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Feeling Minnesota: Twins clinch unexpected playoff spot

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The Minnesota Twins celebrate after earning an AL wild-card berth.
The Minnesota Twins celebrate early Thursday in Cleveland. The Twins earned an AL wild-card berth after the Los Angeles Angels lost to the Chicago White Sox. The Twins had lost 4-2 to the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night.
Ron Schwane | AP

From worst to wild card, the Minnesota Twins have completed a most remarkable reversal.

Their unexpected turnaround season has a new destination — the playoffs.

Unable to clinch on their own after losing 4-2 to the Indians, the Twins earned an AL wild-card berth and meeting with either New York or Boston when the Los Angeles Angels lost 6-4 in 10 innings to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night.

A season after winning just 59 games, the Twins became the first team to lose at least 100 and then make the postseason the following year.

October, here they come.

Moments after the Angels lost — and almost two hours after they were beaten — Minnesota's players, coaches and manager Paul Molitor celebrated in their clubhouse with champagne and beer, dousing each other during a party that didn't seem possible just a few months ago.

They threw on dark blue T-shirts, two-tone caps along with the obligatory goggles before spraying each other down.

"It's been awesome watching this team come together all season," veteran first baseman Joe Mauer said amid the clubhouse chaos. "This is the best sound in the world. It's been one of the most fun years that I've ever had.

"I like our guys. This is the culmination of a lot of hard work over the last few years."

The Twins defied the odds, and they'll now enter a tournament where are all bets are off and where one bad bounce or big inning can propel an underdog to the top.

On Tuesday night, they'll play at either Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park in the wild-card game. Boston holds a three-game lead over New York in the AL East race.

The Yankees have been the Twins' long-time playoff nemesis, eliminating Minnesota four times in the postseason since 2003. Mauer and these Twins don't seem to fear anything.

"This is gonna be a fun couple of days getting ready for what's next," said Molitor, a Hall of Fame player now in his third season with the Twins. "I like our chances. It means a lot to all of us."

The Twins reached the postseason for the first time since 2010 despite a lack of support from their own front office, which essentially wrote off the year at the trading deadline. Minnesota dealt closer Brandon Kintzler to Washington and shipped pitcher Jaime Garcia to the Yankees just days after he arrived.

Minnesota's clubhouse was shocked by the moves, but instead of grumbling the Twins started grinding. They ripped off six straight wins in early August to trigger a 31-18 stretch that put them back in the wild-card conversation. Their bats came alive, their pitching held up and Molitor squeezed everything he could out of a young lineup that lacks star power but is deep and dangerous.

The Twins also stuck together despite being without All-Star third baseman Miguel Sano, who hasn't played since Aug. 19 after fouling a ball off his left shin, but could be back at some point in the postseason.

"Just to be able to come back and do this is incredible," center fielder Byron Buxton said. "We're just going to take it one step at a time, just like we've been doing."

While the Indians, Astros, Dodgers and Nationals — to name a few — may have more talent and certainly get much more publicity, the Twins have quietly become one those feel-good baseball stories.

"In an era when it's either home run or bust, they're a lineup that makes a lot of adjustments," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "You don't look at every hitter and go 'If we throw here we're good to go.' They can cover both sides of the plate. They use the whole field. They're impressive."

As his players partied, Molitor, a Minnesota native, got choked up several times has he described this stunning season.

"It's part of your job as a manger to imagine what could happen," Molitor said. "This year, it came to fruition. I couldn't be prouder of this team."