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Central crown comes down to one game

Twins need to play 163

MINNEAPOLIS -- The 162-game regular season was not enough to decide an American League Central champion. So the Twins and White Sox will meet for one more contest on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CT on TBS.

Chicago forced a one-game tiebreaker to decide the division winner by capturing an 8-2 victory over the Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday. It was a makeup of a rainout from earlier this month.

The win by the White Sox erased what had been a half-game lead in the division for Minnesota, bringing both club's records to 88-74.

It also meant that instead of celebrating a division title Monday night and getting ready to head to St. Petersburg for the start of the American League Divisional Series, the Twins boarded a plane to Chicago in preparation for Tuesday's showdown with the White Sox.

"It's time to head over to Chicago," Twins shortstop Nick Punto said upon exiting the home clubhouse at the Metrodome after watching the White Sox-Tigers game with his teammates. "We have a one-game playoff, and this is what it's all about. This is exciting stuff."

Tuesday's contest will mark the fourth one-game tiebreaker in American League history. The last time such a contest was played in the AL was in 1995, when the Seattle Mariners defeated the California Angels, 9-1, at the Kingdome. The National League had a one-game playoff last year, as the Colorado Rockies defeated the San Diego Padres in 13 innings at Coors Field.

Chicago won a coin flip earlier this month that gave them home field for this game. It appears to be a huge break for Chicago, considering it was just 1-8 at the Metrodome this season.

And the Twins have struggled on the road, posting a 35-46 record away from the Metrodome. It's been even worse at U.S. Cellular Field, where the Twins are just 2-7 in 2008.

Still, the club doesn't think that will be a factor.

"There shouldn't be any excuses for being on the road and not at home," Denard Span said. "You've got to bring it, and I know I'm ready to go in there and upset them."

Right-hander Nick Blackburn will get the start for Minnesota in the critical contest. The Twins turned to Blackburn after Kevin Slowey's bruised right wrist did not heal enough for him to start.

"I mean, somebody has to do it," Blackburn said on Sunday of the start. "It happened to be my turn in the rotation, so I don't look too far into it. Obviously, I'm excited. It's something you want to do. Pretty much all through Spring Training you are thinking about pitching in the playoffs."

Blackburn's previous start came against the White Sox during the Twins' crucial three-game sweep at the Metrodome. The right-hander delivered five solid innings in the second contest vs. the Sox on Wednesday.

"Blackburn? I don't give credit to the people who don't deserve credit," Guillen said after his team's loss on Wednesday. "We didn't hit in the clutch. He was not that good. Believe me, when people throw good against us, I will say so. He was one pitch away to being out of there."

Guillen may not have thought much of Blackburn, but the outing was a boost for the pitcher who had gone 1-2 with a 7.58 ERA in his four previous September starts.

"It was good to get your confidence up," said Blackburn, who is 2-2 with a 5.67 ERA in five starts against Chicago in 2008. "Just to know that I can still go in there and get guys out is good. But I'm not going to let it change my thinking. I'll still approach it like every other start I've had this year."

While Blackburn will be coming off five days' rest to make the start, White Sox left-hander John Danks will be on three. Danks said it's the first time in his career that he can ever remember coming back on short rest.

"Going on three days' rest might actually help a little bit because I won't feel quite as strong," said Danks, who gave up seven earned runs over just four innings in his last start, vs. the Indians. "I'm not going to feel like I can throw it 100 mph like I did the last game. I really need to just stay within myself and let the defense work for me.''

Danks has struggled in four starts against the Twins this season, going 1-1 with a 7.91 ERA. But the Twins aren't overlooking the 23-year-old southpaw.

"We've faced him plenty of times -- we know a lot about him, he knows a lot about us," Punto said. "It should be fun."

Clearly the contest on Tuesday will be unlike any one game the Twins have played before, with the winner earning a ticket to play in October.

"We know where we are going, and we know what we've got to do: win a ballgame tomorrow night," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

It's not the way that the Twins ideally would have preferred the division to be decided. That the separation between them and the White Sox was never greater than 3 1/2 games in the second half, it's a fitting conclusion.

"It seems like both teams did not want to run away with this thing for the last two months of the season," closer Joe Nathan said. "With the way this season has gone, it might as well come down to this."

Pitching matchup
MIN: RHP Nick Blackburn (11-10, 4.14 ERA)
Blackburn started the year 9-6 with a 3.60 ERA, but he is 2-4 in his past nine starts with a 5.74 ERA. He's only gone more than five innings in four of those outings. Blackburn, however, received the win in the Twins' 3-2 victory over the White Sox on Wednesday, when he gave up two runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings. Blackburn is 2-2 with a 5.67 ERA in five starts against Chicago in 2008.

CWS: LHP John Danks (13-11, 4.05 ERA)
Danks did not work very long on Friday against Cleveland, lasting just four innings and allowing seven runs on seven hits. He threw 80 pitches, which means he should still be relatively fresh. Danks has struggled since late-August, posting a 4.91 ERA over his past seven starts. He earned a win in only one of those starts. Danks is 1-1 with a 7.91 in four starts against Minnesota this season.

Tidbits
A total of six one-game playoffs have taken place since MLB expanded its playoff format in 1969. The matchup between the Twins and White Sox will be the seventh. ... Tigers manager Jim Leyland had a take on the one-game playoff. "Maybe this is justice, who knows," he said. "Maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. The two best teams in the division all year have to play one game to see who goes [to the postseason]." ... The stats for Tuesday's game will count toward the regular season, so Joe Mauer will still be chasing the batting title. The catcher, who is batting .330 on the season, would have to go 0-for-7 to lose the title to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (.326). ... Justin Morneau will also have a chance to overtake Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton for the AL lead in RBIs. Morneau's 129 RBIs have him one behind Hamilton.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• TBS

On radio
• KSTP-AM/TRN

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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