MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—With his blue shirt soaked to the skin and champagne and beer dripping off his goggles, Torii Hunter led a toast in a circle of his teammates.
Colored bottles raised, the Twins cheered their spot in the playoffs but made clear they’re still pushing for the division title.
“It ain’t done yet!” Hunter yelled.
Boof Bonser came up with another strong start to help the Twins reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five years—a feat that certainly looked unlikely when they were 25-33 in early June.
“This is fun, man. Every time!” said Hunter, one of only two position players left from the 2002 team that won the first of three straight AL Central championships.
“It’s sweeter, because we were written off,” he said.
After Joe Nathan pitched a scoreless ninth, the Twins streamed out of the dugout and jumped up and down in the middle of the diamond—before taking the party up to the clubhouse.
Minnesota’s win, coupled with Chicago’s 14-1 loss to Cleveland, eliminated the defending World Series champion White Sox from contention. The Twins can now focus on the division race, in which they trail the Tigers by one game. With Detroit and Minnesota in the playoffs, this marks the first time that the wild card will come out of the AL Central.
The small crowd of 18,108 at the Metrodome cheered when Chicago’s game was final, saving more screaming for the real celebration about 90 minutes later.
“Hopefully we’re doing this again. That’s our goal,” said Morneau, who heard a series of “MVP” chants after his three-run shot in the eighth, his 34th of the year but his first since Aug. 24. He has 129 RBIs, second in the league behind Boston’s David Ortiz.
Hunter hit career-high 30th homer and Bonser (7-5) was brilliant against the depleted Royals, who lost their seventh straight and were forced to watch the opponents party for the second consecutive game. The Tigers beat them 11-4 on Sunday to seal their place in the postseason.
“They’re a great organization. They’ve proven that year after year by doing things right,” interim manager Billy Doran said.
“Hopefully this is just the start of what we can do,” said Bonser, who gave up a just-barely homer to Angel Berroa over the left-field wall in the sixth and a leadoff double to Emil Brown in the fifth, striking out five and walking two over 6 2-3 innings.
Bonser left to a loud serenade, “Booooof!” as Dennys Reyes took over for the last out of the seventh.
“Everything is finally coming through,” Bonser said. “I can’t say it’s just me, because it’s the guys behind me. They’re hitting the ball and playing defense. That’s it right there. It’s all about the Twins. It’s not just one guy. It’s everybody.”
Hunter, named the AL’s co-Player of the Week on Monday, heard the loudest cheers, following his two-run shot in the seventh against Zack Greinke. He popped out of the dugout minutes later for a curtain call. The five-time Gold Glove winner, who has been hobbled this year by a sore left foot, also made two exceptional running catches in center field, doubled and stole third base before scoring a run.
Jorge De La Rosa (3-4), who arrived in a July trade with Milwaukee, has struggled with his command all season. His career-long outing came in his previous start, 6 2-3 innings in a loss, but he didn’t make it out of the fifth against Minnesota despite allowing only two runs.
The Royals (58-98) have three more games at Minnesota and three in Detroit against the Tigers, so they’re likely on their way to a third straight season with 100 or more defeats. They had been playing better, going 12-7 during a three-week stretch before the current losing streak started.
In fact, they’re essentially the reason that Minnesota is in second place instead of first. Kansas City is 6-10 against the Twins, but just 1-14 against the Tigers.
“It drives me. I want to be doing that one day,” right fielder Shane Costa said. “Hopefully in years to come, maybe we can be doing that. I think the future is bright.”
The Twins (93-63) have a realistic chance to finish with their biggest victory total since 1970, when they won 98 games and lost in the league championship series to Baltimore. They won 94 in 2002 and 95 in 1991, the year of their second World Series title. … An MRI test on Royals infielder Andres Blanco revealed a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He hurt himself swinging Sunday. … Minnesota’s Rondell White has a sore left hamstring that will keep him out of left field for the next couple of days. … The last time the Twins had multiple 30 home run hitters was 1987, when Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky and Gary Gaetti helped power the Twins to their first World Series title. Morneau became the first Minnesota player to pass that mark on Aug. 4.