Twins win, but AL Central race still unsettled

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—The playoff party plans in Minnesota are still on hold.

In a fitting conclusion to this slow-moving AL Central race, the Twins won their final scheduled game of the regular season and stayed in first place—but were forced to cheer against the Chicago White Sox for another day.

“It’s kind of an ongoing joke that it seems like nobody wanted to win the Central, so this is kind of probably the way it should go down, going into a game tomorrow when the season’s supposed to be over,” closer Joe Nathan said.

Scott Baker scattered four singles over seven shutout innings, pitching the Twins past the Kansas City Royals 6-0 on Sunday to preserve their half-game lead over the White Sox—who pushed the season into an extra day by beating Cleveland.

On Monday, Detroit visits Chicago for a makeup game. If the White Sox (87-74) win, they’ll host the Twins on Tuesday in a one-game playoff to determine the division title and the first-round opponent for Tampa Bay.

The Twins were planning to gather at the Metrodome and become Tigers fans for a day, but they make it sound like it would be an agonizing afternoon.

At worst, Chicago wins, and it’s up to them to win the Central once and for all without any help. At best, they celebrate in an empty stadium and get ready to fly to Florida for the division series against the Rays.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire tried to put some lighthearted pressure on his White Sox colleague Ozzie Guillen after the game.

“It’s up to them. It’s all on their shoulders now. I don’t have to make a pitching move. I don’t have to pinch hit anybody tomorrow. It’s all on Ozzie’s butt, so go get ‘em Ozzie and let’s see what happens,” he said.

Gardenhire was then asked if the circumstances would dictate a more subdued celebration than when the Twins won titles in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you what’s going to happen, but don’t wear your good clothes,” he said, smiling.

Delmon Young’s two-run single and Joe Mauer’s two-run triple gave Baker (11-4) some extra insurance, and Jose Mijares and Nathan finished the final two innings to give Minnesota an 88-74 record—far exceeding almost every forecast.

“Regardless of how it works out, I’m very proud of the team,” said Baker, who matched a career high with nine strikeouts and went 4-0 in his final six starts. “We battled and won a lot more games than people thought we would. Despite the situation, we should be very happy with how things have gone so far.”

As for Mauer? He went 2-for-5 to keep his average at .330 and has a four-point lead over Boston’s Dustin Pedroia. If there’s a tiebreaker game, Mauer would have to go 0-for-7 or worse to lose what would be his second AL batting title in three seasons.

“Like I’ve always said, we’re trying to do bigger things here. If we get to the playoffs and that happens, I’ll be a happy guy for sure,” Mauer said.

Losses to the Royals the last two days took the luster out of an inspired three-game sweep of Chicago earlier in the week. The Twins went 14-20 since Aug. 22. The Royals finished 75-87, though, their best record since 2003 thanks to an 18-8 mark in September.

“It wasn’t like we were playing terrible by any means,” Nathan said. “We were going up against some pretty good competition, so hats off to them for showing a lot of character and not just playing out the end of the season but battling all the way through 162 games.”

Brandon Duckworth, brought up from the minors last month, made his seventh start for the Royals and needed 116 pitches to complete six innings. They decided to rest Zack Greinke for the final week after he reached a career-most 202 1-3 innings. Greinke’s performance this year, a 13-10 record, 3.47 ERA and 183 strikeouts, gave Kansas City good reason to be optimistic about the 2009 rotation with him and Gil Meche at the front.

Duckworth (3-3) walked four and hit two more, but he yielded only two hits— one of them an RBI double by Denard Span with two outs and a full count in the second inning. Two errors gave the Twins another run in the third.

“You’d like to finish up stronger mentally,” Royals manager Trey Hillman said, “but sometimes that happens especially when you’re in an atmosphere like this.”

Despite Sunday’s loss, this was a fun way for the Royals to finish the season—having a hand in the pennant race even though they couldn’t win it themselves.

“I’d be lying saying you didn’t get that extra adrenaline rush when you have that many fans out there going crazy in big situations,” Duckworth said. “Good fun time. I just wish we could’ve gotten the ‘W.”’


Mauer established career highs for games caught (134), games played (145) and RBIs (85). … Justin Morneau went 0-for-3 with two walks for Minnesota, finishing 3-for-23 on the homestand and in an 6-for-38 slump to finish the regular season. He sent a career high with 76 walks, including 16 intentional. … Kansas City 1B Ryan Shealy was replaced by Billy Butler in the bottom of the fourth because of tightness in his left hamstring. … The Royals close the 2009 season here, too. That’ll be the final baseball series in the Metrodome’s 28-year history scheduled for next Oct. 2-4.

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