MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Minnesota Twins seem to think that 162 regular-season games aren’t enough.
The Twins will host the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday in a tiebreaker for the American League Central title and a trip the playoffs. It is the second straight season that the Twins have needed a 163rd game to finish the season, a first in league history.
One year after losing a 1-0 heartbreaker in Chicago to the White Sox in a one-game playoff, the Twins will get the homefield advantage this time around as they look to cap their remarkable September rally.
“It’s like deja vu,” second baseman Nick Punto(notes) said. “Last year, same thing. A lot of these guys have been through this, though. I think that’s the best part about it. That breeds confidence just knowing you’ve been in a position like this before. It’s fun. We’re having fun.”
Why wouldn’t they be?
A month ago, the Twins were seven games behind Detroit in the division. Three weeks ago, they lost All-Star slugger Justin Morneau(notes) to a season-ending back injury. Last week, they were three games down with four to play.
Yet here they are again, thanks to 16 victories in 20 games and four straight to close the season.
“Everybody wrote off the Twins, it seems like, a long time ago, especially when Morneau went down,” said outfielder Johnny Damon(notes), whose Yankees are awaiting Tuesday’s winner. “A team needs to keep fighting and they’ve been one of those special teams for a long time. It seems like they don’t give up. That’s the great thing about baseball. You never know.”
The Tigers, who went 11-15 in their final 26 games to let the Twins back into the race, aren’t putting too much stock in the experience factor.
“It’s going to be the loudest environment any of these guys have ever been in, and I can tell you that firsthand because I was up there for the ’87 World Series when they called it ‘The Hankie Dome’ and my wife couldn’t even hear each other talk,” Leyland said. “But that’s OK. Sometimes that works for you, and sometimes that works against you.”
Young pitchers, and even veterans, have been known to get rattled in the din of the Metrodome, which was supposed to hold its final regular season baseball game on Sunday when the Twins played the Royals. The Twins are hoping there is still plenty of more baseball to be played under the roof before the move outside to Target Field next year.
“He’s going to be fine,” Granderson said of Porcello, who will face Tigers’ right-hander Scott Baker(notes) (15-9). “I don’t think there’s any question that he’ll be poised and relaxed. He just pitched against them, and he’s pitched there, so this isn’t going to be anything new for him. We’re very confident in him.”
The Tigers had another concern: Their best slugger, first baseman Miguel Cabrera(notes), was taken to a police station early Saturday after what police said was a fight with his wife. Cabrera’s blood-alcohol content was three times the legal limit for Michigan drivers, begging the question of why he went drinking in the middle of a key series with the division title up for grabs.
The Tigers have declined comment and Cabrera simply apologized to his teammates and fans for the “distraction.”
Cabrera is hitting .323 with 33 homers and 101 RBIs this season, but was 0 for 11 in three games against the White Sox over the weekend that could have wrapped up Detroit’s first division title since 1987.
The game is being played in Minnesota because the Twins won the season series 11-7, including seven wins in nine games at the Metrodome. The Twins are eager to get outdoors next season, but there is no place they would rather play this one.
“The situation is the same, but the setting is different,” Baker said in comparing this game to last year’s loss in Chicago. “There’s no way to get around the fact that we’re playing at the Dome and not in Detroit. I think we’ve seen in the past how well we play in front of our fans and how much it can affect the outcome of a game.”
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this story.