby Jim Bickal, Minnesota Public Radio
Thousands of Minnesota Twins fans are expected to turn out for a rally this evening in downtown Minneapolis, to celebrate the team's division championship. The Twins open the playoffs against the Oakland A's Tuesday at the Metrodome, after clinching the A.L. Central Division Sunday on the last day of the regular season.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The division title marked the end of a remarkable comeback for the Twins, who were 12 games out of first place at one point in the season. The division title came at the end of a wild day at the Metrodome.
What was happening on the field at the Metrodome was only part of the story. To win the A.L. Central title and get home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, two things had to happen. The Twins needed to win their game and the Tigers had to lose a game that was going on at the same time in Detroit.
Meanwhile, Twins star Joe Mauer was attempting to become the first catcher in the history of the American League to win a batting title. He entered the day with a slim lead over two players on the New York Yankees.
In his 25 years with the team, Twins executive Jerry Bell has seen a couple of World Championships and the frenzy they created. But in the celebration after Sunday's game, Bell said he had never seen anything like the events of that day.
"It was so many different levels. The batting champions. They're cheering for us. They're cheering for Kansas City. I have never been at a game like that before," said Bell.
And like the season as a whole, things did not start well for the Twins. They fell behind 1-0, and Mauer struck out his first time up. And there was more bad news on the scoreboard. Detroit had taken an early 6-0 lead.
Then things started to turn around. The Twins took the lead in their game on a home run by Torii Hunter. And when Joe Mauer stepped into the batter's box in the fifth inning, the fans erupted in cheers.
But wait, they weren't cheering for Mauer. He hadn't taken a swing yet. The fans were reacting to the scoreboard, which showed that Kansas City had scored four runs to tie their game with Detroit in the eighth inning.
At the Metrodome, Mauer delivered a base hit, giving him two for the game and assuring that he would win the batting race. After the game, Mauer said winning the batting title was on his mind during the game.
"I couldn't really not think about it. So many questions and scores on the board. People saying, 'You need this and you need that,'" Mauer said. "I did peek in the middle of the game and it was so nerve-wracking. I've never been so nervous in my life."
Mauer wasn't the only nervous one. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire says his coaches were tracking the game in Detroit so closely that at times it got a little confusing in the dugout.
"At one point I asked my bench coach, 'Hey Steve, is this the knuckleballer warming up?' He says. 'No, it's Doman. We scored two runs off him when he was here in Kansas City.' 'That's their game. I'm talking about our game.'"
The Twins went on to win the game 5-1, behind a strong performance by starting pitcher Carlos Silva and four relievers.
But the drama wasn't over yet. The Tigers/Royals game was in extra innings, and most of the 45,000 fans at the dome stuck around to watch the conclusion of the game on the scoreboard. They knew a Royals victory would give Minnesota the Central Division crown.
The Twins players watched the game from the dugout. Third baseman Nick Punto said it gave him a taste of what it's like to be a fan.
"It's a miserable thing. It's a miserable thing. I wish nobody had to go through it because it's so frustrating," said Punto. "It's one thing to be on the field where you can control what happens, but to have to watch a scoreboard when you have no control is really tough."
When that game ended after 12 innings with a Kansas City victory, the crowd went wild again and the players celebrated on the field and in the clubhouse. It was an improbable ending to an improbable regular season.
The rally for the Twins is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday at Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis. The post season begins Tuesday at noon, when the Oakland A's come to town to begin a best-of-five series.
- Morning Edition, 10/02/2006, 7:20 a.m.