MINNEAPOLIS -- Twins manager Ron Gardenhire tried to find the words to describe what he had just witnessed on Wednesday night. And well, forgive him if he couldn't exactly come up with a way to summarize the Twins' 14-10 walk-off victory over the Tigers that ended after four hours and 48 minutes with Joe Crede's two-out grand slam in the 13th inning. "I can't tell you all the good and bad from that because there was just way too much," Gardenhire said with a sigh. "That was very exciting. A good win."
It was a contest that began as the return of left-hander Dontrelle Willis to the Majors. But this night wasn't about either Willis or Twins starter Glen Perkins. Those pitchers had all but been forgotten by the time the game finally ended just a few minutes before the clock hit midnight in the Twin Cities. Rather the contest turned into a battle of bullpens and offenses, dueling to see which one could outlast the other. It took a total of 13 pitchers and 443 pitches to finish Wednesday's game. That included the Twins using every reliever on their staff except left-hander Craig Breslow. And just how crazy did this one get? Well, consider this: The two clubs exchanged the lead five times after the fifth inning. That included the Twins watching a two-run lead disappear in the seventh when Luis Ayala and Matt Guerrier combined to give up four runs on three hits, including two home runs, to fall behind 9-7. Pinch-hitter Jason Kubel tied the game at nine in the bottom of the eighth with his two-run homer that came on the first pitch -- a fastball -- he saw from Tigers hurler Joel Zumaya. It was a tie that would last until the 13th inning. The Tigers took a one-run lead in the top of the 13th thanks to a balk by Jesse Crain with two outs in the inning. And so it seemed almost fitting that the only way to end such a long, crazy, back-and-forth contest was with the most dramatic of all baseball finishes -- a walk-off grand slam. "I don't think I've ever been a part of a game this long and the way it ended, that was just unbelievable," Denard Span said. With the Twins trailing by one in the bottom of the 13th, Kubel led off the inning with a single to right field off Tigers reliever Brandon Lyon who was entering his third inning of work. Pinch-runner Nick Punto replaced Kubel and scored from second on Matt Tolbert's one-out RBI single to left field. After Lyon loaded the bases with back-to-back walks, including one intentional walk, Crede came up and on a 1-2 pitch blasted his seventh career grand slam. It was a contest the Twins were elated to see come to an end, considering that the first pitch of the series finale on Thursday was set to be thrown a mere 12 hours after this one was over. "After you play those kind of games, you at least want to come out on top," Crede said. "Everybody is out there and everybody is tired, especially thinking you have to come back in 12 hours and play another game." While the two clubs battled early, both getting to the other starters, the contest really seemed to take a turn after both Perkins and Willis had exited. Perkins had watched an early lead by his team disappear, as he gave up five runs on five hits over 5 1/3 innings and left the game with his club trailing, 5-4. But the Twins would take the lead back in the bottom of the sixth in their first real crack at the Tigers bullpen after Willis lasted just 4 2/3 innings. Span hit a two-run triple to right field off Tigers left-handed reliever Bobby Seay and Tolbert drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to right, giving the Twins a 7-5 lead heading into the seventh. That's when the club suffered yet another bullpen blowup in the seventh, an inning that's proven to be troublesome for the Twins all season. Still, this one was a little easier to swallow afterward thanks to Kubel erasing the deficit the next inning. Pinch-hitting for Carlos Gomez in the eighth, Kubel hit just the second pinch-hit home run of his career off Zumaya. It set up the start of a stalemate that would last until the top of the 13th. After pitching a scoreless 12th inning, Crain gave up a one-out triple to Curtis Granderson before being charged with a balk one out later. On a 1-2 count to Clete Thomas, Crain stepped on the pitching rubber to begin his motion. But when he saw Granderson bluff like he was heading to steal home, Crain separated his hands and was called for a balk by third-base umpire Ed Rapuano -- allowing the Tigers to take a one-run lead. It was a lead that didn't last for long, of course, considering that the Twins battled back once again in the bottom half of the inning with Crede's grand slam capping off the win. "I think it just shows the character of this team," Span said of the club's fourth walk-off win of the season and its ninth comeback win. "It seems like we do this once a week. I think it says that we're never out of a game. We lost a couple leads, but we're all about picking each other up." The players were a little louder than normal in the clubhouse after the game, celebrating the win after a very long night. But the celebration didn't last long with many of the players sharing the same sentiment after the victory as they prepared for a night of quick sleep and packing to leave for their next road trip. "Let's go home," Span said with a smile.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.