DETROIT – Delmon Young(notes) was furious. He writhed on the ground, his knee swelling from the 93-mph fastball that just ricocheted off it. When he stood up, he slammed his helmet. He wanted an explanation. Young turned toward the culprit. He jabbed his index finger through the air, took the heavy-footed steps of a man intent on delivering a beatdown and readied himself to charge and maim the responsible party.
Young took a fastball off his knee in the ninth inning Thursday against the Tigers.
Who sat in his own dugout.
Yes, it was that sort of a day at Comerica Park, the kind where the Minnesota Twins staving off elimination from the postseason comprised the third most interesting nugget of the day. Obscuring the Twins' 8-3 victory Thursday that kept the Detroit Tigers from clinching the American League Central was first the hullabaloo created by an Internet-age whodunit – whether Twins catcher Joe Mauer(notes) had two days earlier stolen signs and passed them along to teammates, as alleged by a fan in his own Zapruder-like account of the incident. Mauer said no. The Twins denied it. The Tigers were dubious. The fan is sure he's right.
By the afternoon, once the Mauer tumult died down, a new issue was bubbling, one far more toxic to a team trying to pull off a monumental comeback and still two games behind Detroit with three to play. Young believed that Tigers pitcher Jeremy Bonderman(notes) hit him in retaliation for a 94-mph fastball Twins rookie reliever Jose Mijares(notes) threw behind Adam Everett(notes) the previous inning … because he was mad the Tigers were stealing bases when trailing by six runs. Every Twin, in fact, from manager Ron Gardenhire down to the 25th man, faulted Mijares for Young's throbbing knee. So when Young melted down, they stopped him – though if Mijares took a wayward fist to the jaw, no one would have blamed Young.
"I knew somebody was going to have to wear it," Young told Minneapolis-area reporters. "You can’t throw behind one of their players … and expect nothing to happen. …
"He needs to pay attention to how baseball's played."
The postgame vitriol toward the 24-year-old Mijares was remarkable in its unanimity. Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrera(notes) said Mijares apologized. Others hadn't heard any contrition. Either way, it wasn't sufficient. Because of Mijares, a blowout evolved into an ugly situation that could have turned disastrous.
"It was a selfish act on his part," Cabrera said. "Because as a team we're here to win ballgames. We're not here to get into fights or hit people."
Both benches cleared as Young hobbled around. Home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez already had thrown out Tigers manager Jim Leyland for arguing. Now Bonderman was gone, and catcher Gerald Laird(notes) – who earlier in the day told Yahoo! Sports that the Twins are "really good at stealing signs" – mouthed off to Hernandez and got booted, too. No one wanted to fight, really, but an ill-timed word here or a machismo-filled posture there could have caused something benign to degenerate.
Tempers cooled. Young remained in the game and never got to Mijares, teammates ensuring they stayed away from each other. The Twins were apologetic for causing the mess. Gardenhire intimated as much to Leyland.
"We told him we screwed up," Gardenhire said. "They did what they had to do, and it’s over with. They did the right thing."
Only in baseball, mind you, is intentional retaliation via speed-limit-busting projectile hitting flesh deemed the right thing. Young praised Bonderman, in fact, for keeping the beaning on the lower half of his body. In the midst of such barbarism – one man ravenously going after another wearing the same uniform – the teams themselves stuck by a code.
As they fought for a playoff spot, their mutual respect played out in the oddest manner.
"It's hard for me to believe we just played the biggest game of the year and won, and I'm sitting here having to describe what happened," said Twins catcher Mike Redmond(notes), who apologized to Everett – a Twin last season – after Mijares buzzed him. "I don't really know what to say. It's up to him to figure out what he's thinking."
Mijares changed quickly after the game and escaped the clubhouse without talking to reporters. Outfielder Carlos Gomez(notes) said he offered to translate for Mijares, a Venezuelan who speaks limited English, but Mijares "felt so bad he didn't want to talk."
"On the plane," Gomez said, "he told me he's going to say he's sorry. I hope they listen. I'm not a veteran, but I know you have to forgive."
It's easier to do so knowing Mijares has a 2.05 ERA in 68 games as a left-handed specialist, and that the Twins almost certainly will need him this weekend against Kansas City. Detroit's magic number remained at 2, meaning they simply need to win two games against Chicago to clinch the division. Or win one and hope the Twins slip Saturday against Zack Greinke(notes). Or back in by watching Minnesota lose a pair.
Should the White Sox sweep the Tigers and the Twins take two of three, a one-game playoff awaits Tuesday at the Metrodome, hosting its final baseball before the opening of Target Field next spring. The Twins don't want this to be the dome's last hurrah.
Which means they'll have to take Gomez's pleading and get past the Mijares snafu and the sign-stealing farce, then hope the Tigers' fade reaches epic proportions. Should be easy for most. Except the guy limping off the plane.
"Gotta understand and learn how to play the game," Young said. "It's not the minor leagues up here."
No, it certainly isn't. In the minors there are no YouTube conspiracy theories and no games that will draw more than 40,000 people in an afternoon, no days like the wacky, wild Thursday that nearly redefined Twin killing.