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Twins take the Central in dramatic fashion

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Carlos Gomez
Minnesota Twins' Carlos Gomez (22) scores the game-winning run as his teammates follow during the 12th inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 6-5 to take the AL Central title.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Last night the Minnesota Twins won the American League Central division title by beating the Detroit Tigers 6 to 5 in a dramatic, 12-inning game at the Metrodome. 

It is the second time in as many games that the Twins have been on the verge of playing their last at the stadium.  But the team keeps on winning, which means the dome still has some life left in it.

The last chapter of the Twins tenure at the Metrodome has yet to be written, but so far the book is pretty dramatic.  The team's final regular season game at the dome ended in a tie with the Detroit Tigers. So they had to play a tie-breaker to decide the winner of the division title.  

The largest crowd in regular season history - more than 54,000 people - packed into the dome last night. Detroit scored first and went up 3-0 in the third inning.  But the Twins pulled ahead by one run in the bottom of the 7th inning on an Orlando Cabrera home run.  Detroit's Magglio Ordonez immediately countered with a solo homer of his own to tie the game in the top of the 8th. The whole game, back and forth, up and down, seemed like a perfect replication of both team's seasons. 

The Twins had a chance to win in the 10th inning, when 2nd baseman Nick Punto hit a line drive to left with pinch-runner Alexi Casilla on third. But  Casilla, who's been shuffled between the minor and major leagues all season, was tagged out at home plate.

In the 12th inning though, Casilla would get his revenge by driving in the winning run with a hit to right field. The players sprinted from the dugout in celebration even before center fielder Carlos Gomez slid safely across home plate. 

The scene was reminiscent of past Twins playoff celebrations at the dome.  As members of the team gleefully fell over each other on the field, the stands were a blizzard of white as the fans waved their homer hankies. 

In the clubhouse, the Twins showered each other and the media, with champagne and sports cliches.  However, the common refrain 'it was a team effort' was not used in vain.  The Twins really have relied on a lot of different players this season.  For example, when slugger Justin Morneau went down with a season ending back injury, Michael Cuddyer took over at first base and led the team in homeruns. 

Matt Tolbert, Joe Mauer
Minnesota Twins' Matt Tolbert (20) is congratulated by Joe Mauer (7) after scoring during the third inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers for the American League Central title on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, in Minneapolis. Tolbert scored from third on a throwing error by pitcher Rick Porcello.
AP Photo/Paul Battaglia

"The game ball tonight goes to -- surprise, surprise, everyone of you!  Cause every one of you are Central Champions," Cuddyer said.

The team's success also lay in the hands of catcher Joe Mauer.  Mauer won his third batting title--a major league record for a catcher-- and maybe a League's Most Valuable Player Award.  The St. Paul native says there's something about the fans and the Metrodome that have played into the team's success.  But before he could finish the thought, he got doused in bubbly.

"I know, we might have to come back here in September and play all our games here," Mauer said. "But the atmosphere, it's unbelievable.  What can I say right now?"

Outfielder Denard Span wiped some of the stinging sparkling wine out of his eyes and reflected on the season at the same time.  He said the team didn't feel the pressure because they weren't the division's frontrunner.

"We just felt like we had nothing to lose, man.  We weren't supposed to win this division.  Detroit had the lead the whole second half of the season." Span said. "This is a great story for the Metrodome. Great story for the city."

Nick Punto, Ryan Raburn
Minnesota Twins second baseman Nick Punto, top, jumps over Detroit Tigers' Ryan Raburn (25) as he turns a double play on a ball hit by Gerald Laird during the fourth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009, in Minneapolis. The teams are playing the tiebreaker to decide the American League Central title.
AP Photo/Tom Olmscheid

The celebration of the Twins dramatic come-from-behind season was not contained inside the dome.  Like in championships seasons past, fans poured onto the streets in celebration.  They shouted out of car windows and honked their horns to signify their glee.

But the team and fans won't have long to savor this one before the Twins face their first playoff opponent--the New York Yankees tonight in The Bronx. The Yankees have the best record in the American League and they swept the season series with the Twins this year.