MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The Homer Hankies will be waving in the Metrodome again this postseason, and a little sooner than expected.
The Twins took home another AL Central championship on Sunday and Joe Mauer became the first catcher to win an American League batting title by getting two hits in Minnesota’s 5-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
About 35 minutes after Minnesota’s game ended, the Kansas City Royals completed a big comeback and beat the Detroit Tigers 10-8 in 12 innings—giving the Twins their fourth division title in five years.
After starting the season just 25-33, they will open the playoffs at home Tuesday against AL West champion Oakland with ace Johan Santana on the mound.
When asked if there could be a better script written, Michael Cuddyer said, “Yeah, we win the World Series. That’s a good script right there.”
The Twins huddled in the dugout after the final out to watch the end of Detroit’s game. When Esteban German got the go-ahead hit in the 12th for the Royals, Minnesota players leaped from the bench, spilled onto the field and starting high-fiving and hugging in a mass celebration.
More than 30,000 fans at the Metrodome stayed to watch the end of the Tigers’ game and cheer in a euphoric scene.
“They said we couldn’t do it!” Torii Hunter exclaimed over and over again in a champagne and beer-soaked clubhouse. “I’m going to buy the whole Kansas City team a bottle of champagne! Every one of them! Dom Perignon.”
The Twins began the day tied with Detroit for first place, but they needed a victory AND a Tigers loss to win the division title because Detroit won the season series 11-8 against the Twins.
The Tigers get the AL wild card and will begin the postseason Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Mauer went 2-for-4 to finish the season at .347, beating out New York’s Derek Jeter (.343), for the batting crown, and Hunter homered for the Twins, who trailed the Tigers by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 7.
All but left for dead, they finished the season a stunning 71-33 to come into the final weekend all square with Detroit. Both teams lost the first two games of their respective series, and more than 45,000 in attendance at the Metrodome were hoping the Royals could help their club just one more time.
They certainly did.
Asked if he’d seen anything like this in all his years in baseball, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, “Not as a manager, not as a coach, not as a player, so I guess not. Ninety-six wins, that’s a division title right there.”
In a wild atmosphere at the Dome, the crowd was at once cheering on hometown boy Mauer and the Twins while keeping an eye glued on the scoreboard to watch the play-by-play being posted for the Royals and Tigers.
The energy was sapped early when Detroit led 7-4, but the crowd was energized when the Royals rallied to take an 8-7 lead in the eighth.
It was the fifth inning when that score popped up on the board, and Mauer, who was the DH on Sunday, had to step out of the box and call for time to let things settle down. He stepped back in and calmly ripped a single to left.
Mauer came into the day leading Jeter by just .001 in the AL batting title race. Jeter went 1-for-5 against Toronto to finish at .343.
The St. Paul native with the sweet left-handed swing and sideburns struck out in the first inning, but doubled down the left-field line to start a rally in the fourth and clinched it with a single in the fifth.
Only three catchers have won the batting title, the last being Ernie Lombardi with the Boston Braves in 1942. Lombardi won it with Cincinnati in 1938, and Cincinnati’s Bubbles Hargrave was the first to do it in 1926.
As animated as he’s ever been, the normally reserved Mauer spoke excitedly about capping an historic season.
“I said it wasn’t bothering me, but I was lying to you guys most of the time,” Mauer said. “It was a lot of pressure.”
But the Twins had bigger goals than Mauer’s batting title in mind Sunday.
Carrying a 5-1 lead into the eighth, and with Kansas City and Detroit tied in the 10th, the Metrodome speakers blared Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer,” hoping for one more comeback in a season full of them.
Though he said he was determined to finish the season strong and not make it easy for the Twins, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen sat Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Joe Crede, no doubt helping Carlos Silva (11-15) cruise through 5 1-3 innings.
Silva allowed one run and five hits. He left to a standing ovation with a 5-1 lead in the sixth, and all eyes turned to the scoreboard and chants of “Let’s Go Royals!” filled the stands.
He got plenty of help from his offense in this one.
After giving up an RBI single to Ross Gload in the first, the Twins backed Silva up with a three-run fourth highlighted by Hunter’s 31st homer of the year, a two-run shot, that barely reached the seats in left for a 3-1 lead.
Javier Vazquez (11-12) gave up four runs and eight hits in 4 2-3 innings for the White Sox, who are going home early after winning the World Series for the first time in 88 years last season.
Radke, who has said he will retire after the season, was honored before the game and received a thunderous standing ovation from the home fans. The Twins surprised him with a jet ski, and Gardenhire urged Radke to reconsider. … Twins 2B Luis Castillo had two hits in his return after missing four games with a sore knee.