CHICAGO – The last time he pitched a winner-take-all game?
John Danks blinked at the question.
"I think tomorrow," said the 23-year-old left-hander. "Tomorrow will be my first and only. I pitched in … hell, only tomorrow.
"We'll see. I feel good about it."
After 161 games and one 3 hour, 4 minute rain delay, the Chicago White Sox gave Danks the chance to pitch them into October by beating the Detroit Tigers 8-2 in a game that was supposed to start in early afternoon but ended under the cover of darkness.
Less than an hour after Curtis Granderson of the Tigers flied out to Brian Anderson in center field, the White Sox announced that all tickets had been sold for Tuesday night's one-game tiebreaker playoff against the Minnesota Twins to determine the champion of the American League Central.
"A lot of people will be excited, a lot of people will be nervous, a lot of people will lose sleep," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, whose team is facing a third straight elimination game against a third different opponent, unprecedented in baseball history.
"The only thing we can do is show up at the ballpark tomorrow and be ready for the game."
The White Sox are urging fans to dress in black, and will be passing out black towels, for the seventh one-game playoff since Major League Baseball went to a division format in 1969 – the first since the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres 9-8 in a 13-inning affair at Coors Field last season.
The Twins, who had gathered at the Metrodome either to celebrate or collectively board buses for the airport, started loading for the trip to Chicago about the time Cuban defector Alexei Ramirez – "The Cuban Missile" – hit a grand slam to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth.
The slam was the fourth this season by the rookie second baseman, setting a major league record for rookies and tying the club record set by Albert Belle. Guillen, asked where the slender Ramirez gets his power, cracked wise.
"I don't know his mom and dad," Guillen said. "I don't think he's using any illegal stuff. You see his body. He never ate well back home.
"But this kid's got some unbelievable speed in his bat."
The Twins plan to pitch Nick Blackburn, who beat the White Sox 3-2 last week as part of a three-game sweep that catapulted the Twins into first place. Blackburn, however, failed to impress Guillen, who wasn't shy about saying so at the time and was less than complimentary again Monday.
"I'll take my chances against him," he said. "He didn't pitch well. When you got your bullpen warming up in the second inning … we just didn't approach it the right way."
Guillen failed to mention that Danks didn't get out of the fifth inning in his last start, giving up seven runs on seven hits, including two home runs, in an 11-8 loss to the Indians here Friday night.
And Danks, a former No. 1 draft pick of the Texas Rangers, may have had a selective memory Monday. He pitched for Round Rock High School in the Texas Class 5A championship game in 2003 and took the 5-4 loss, despite striking out 11.
But Danks can draw on a family history of coming up big in winner-take-all settings. His father, John, was a guard on the Abe Lemons-coached University of Texas team that beat North Carolina State 101-93 in the 1978 NIT finals.
"I'll talk to him tonight," Danks said. "I'm sure he'll have some pointers to give me."
The White Sox have held first place, or a share of it, 126 days this season but haven't led the Twins by more than three games since June 20. The Twins took a half-game lead by sweeping the White Sox last week but failed to expand that lead over the weekend, which is why Detroit was forced into the makeup game.
Former White Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia held a 2-1 lead in the sixth, Chicago pitcher Gavin Floyd's throwing error accounting for the second Detroit run, but Garcia came out in the bottom of the inning with tightness in his shoulder and the Tigers bullpen imploded, as it has throughout this underachieving season. Rookie Armando Galarraga, who has been a starter all season, threw two wild pitches to bring home the tying run, the bullpen reloaded the bases with walks, and Ramirez crushed the first pitch he saw from former White Sox reliever Gary Glover into the left-field seats.
So, it will be the Twins and White Sox, one more time. Fitting?
"Yes and no, I guess," Danks said. "Both teams haven't played very well this month, and each team could have locked it up way back when. But it seemed like every time we won, they won, and every time we lost, they lost."
The Twins won the season series, 10-8, but that's because they beat the White Sox eight of nine in the Metrodome. At Cellular Field, the White Sox won seven of nine meetings, scoring five or more runs in eight of those games and scoring in double digits in three. But they haven't met in the Cell since early June, when the White Sox won four straight, outscoring the Twins 40-15.
"Amazing, after 162 games, that there's going to be another game tomorrow," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who was drafted by the Twins and played his first six big-league seasons in Minnesota.
"Amazing how it works like that. It's going to be fun. It's supposed to be fun. It's a little nerve-racking at times, but it's also fun.
"It's winner-take-all, and we'll see what happens."