Twins win improbable division title

Twins win improbable division title

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins decided earlier this weekend that if there was any shot at a division title still on the line in Sunday's regular-season finale against the White Sox, they would send Carlos Silva to the mound.

After the Twins dropped their second straight game to Chicago on Saturday and needed a Detroit loss to remain in the hunt for the American League Central title, there were some doubts.

But in a season where the impossible became the possible, the Royals pulled off a win over Detroit in Saturday night's contest, leaving Minnesota with an outside chance of earning the title.

It also gave Silva, who's had a rough season, one last opportunity to show that he deserved to be a key member of the Twins' starting staff in the playoffs.

And on Sunday, when the Twins needed him to rise to the occasion the most, that's exactly what Silva did. Silva allowed just one run over 5 1/3 innings to help capture a 5-1 victory over the White Sox and give his team a chance to earn the division title.

An AL Central championship still seemed far from reach, with the club needing the Royals to complete a series sweep of the Tigers. But nearly 40 minutes after the victory over Chicago was completed, the Twins walked away with their fourth division title in the past five years as Kansas City pulled off a 12-inning, 10-8 win.

"It's unbelievable to come back like we have and win the division title," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I know people are going to say, 'Well, you got it from another team's loss,' or whatever, but we've got 96 wins. And to me, that's a division title. "

Much of the credit for that achievement was due to Silva's ability to deliver in the clutch.

"He threw fantastic," Gardenhire said. "That was a huge performance, and it sets the tone for us going into these playoffs. We know now what we've got, and we now have a fourth starter. He threw the ball pretty good, located and [backup catcher Mike] Redmond said it was best movement he's had in a long time. It's very exciting for us."

Things started off a bit shaky for Silva, as he gave up one run in the first inning. Back-to-back singles by Ryan Sweeney and Pablo Ozuna put runners on first and third with no outs. A ground out by Ross Gload followed, knocking in a run.

But it would be the only run that Silva would give up, as he struck out the next two batters in the inning and then cruised through the rest of his outing.

"It's unbelievable, because there was so much going on during the season, and now I was available to help my team with this big win today," Silva said with a smile. "That was very special."

After a few nights of being awfully quiet against the White Sox, the Twins' offense emerged in full force during the fourth inning against Chicago right-hander Javier Vazquez.

With Joe Mauer in the hunt to become the first American League catcher to win a batting title, he delivered his first hit of the day to start off the fourth, with a double to left field. Justin Monreau then drove in his 130th run of the season, scoring Mauer to knot the game at 1.

But Torii Hunter really set the pace, stepping to the plate and belting his 31st home run of the season, a two-run shot over the left-field wall to make it a 3-1 game.

Two more Minnesota runs would score on RBI singles from Michael Cuddyer and Jason Bartlett, in the fifth and sixth innings respectively, but it was clear that once the Twins took a lead, they weren't about to let it slip away with so much riding on the game.

Silva also seemed to get better after being given the lead, and when he exited with one out in the sixth, the crowd roared its approval.

"For him to walk off the mound and get the ovation, that was great, too," Gardenhire said. "He's had a rough time here this year."

"This is something special," closer Joe Nathan said. "I've been on some pretty good ballclubs, but the way we get along in here and the friendship, I think we've come together. To go into the playoffs, we're going to be a tough team."

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