MINNESOTA – Denard Span could not hear himself. He was screaming so hard his uvula begged him to stop. He didn't. No one else did, either, which is how Span's voice got lost among the pandemonium.
Span stood on third base like a man atop Mount Everest. He thrust his fists in the air. The game wasn't over, not on the scoreboard at least. In Span's head, though, and in those of his euphoric Minnesota Twins' teammates, and those of the Chicago White Sox he had just demoralized – well, the visitors' bus might as well have started its engine, because the single best game in Major League Baseball this season was not going to be lost by the Twins, dontcha know?
Two innings after Span's game-tying triple, when Alexi Casilla flared a single to center field off a worn-down Bobby Jenks to score Nick Punto, the Twins spilled out onto the field to celebrate a 7-6 victory in 10 innings Thursday that registered improbable in so many fashions. They came back from a 6-1 deficit, handed Chicago its first series sweep in more than three months and were – most incredible of all – owners of first place in the American League Central by a half-game.
"I will take a couple sleeping pills, a glass of vodka and go to sleep," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Because I know it's not going to be easy for me to sleep tonight."
Presuming he wakes up, Guillen and the White Sox will host the Cleveland Indians the next three days while Minnesota entertains the Kansas City Royals. If necessary, the White Sox will follow the regular season with a makeup game against the Detroit Tigers on Monday, and should the teams share the division lead following that, Chicago will get to exact revenge at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday in a one-game playoff.
Anything to get away from the Metrodome, where the White Sox three times this season blew leads of four runs or more. None was as calamitous as Thursday's, when Chicago knocked around Twins starter Kevin Slowey and seemed primed to shuck aside the bad feelings of the first two games, the drama from Guillen calling out starter Javier Vazquez and the latest foray into bad timing, much-disliked shortstop Orlando Cabrera essentially calling his teammates a bunch of losers on a Chicago radio station.
Minnesota gnawed away at the White Sox's lead as it's wont to do, though the usual cast of characters didn't play quite as big a part. Span and Carlos Gomez, the former a sparkplug and the latter an inconsistent dynamo, are rookies who comprise two-thirds of an outfield that counts 23-year-old Delmon Young as its most tenured major leaguer. They combined for seven hits, three of which were triples, and Minnesota surged back enough that after his seventh-inning single, Cabrera cast a glance at Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.
"We just don't quit, do we?" Morneau asked.
"No," Cabrera replied.
Guillen summoned closer Jenks with one out in the eighth inning and a runner on third base. Gomez promptly singled to cut the deficit to one run. Span followed by lacing his triple down the first-base line and into the right-field corner, and the crowd of 43,601 at the Metrodome went berserk, shaking the protective netting behind home plate and delivering sloppy high-fives and huffing the inevitability of what was to come.
It's not as though that rendered the 10th any more anticlimactic. Punto walked, advanced to second on a fielder's choice, third on a wild pitch and home to a waiting mosh pit, which eventually drifted toward Casilla and enveloped him like a hurricane.
"This," Span said, "is by far the best win we've had this year."
"This," closer Joe Nathan corrected, "has got to be the best game I've ever been a part of. For sure."
All of the talk afterward drifted toward the postseason. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, his voice hoarse, screeched that "it feels like you should just quit playing right now and be in the playoffs." Gomez talked about October as if it were a forgone conclusion. And the White Sox, incredulous, did all they could not to mope.
"I don't even know what to say anymore," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "I'm sick of (expletive) losing."
He talked about the Twins dinking and dunking their way to runs, which has become a cop out. Minnesota's offense is dangerous, even though only three players have reached double-digit home run totals. Gomez might be the fastest player in baseball. Span isn't far behind. Casilla's right there. Punto rounds out a dynamite 4x100 relay team.
"It's the only way we know how," Morneau said. "We don't hit a lot of home runs. We don't do things like that. We have to create runs. We have to hustle. We're going to give you nine tough innings no matter what. You can never count a team out that has heart like we do."
The Twins are a lot like the team they might face in the first round of the postseason, Tampa Bay, nearly bereft of big names and achieving in spite of it. It would be a great series, damned, foolishly, to an early TV time slot because it's as sexy as a muumuu. Though that's fine. Those who understand the implausibility surely will find it on the tube.
First, of course, the Twins must take care of their games against the Royals and hope they shattered Chicago's resolve. They're crossing their fingers that Slowey's right arm – held in place by a splint, covered by an Ace bandage after a Pierzynski liner hit it and knocked him out of the game – is ready for next week. Otherwise, they don't want to change a thing.
For the past three months, their clubhouse attendants have been involved in a mustache-growing contest. It was supposed to end Friday. One of the clubbies sat on a table, stroking the ends of his 'stache that were looping up into a Rollie Fingers curlicue. He was the favorite in the contest and with good reason was eager to take a razor to it.
Nathan shook his head.
"Sorry," Nathan said, "but he's not shaving it. Not anymore."
- White Sox
- Ozzie Guillen