Twins, fans wait to celebrateby William Wilcoxen, Minnesota Public Radio
The Minnesota Twins won their regular season finale by shutting out the Kansas City Royals six to nothing at the Metrodome.
Sunday's victory allowed the Twins to finish the season in first place in the American League's Central Division, but they are still not sure if they are division champions.
The Twins will learn more about their future today after their rivals, the Chicago White Sox, make up a game that was rained out earlier this month but is now critical to the division standings.
St. Paul, Minn. — The Twins were riding high after their three-game sweep of the White Sox vaulted them into first place last week.
Many fans might have expected them to mop up a division title against Kansas City, who came into the weekend in last place. But losses to the Royals on both Friday and Saturday brought Minnesota back to earth again.
The losses also made Sunday's win by pitcher Scott Baker vital to the Twins' playoff hopes.
"Regardless of who you're facing - whether it's Kansas City or another team - you have to execute pitches. And I was able to put hitters away efficiently and it worked out," Baker said. Baker was modest about a performance in which he allowed no runs and only four hits in seven innings while tying a career high with nine strikeouts.
The win would have wrapped up the Central Division for the Twins if Chicago had lost its game on Sunday. But the White Sox broke a five-game losing streak by beating the Cleveland Indians five to one.
Now the Twins will wait for Chicago to finish their season by making up a game with the Detroit Tigers that was rained out earlier this month.
When late-season games are washed out, they are often simply cancelled. But in this case, the White Sox-Tigers game is critical to the final standings.
If Chicago wins, they and the Twins will finish the season with identical records, tied for first. On the other hand if Detroit wins, that would knock the White Sox into second place and out of the playoffs.
The Tigers were eliminated from the playoff race long ago and are vying with Kansas City for last place.
But Twins Manager Ron Gardenhire feels certain his Detroit counterpart, Jim Leyland, will have the Tigers eager to spoil Chicago's season.
"Jimmy Leyland will want to win that game as much as anybody. I think Detroit will, too. You saw the way the Royals played us and you saw the way Cleveland played those guys. No one wants to lay down. They'd love to be a spoiler. If you're making a team stay an extra day to play a game, I imagine they ought to be irritated enough to go out there and take a whack at 'em," Gardenhire said.
If Chicago does win, they and the Twins would break their tie by playing a single game on Tuesday.
Major League Baseball anticipated the possibility of a tie and held a coin flip weeks ago to determine which city would host a Twins-White Sox tiebreaker. Chicago won that coin toss, so a White Sox victory today would put the Twins on a flight to Chicago.
Relief pitcher Joe Nathan said Sunday that he and his teammates will be prepared for that when they gather to watch this afternoon's White Sox-Tigers contest on television.
"I think we're all going to come here and watch the game. Obviously we'll be rooting on the Tigers but we're packing up, we're getting ready to leave tomorrow. We'll be dressed in slacks prepared to head to Chicago," Nathan said.
If the Twins do wrap up the Central Division crown, they will be underdogs in the playoffs. The three other American League playoff teams all won more games than Minnesota this year.
Tampa Bay, which would be their first round opponent, finished nine games better than the Twins.
But fans at the regular season finale were optimistic about the Twins post-season prospects. John Pierce came down to the Dome from Barnesville, Minnesota, and wore a shirt with the name and number of pitcher Francisco Liriano.
"I think if we don't have to do the playoff in Chicago, we'll start the playoffs with Liriano in Tampa and that's a good matchup for us. We win one on the road, we come back home and the Twins have always won their games in the Dome in the playoffs. I think we've got a real good shot to beat Tampa Bay. They're not that experienced and we've been through this before," Pierce said.
Two years ago the Twins went to the playoffs after winning the Central Division on the last day of the season. But several of their young players have joined the team since then.
In fact, many sports pundits expected this to be a rebuilding year for the Twins after star players Johan Santana and Torii Hunter left Minnesota through trade and free agency.
Twins fan Alicia Hvistendahl of Roseville said their unsung status and knack for plugging away at the favorites is what she finds so likable about the 2008 Twins.
"People counted them out at the beginning. So, just finding ways to win. It's not like we've had great this, or great that, but we've found a way to win," Hvistendahl said.
One of the Twins who has had a great season is catcher and St. Paul native Joe Mauer, who looks certain to win his second batting title in three years.
Mauer's two hits on Sunday raised his batting average to .330, four points better than his closest rival in the American League.
If the Twins play Tuesday, that game's statistics would count as part of the regular season. But team officials say Mauer would have to go hitless in seven at bats to fall out of first in the batting race.
- Morning Edition, 09/29/2008, 7:25 a.m.