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Play-in game brings Twins full circle

Play-in game brings Twins full circle

MINNEAPOLIS -- Since the start of Spring Training, the Twins' motto has been that every game matters. It's a result of having their entire 2008 season come down to one contest -- a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to the White Sox in a tiebreaker to determine the American League Central champion.

But never in their minds did the Twins envision that their season would come down to game No. 163 for a second consecutive year.

"I think you ask anybody, you never thought it would happen again in your career, let alone two years in a row," Denard Span. "Two years in a row, coming down to having the same record as another team at the end. It's crazy."

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After 162 games were not enough, the Twins and Tigers will meet on Tuesday at 4:07 p.m. CT at the Metrodome for a one-game tiebreaker to crown the 2009 division champion. The game will be broadcast on TBS and MLB.TV.

Both the Twins and Tigers won on Sunday to finish with 86-76 records and force only the fifth one-game tiebreaker in AL history.

But while the Twins ready their second straight tiebreaker contest, this time there will be a big difference. This year, Minnesota will host it.

The Twins were forced to travel to Chicago in 2008 for the tiebreaker due to the White Sox winning a coin flip for home-field advantage. It was something that didn't go over well inside the Twins' clubhouse since they had won the head-to-head season series with Chicago.

Following what happened with the Twins last year, the tiebreaker rule was changed. Home field is now given to the team that won the head-to-head season series.

"I think people recognize how silly that was last year," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "If you are going to play a team 19 times during the year, it should stand for something. Head-to-head should stand for something. It does now, and it's righted."

The change in the rules has allowed the Twins to host this contest at the Metrodome. The Twins went 11-7 against the Tigers this season, including 7-2 at home.

"We're going to have a packed house," said Michael Cuddyer. "Maybe we'll have a whiteout. Chicago last year had a blackout -- maybe we'll have a whiteout in the Dome."

With all the white hankies flying around inside the Metrodome on Sunday, it certainly looked like a whiteout at times, and the expectation is for another packed crowd to help cheer on the Twins on Tuesday.

The winner of the Twins-Tigers contest will be headed to New York to face the Yankees in the first round of the AL Division Series.

But before they turn their focus to the Yankees, the Twins will first will have to figure out a way to defeat the Tigers, as they'll be playing each other for the 19th time this season.

The Twins will send one of their hottest second-half pitchers to the mound in Scott Baker, and the Tigers will be turning to their rookie sensation, 20-year-old Rick Porcello.

Both pitchers were on the mound during the clubs' four-game series last week. Porcello allowed just one run over 6 1/3 innings in the first game of a doubleheader last Tuesday at Comerica Park, but his team wasn't able to give him enough offensive support.

Baker was the winner in the Thursday's finale in Detroit, commencing the four-game winning streak the Twins ride into the tiebreaker.

Still, the Twins know that getting to Porcello won't be an easy task. Porcello has faced the Twins twice in the past two and a half weeks. While both contests resulted in Tigers losses, he's delivered quality starts in both outings.

"He knows us, and we know him," said Span. "It's going to be who can execute the best. He's going to throw his sinker, his slider. It's going to be up to us to try to get to him."

The Twins enter Tuesday's contest having won 16 of their past 20 games and feeling like momentum has been going their way. But they know that can't just rely on their past success against the Tigers at the Dome and that the tiebreaker will take place on their home field.

"We've got a lot of confidence, but at the same time we're not going to go take it for granted," said Cuddyer. "We're going to face a tough team in Detroit. We're going to face a tough pitcher. We've got our work cut out for us."

Tidbits
Since Tuesday's tiebreaker will be considered a regular-season game, Joe Mauer won't wrap up his third career batting crown until then. Mauer went 0-for-3 on Sunday to drop his average to .364 on the season. But he would have to go 0-for-18 or worse to drop behind Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki, who is second at .352. ... Jason Kubel and Delmon Young each homered twice on Sunday, marking the first time the Twins have had two players hit two runs home runs in the same game since July 12, 2001, vs. Milwaukee. In that contest, Corey Koskie, Jacque Jones and Torii Hunter all hit two homers. ... Orlando Cabrera extended his hitting streak to 15 games on Sunday. Over that span, Cabrera is batting .418 with 19 runs and 14 RBIs.

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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