The Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 6-5 in 12 innings in a drama-packed, one-game play-off on Tuesday to decide the American League Central Division champions and advance to baseball's post-season action. Minnesota, who like Detroit finished the regular season with an 86-76 record, moved on to a best-of-five division series against the New York Yankees.
Carlos Gomez scored the winning run in the seesaw battle with one out in the 12th inning on Alexi Casilla's ground single off Detroit pitcher Fernando Rodney. The run started a wild celebration, with Minnesota players taking a victory lap in front of a roaring, record crowd of more than 54,000 at the Metrodome, which will give way to a new ballpark for the Twins next season. "This is absolutely the most unbelievable game I have ever played in or seen," said the 13-year veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera, whose two-run homer in the seventh gave the Twins a 4-3 lead, wiping out a 3-0 Tigers' lead from the third. The victory completed a rousing comeback this season by the Twins, who became the first team to win a division title after trailing by three games with four to play.
Earlier in September, their hopes had seemed even more slender as they trailed Detroit by seven games. "I'm really proud of my team mates. We all got together and said we got to pull this out. And now we're in the post-season," Cabrera said after the game about the 17-4 mark his team posted to end the season. Joe Mauer, the Minnesota catcher and one of the leading contenders for American League MVP honours, slapped high-fives with fans as he circled the stadium with teammates.
"Unbelievable," said Mauer. "That was one of the best games I've ever played in. Detroit doesn't have to put their heads down." Miguel Cabrera homered to fuel Detroit's early lead, and Magglio Ordonez lined a homer in the eighth to tie it at 4-4. Brandon Inge's double put the Tigers ahead 5-4 in the 10th, but the Twins answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning on Matt Tolbert's bouncer through the middle.
Both teams missed chances to win in the late innings, with brilliant fielding and double plays thwarting threats. Detroit had men on first and third with no outs in the ninth, but Cabrera snuffed out the danger when he snared Ordonez's liner and turned it into a double play by catching Curtis Granderson off first. The Tigers also had the bases loaded with one out in the 12th but could not score. After tying it in the 10th, Minnesota looked poised to win with men on first and third and one out when Nick Punto lined to left field. Ryan Raburn caught it and gunned out Casilla at the plate for another sensational double play.
The Twins face a huge task against the Yankees, who dominated Minnesota in the regular season, winning all seven encounters. The other American League playoff series will see the Boston Red Sox play the Los Angeles Angels, starting today in Los Angeles. In the National League play-offs, the Colorado Rockies play the World Series champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, while the Los Angeles Dodgers meet St Louis.