Twins gladly invite Tigers to the ’Dome

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MINNEAPOLIS – High above the Hefty-bag right-field wall of the Metrodome is a video board that delivers the out-of-town scores, or, on this day, beamed them right at the Minnesota Twins.

There was only one anyone cared about and when Jason Kubel(notes) walked to the plate with two on in the scoreless first, it was taunting him: Detroit 4, Chicago 0, in the bottom of the fifth.

So Kubel took a 0-1 pitch from Kansas City’s Luke Hochevar(notes) and pounded it within 20 feet of the scoreboard.

“Almost [hit it],” he said later with a smile.

It was a 383-foot shot out of the park, at the Detroit Tigers and right into Tuesday, when the winding, stumbling, seemingly endless American League Central race will be decided in a one-game playoff at the Metrodome. First pitch is 5:07 p.m. ET.

Photo Jason Kubel hit a pair of three-run home runs for the Twins on Sunday.
(Genevieve Ross/Getty Images)

Detroit rode ace Justin Verlander(notes) to a 5-3 victory over the White Sox on Sunday. The Twins followed Kubel’s offense – he drilled another three-run homer in the third – to a 13-4 victory over the Royals.

Now, for the second consecutive year, it’s game No. 163 for the Twins to determine the division crown and an AL Division Series date either Wednesday or Thursday against the New York Yankees.

Only this time Minnesota is sprinting through the finish line, full of hope and confidence and believing that the absolute last thing the Tigers feel like doing right now is packing their ear plugs for a game at this tarp-covered stadium just off downtown.

Detroit had a three-game lead with four to go last Thursday. They had just beaten the Twins two of three and walked into the series finale, a day game at Comerica with what some Twins believe was a different attitude.

“They felt like they had won it already,” said outfielder Denard Span(notes). “I’ll be honest. All they had to do is win two games, or win one more game and we lose one.

“[It was] just body language. You just see it. Nobody said anything but you could just feel it in the air, that it was over.”

One big problem for Detroit – it wasn’t over. Minnesota won that day, and then won everyday since, forcing the Tigers to haul Verlander out Sunday to extend the season. Momentum is overrated in baseball and obviously anything can happen in a one-game playoff, but the Twins weren’t afraid to admit they are enjoying how this turned out.

The team that left them for dead last week has to board a flight for the Upper Midwest; Detroit’s mistake for not driving a stake through the Twins’ collective heart when they had the chance.

The Twins are rightfully excited about the historic comeback they could finish off on Tuesday, tossing around terms like “poise” and “perseverance.” Fair enough, they did erase a seven-game September deficit and then climbed out of a three-game hole in the final four days.

Still, whether this is about what Minnesota did or Detroit didn’t (blowing the first two games of the series to the White Sox) is open to debate. And the Twins may be a team of all-time resilience, but there’s no denying they got a gift from the scheduling gods – a must-win weekend of games against the hapless Royals.

Minnesota won 16 of its last 20 but dropped three of four a week ago to the Tigers. So who knows what to make of all this. It’s par for the course in a divisional race of epic mediocrity.

The Yankees are the real winners. They’re kicking back as the Twins and Tigers blow through pitchers. It only helps that the game was pushed back to Tuesday due to Monday Night Football taking over the Metrodome.

“Might as week get a day off tomorrow and watch the Vikings and the Packers,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said with a shrug.

Photo A fan holds up a sign honoring the 1987 World Series winners during a tribute to the Metrodome.
(Genevieve Ross/Getty Images)

That offers even less time for the winner to rest, travel and prepare for a playoff opener at Yankee Stadium. It doesn’t make up for all those December interceptions, but consider it Brett Favre’s parting gift to New York.

The Twins won’t apologize for how they got here or what the future may hold. A year ago they fell apart down the stretch, let the White Sox catch them and then lost the 163rd game in front of a U.S. Cellular Field “blackout” crowd.

“Maybe we’ll have a whiteout on Tuesday,” Michael Cuddyer(notes) offered. “Maybe it’ll look like winter in here. This place is a different animal when it comes playoff time.”

It promises to be even louder and wilder than Sunday, when 55,155 fans screamed, stomped and waved their white hankies in what could have been the final game at the Metrodome. The Twins move to the outdoor Target Field next season.

“Now we’ve got to come back here Tuesday and drink some more beer,” said former Twins great Kent Hrbek, on hand for the closing of the Dome.

Back in Detroit, Curtis Granderson(notes) projected an air of relaxed confidence, promising, “It’s going to be fun.”

Of course, he isn’t Rick Porcello(notes), 20-year-old rookie with a 14-9 record the Tigers will start in that environment. Gardenhire will counter with Scott Baker(notes) (15-9).

This entire pursuit isn’t likely to go down as an all-time great playoff chase, but at least there will be one more deafening day in the Dome. They’ll be closure, at last.

No need to wonder who wants to be here or not. No need for any more messages to be sent from or to the right-field scoreboard.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Oct 4, 2009