Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Twins Beat Tigers in 12 to Win AL Central

If you live in the land of 10,000 lakes you must be ecstatic.

The Minnesota Vikings are 4-0 with the dynamic duo of Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson. Their latest win came yesterday in the Metrodome against the Green BayPackers - Favre's old team.

Twenty-four hours later, the Minnesota Twins hosted the Detroit Tigers to determine the winner of the American League Central Division. In 12 innings, the Twins outlasted the Tigers 6-5 and will go to the Big Apple to play the New York Yankees in less than another twenty-four hours in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

When the game started I was still at work. I saw Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrera make two sensational plays in the top of the 2nd to keep the game scoreless. I said to a colleague that obtaining Cabrera was the best acquisition they made during the season. Of course, Cabrera was a member of the 2004 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. The Sox acquired Cabrera from the Montreal Expos the same deal that saw Nomar Garciaparra go to the Chicago Cubs.

I never understood why the Sox got rid of Cabrera that offseason. Supposedly Sox management didn't like the people Cabrera was hanging out with but Cabrera was a solid citizen during his nearly eight seasons in an Expos uniform. If he was a bad actor it wouldn't have been kept under wraps for almost a decade. Cabrera is still received warmly when he plays at Fenway.

Since Cabrera left the Red Sox, he's gone to the postseason four out of the last five seasons. Cabrera played in the postseason with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2005 and 2007 and with the Chicago White Sox last season. Cabrera began 2009 with the Oakland Athletics but was dealt to the Twins at the trade deadline for minor league shortstop Tyler Ladendorf. Along with getting Carl Pavano from Cleveland it was a very shrewd move by Minnesota.

However, early in the game it was all Detroit. The Tigers scored three runs in the top of the 3rd on a single by Magglio Ordonez and a two run homerun by Miguel Cabrera. Tigers starter Rick Porcello pitched well. The 20-year-old righty was sharp striking out eight batters over five and two thirds innings pitched. Porcello only made two mistakes in the game. The first was a throwing error in the bottom of the 3rd to allow Matt Tolbert to score. The second was to surrender a solo homerun to Jason Kubel, who along with teammate Delmon Young was named AL Player of the Week.

Cabrera would loom large again when he hit a two run homerun in the bottom of the 7th off Tigers reliever Zach Miner. This gave the Twins a 4-3 lead. However, the Tigers promptly tied it in the top of the 8th on a solo homerun by Ordonez off Twins reliever Matt Guerrier. Cabrera came to the rescue again in the top of the 9th. The Tigers had runners at first and third against Twins closer Joe Nathan with no outs. After Nathan struck out Placido Polanco he had to face Ordonez hot off his homerun. Ordonez hit the ball hard again but right at Cabrera who picked the speedy Curtis Granderson off first base for an inning ending double play.

The game went to extra innings and the Tigers again struck first on a Brandon Inge double off Twins reliever Jesse Crain. The Tigers were up 5-4 and the Twins once again had their backs to the wall. The Twins responded with a lead off triple by Michael Cuddyer off Tigers closer Fernando Rodney who would score on a single by Matt Tolbert to tie the game at 5-5. However, pinch runner Alexei Casilla would be thrown out at home on a great throw by Tigers left fielder Ryan Raburn.

But Casilla had the last laugh. The Tigers kept in Rodney for three innings plus and he ran out of gas. Rodney gave up a lead off single to Carlos Gomez. A ground out by Cuddyer advanced Gomez to second. The Tigers opted to intentionally walk Delmon Young. Aside from having a hot bat it also set up a possible double play. However, Casilla is pretty swift and isn't a double play candidate. It all became academic when Casilla stroked a single through the right side to score Gomez and give the Twins a 6-5 victory and their fifth AL Central Division title since 2002.

What a disappointment for the Tigers who led the division throughout the second half of the season. The Tigers could have clinched the division against the Twins on Thursday but couldn't close the deal. They then lost two of three to the Chicago White Sox thus forcing today's game. Despite a well played game even a bailout from Washington couldn't save the Tigers.

So where does this leave Jim Leyland? The Tigers extended his contract last June through the 2011 season. But this is the kind of thing from which teams don't easily recover and managers are the first casualty. Just ask Willie Randolph.

It wouldn't surprise me if Leyland were to announce his resignation during the off season. But if he stays on I've a funny feeling he won't last half way through the 2010 season. At the very least there are going to be some personnel changes. Magglio Ordonez can't have another season where he hits only nine homeruns. Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco and Brandon Inge are all north of 30.

Despite the result, the Tigers did rebound in 2009. After winning the AL championship in 2006, the Tigers had disappointing seasons in both 2007 and 2008. But that is of small comfort to Tigers fans.

Twins fans, on the other hand, will get to see at least one more baseball game in the Metrodome. But the Twins must first play two in the new Yankee Stadium. The Twins went 0-7 against the Yankees in 2009. The Twins haven't won in New York since the Fourth of July 2007 at the old Yankee Stadium. The Yankees pretty much own the Twins.

Yet the Twins have won 17 of their last 21 games. They are playing better now without Justin Morneau in the lineup. Joe Mauer will probably win the AL MVP because of it. The Twins are playing their best baseball maybe ever. I think the Yankees will prevail against the Twins in the ALDS as they did in 2003 and 2004. But if there is a window for the Twins to beat the Yankees it is open right now. If the Twins can't beat the Yankees now they will never do so.

Somewhere up in heaven Kirby Puckett is smiling upon the Twin Cities.

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