"I wouldn't quite call it a playoff atmosphere," Minnesota starter Scott Baker said. "But it was pretty close."
Trailing, 4-0, in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Twins nicked White Sox starter John Danks for the first time. With two on and two outs, Morneau crushed a 1-1 fastball 371 feet over the right-field wall for a three-run home run.
Chicago held the 4-3 advantage heading into the bottom of the seventh inning -- a frame that would take over 40 minutes to complete and take its place among the most bizarre half-innings of the Major League season.
Danks got leadoff hitter Denard Span into a 1-1 count. From then on, all normality ceased. On the next pitch, Span was awarded first base after apparently being hit. The call was overruled by third-base umpire Marty Foster, who said Span, on a bunt attempt, had gone far enough to constitute a swing.
Gardenhire exploded from the dugout and was ejected. While leaving the field, the skipper was so furious that he tossed his cap into the air and punted it roughly 15-feet back into the air. The crowd, apparently in a show of solidarity, rallied around the skipper by cascading the field with hats of their own. After a few baseballs, a nerf football, and other paraphernalia was thrown, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen bolted from his dugout and frenetically waved his players off the field. The animated crowd of 31,493 showered boos and a threatened forfeiture was levied by the stadium's public address system.
"I think it got the crowd into it a little bit more," Morneau said. "They were pretty fired up. You don't want to see people throwing stuff on the field, it almost cost us the game. It was good that it stopped. But everyone was on their feet yelling and cheering. It kind of ignited us."
When order was restored, the Twins offense blew up. Span made all points moot by coaxing a walk. Danks was pulled for Matt Thornton, who gave up an RBI single to Joe Mauer to tie the game. Two batters later, Chicago reliever Octavio Dotel entered the game and plunked Delmon Young. With two on, Kubel lined a 92-mph fastball from Dotel over the right-field baggie.
The crowd, not yet settled from earlier malfeasance, exploded again. Players spilled from the dugout as Kubel's coiled body bounced around the bases.
"I don't know how many walk-offs in the ninth inning we've had this year, but I think that beats them all," Baker said.
"We were all jumping up and down, it was awesome," Morneau said.
The home run, resulting in a 7-4 lead, put the Twins up for good.
"I missed a couple of good pitches earlier in the at-bat, then just made sure I was ready to not let him beat me again," Kubel said.
The White Sox made it interesting when a two-run Jermaine Dye homer in the eighth off reliever Matt Guerrier pulled Chicago within one run. But the Twins answered with a three-run bottom of the eighth to end the drama, especially with normally impeccable closer Joe Nathan set to emerge from the bullpen.
The talk in the clubhouse upon the game's conclusion was centered as much on "the kick" as the climactic home run.
Said Kubel: "That was a good one. I looked over and saw Ozzie was laughing. It was pretty funny. [We] scored a couple of runs after that, maybe got us going."
Quipped Baker: "It would have been embarrassing if he missed it, but he squared it up pretty good."
Baker labored early, throwing 61 pitches through three innings. But he endured, lasting six innings, allowing four earned runs on five hits and three walks while recording a no-decision.
Jesse Crain got the win after pitching a scoreless seventh inning of relief. Thornton was tagged with the loss.
The victory ensured a series win for the Twins, who took three of four games. Minnesota now trails Chicago by just a half-game in the American League Central.
It is a relief for a team that was swept in a four-game series at Chicago from June 6-9.
With an intense series whittling Chicago's lead to a half-game, possible foreshadowing could indicate another epic late-season pennant race between the clubs, ala 2006.
Chicago returns to the Metrodome on September 23 for a three-game series that promises drama.
"Hopefully, it's not quite like it was two years ago, but we get the lead and hopefully sooner," Kubel said. "If this is how fun it's going to be, we have a lot to look forward to."