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Twins rally past Indians to win AL Central

Twins rally past Indians to win AL Central

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have battled through unforeseen injuries, overcome plenty of deficits and found a way to battle back from whatever challenge has been presented to them throughout the 2010 season.

So perhaps it was fitting on Tuesday night that the win that clinched the Twins' sixth American League Central title in the last nine years came as a result of a late-inning comeback.

Denard Span hit an RBI single that scored the go-ahead run in a four-run eighth inning that rallied the Twins to a 6-4 victory over the Indians and reduced the club's magic number to one. The White Sox later lost, 7-2, to the A's to give Minnesota the title.

"I think tonight was definitely a description of how the whole season has been for us," Span said. "Just being resilient and playing all nine innings.

"We started off hot at the beginning of the season and went through a little funk, but we came out after the All-Star break, and since then we've pretty much took care of business and did what we're supposed to do."

The night had all the makings of being a special one at Target Field. Entering Tuesday with their magic number sitting at two, the Twins needed a victory and a White Sox loss to celebrate their second straight division title. Ron Gardenhire was chasing his 800th career win as a manager, and the team celebrated reaching three million fans at home this season for only the second time in club history.

But while the setup was there for a memorable night for all those in attendance, the Twins found themselves trailing, 4-2, at the start of the eighth inning as the Indians tried to prevent the club from having the opportunity to clinch.

Then came the rally that the Twins have come to almost expect this season.

Indians right-hander Justin Masterson gave up three hits to start the eighth, which included a leadoff single by Jim Thome to left field. With the Indians having a shift on for the slugger, Thome poked one into the opposite field to get the rally started. Delmon Young's RBI double scored pinch-runner Trevor Plouffe from first and put the tying run at second base.


"We keep fighting, we're never out of the ballgame. These guys believe in each other and it showed again tonight. We came in and got a big win."
-- Ron Gardenhire

After Danny Valencia's single moved Young to third base, pinch-hitter Jose Morales hit a sacrifice fly to right field to knot the game at 4. Span followed with his single and Orlando Hudson capped off the big inning with an RBI double.

Masterson had been on the other side of such magic moments during his days with the Red Sox. He's seen first-hand how the good teams always seem to find a way.

"Somehow, some way, things just line up for you," Masterson said. "You see some guy pulling something out of the bag and you go, 'Where did that come from?'"

And with the scoreboard showing that the White Sox were trailing in Oakland, the buzz seemed to intensify inside Target Field. When Matt Capps took the mound in the ninth to attempt his 15th save as a Twin, the waving homer hankies created a sea of white inside the stadium.

"One thing it says about our club is that we've done this all year long," Gardenhire said of his team's rally. "We keep fighting, we're never out of the ballgame. These guys believe in each other and it showed again tonight. We came in and got a big win."

Fittingly enough, it was a night that started off with an injury for the Twins, as shortstop J.J. Hardy was scratched from the lineup with a migraine less than an hour before game time. Nick Punto was inserted at shortstop and catcher Drew Butera was filling in for Joe Mauer, who was out for a second straight game with a sore left knee.

But as the Twins have done all year, they found other guys to step up in the lineup and produce, as was the case for a team that's battled injuries throughout the year.

Thome, who has been a key bat for the Twins since Justin Morneau went down with a concussion on July 7, hit a solo homer (career homer No. 589) to lead off the second inning, and provided the only runs through the first five innings against Indians starter Fausto Carmona.

In the sixth, Carmona walked Thome with two outs and gave up a single to Young before Valencia chased him with an RBI single to cut the deficit to 4-2. Carmona gave up two runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Scott Baker made his first start since Sept. 2, when he was sidelined for a second time this season with right elbow tendinitis. Baker delivered a solid start, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits over five innings. He walked one and struck out seven in the outing.

Cleveland took the lead off Baker in the fifth inning. Michael Brantley singled to right field with two outs and advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Drew Sutton drove Brantley home with his single to left field to make it a 2-1 lead.

The Indians made it a 4-1 lead in the sixth with a two-run inning off left-hander Jose Mijares. Three straight singles loaded the bases for Cleveland. Mijares got Trevor Crowe to ground into a double play, which scored one run. Luis Valbuena followed with an RBI double to right field to make it a 4-1 Indians lead before the Twins would score five unanswered runs to take the victory.

Prior to the game, Gardenhire had said that he had planned to watch the finish of the White Sox game at home and a celebration -- even if the White Sox lost -- would wait until after Wednesday's afternoon game against the Indians.

But with the White Sox trailing 5-2 in the seventh inning at the conclusion of their game, and following such a thrilling finish, the Twins decided to hang around Target Field and watch as the White Sox lost to the Athletics, and the celebration was underway.

"These guys aren't going to let me go home," said Gardenhire. "I had a posse in here telling me we're staying."

As the Twins prepared their clubhouse for a celebration, a bunch of fans gathered by the Twins' dugout after the lights had been turned off inside Target Field. They yelled "Let's go Oakland!" while counting down the remaining outs for the White Sox, and a huge cheer rang out when Chicago's loss was finally made official.

That's when the champagne started to flow.

"It's just the first stepping stone, the milestone we've been trying to reach," Hudson said.

"We still have a lot of baseball left. We clinched tonight -- hats go off, we've had a lot of fun -- but the real season starts in [two] weeks."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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