Congratulations to our Minnesota Twins! For the sixth time since 2002, the Twins have won the AL Central Division title, and there was no need for Game #163 this time around. With a 6-4 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Target Field and a Chicago White Sox 7-2 loss in Oakland, the Twins are now 12 games up with 11 to play. This would be the point in a Ryder Cup golf match where Ozzie Guillen would remove his cap and walk over, shake Ron Gardenhire's hand, and congratulate him on a well played match. Fortunately, there is a much longer tradition of champagne, beer and plastic covered lockers in Major League Baseball. Easily one of my favorite sports traditions, especially when the Twins are involved. And this year, instead of a brutal 12 hours of rest before starting the ALDS in New York, the Twins will have somewhere around 350 hours until the opening game sometime on Wednesday, October 6th.
Back to the game...Scott Baker looked very good over five strong innings, giving up 4 hits, a walk and 2 runs (only 1 earned due to a Drew Butera throwing error in the first) with 7 strikeouts in a 91 pitch outing. Jim Thome's 25th home run of the season in the second inning made it a 2-1 game entering the top of the 6th, as Jose Mijares relieved Baker and proceeded to get behind Travis Hafner 3-0 before giving up three singles and a double with a double play thrown in between. By the time Jon Rauch came in to stop the bleeding, the Indians were up 4-1. Red Hot Danny Valencia's (two more hits last night) two out single in the bottom of the sixth made the score 4-2, but Indians reliever Rafael Perez held the Twins scoreless through the 7th.
Then came the 8th inning. By this point, the Chicago-Oakland game had started, with the A's taking an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Even though I was watching on TV, there was a definite buzz and a bit more energy in the Twins dugout. During a scoreless top of the 8th from Glen Perkins (who has 6.1 straight scoreless innings over his last five appearances dating back to August 21st), the A's put up another run for a 2-0 lead. In the words of the immortal Mike Redmond, the Twins could "smell 'em" coming up to bat in the bottom of the inning. Thome, Delmon Young and Valencia led off the inning with a single, double and single to bring the Twins to within one run. Pinch hitter Jose Morales tied the game with a sacrifice fly to right, and Target Field was positively electric. Then the fans blew the roof off the place (if it had a roof, of course...which I'm very glad it doesn't) when Denard Span lined a soft single to left field and Valencia scored on a close play at the plate thanks to Indians catcher Lou Marson dropping the ball while attempting a tag. Orlando Hudson tacked on an insurance run with a long double to right center to put the Twins up 6-4, closer Matt Capps finished with a 1-2-3 ninth, and it was off to the clubhouse to watch the final three innings of the White Sox game. Then beers and champagne for everyone.
As far as studs and duds are concerned, no duds this morning. I'm in entirely too good a mood. Studs I haven't noted above: Orlando Hudson, for his awesome diving catch on a short fly ball in right field in the second inning, Denard Span for another solid 2-hit night at the top of the order, and Jim Thome for being generally awesome, with a single and a walk in addition to the home run.
As for today, enjoy this afternoon's early start. It should be an interesting, spring training-like lineup after last night's celebration. The Twins are only one game behind the New York Yankees for overall AL home field advantage, so let's keep our foot on the gas. While getting everyone some much deserved rest, of course.