Twins 4, Indians 1

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Minnesota Twins had a much more difficult time winning the AL Central this year than they did in 2002. The half-hour wait for a second straight title Tuesday night seemed almost as hard.

Minnesota clinched the division with a 4-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians, winning its 10th consecutive game as Kenny Rogers came within one out of a shutout.

“I knew how much it meant,” said Rogers, a 38-year-old veteran signed as a free agent in March when Eric Milton needed knee surgery.

Shannon Stewart drove in two runs and Cristian Guzman went 2-for-2 with a homer and two runs for the Twins. Their celebration was delayed by 30 minutes until New York’s 7-0 victory over Chicago and Detroit’s 15-6 rout over Kansas City—each shown on a Metrodome scoreboard—were complete.

“I was watching the scoreboard the whole time,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I’m not going to lie.”

The whole team, already decked out in cream-colored T-shirts and hats declaring them 2003 AL Central champions, anxiously watched the Royals and White Sox in a beer-soaked dugout.

Center fielder Torii Hunter looked like a boxer before a fight, hopping up and down with a towel draped around his neck. Gardenhire’s eyes were misty as he stared up at the screen in the upper deck.

About half the crowd of 33,650 stuck around, too, roaring when the Tigers finished off the Royals. Players hugged, pointed to their fans and watched Gardenhire walk around the infield holding the jersey of third-base coach Al Newman—who’s recovering from a brain hemorrhage in a Chicago hospital.

Six of the seven crowds on the Twins’ final homestand have been 30,000 or bigger.

“They picked us up,” first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. “We wanted to do it here.”

Last year, the Twins won at Cleveland on Sept. 15 and waited in the visitor’s clubhouse for the Yankees to beat the White Sox before uncorking the champagne. Minnesota wound up 13 1/2 games ahead of Chicago.

It wasn’t the same story for the Twins, who survived baseball’s attempt to eliminate them before last season and advanced to the AL championship series in 2002. They overcame a 7 1/2 -game deficit at the All-Star break this year, going 45-20 in the second half—the best record in baseball. Tuesday’s results gave them a six-game lead over Chicago and Kansas City with five to play.

“We fought each other, we yelled at each other, we did everything we possibly could to motivate each other,” Mientkiewicz said. “We’ve been through a lot together.”

Rogers (13-8), probably the odd man out of the postseason rotation, rolled through a lineup stocked with eight rookies. His last shutout was a five-hitter against Seattle on April 19 last year.

He gave up one-out singles to Jody Gerut and Alex Escobar in the ninth before Josh Bard hit a two-out single to make it 4-1. Eddie Guardado got the final out for his 40th save in 43 tries.

Rogers gave up eight hits and struck out two.

People in the stadium had eyes on the out-of-town scoreboard in the upper deck above left-center field, where updates on the other games scrolled by. Each time Detroit or New York added a run, the crowd cheered.

The players couldn’t help but watch.

“My at-bats were terrible,” said Mientkiewicz, who went 0-for-3. “I can’t do two things at once.”

Guzman sparked a two-run third with a leadoff single against Jake Westbrook (7-10). Stewart and Luis Rivas followed with back-to-back RBI doubles.

The Indians, who have lost 15 of 20 to fall a season-high 24 games under .500, were a part of Minnesota’s celebration for the second straight season.

“It was an exciting game for them,” Cleveland’s C.C. Sabathia said. “We just wanted to prevent them from clinching, but they deserve it.”

Westbrook gave up four runs—three earned—and six hits in seven innings. He walked three.

Rogers had runners on first and third with one out in the second inning, but he picked Josh Bard off first and got Greg LaRocca to ground out.

Rogers hit Casey Blake and Gerut with pitches to begin the fourth, but Escobar struck out and Victor Martinez grounded into a double play. Brandon Phillips squelched a fifth-inning rally with a double-play grounder afterLaRocca doubled and Jhonny Peralta singled with one out.


Blake, a former Twins 3B, was Cleveland’s only non-rookie in the starting lineup. … The Twins won the AL pennant in 1965, the AL West in 1969, 1970, 1987 and 1991 and the AL Central last year, but each of those titles were clinched on the road. … The Indians are 9-3 on artificial surfaces this year, with each of their final four games on turf. … Minnesota will flip-flop its rotation so Johan Santana starts Thursday in Detroit and Eric Milton on Friday. … Gardenhire is just the sixth in baseball history to begin his managingcareer with consecutive first-place finishes.

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