MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 6-5 in 12 innings in a drama-packed, one-game playoff Tuesday to decide the American League Central division champions.
Minnesota, who like Detroit finished the regular season with an 86-76 record, advanced to a best-of-five division series against the Yankees (103-59) beginning Wednesday in New York.
Carlos Gomez scored the winning run in the seesaw battle with one out in the 12th inning on Alexi Casilla’s ground single to right off Detroit pitcher Fernando Rodney.
The tally ignited a wild celebration on the diamond, with Minnesota players taking a victory lap in front of a roaring, record crowd of more than 54,000 at the Metrodome, which will give way to a new ballpark for the Twins next season.
“This is absolutely the most unbelievable game I ever played or seen,” said 13-year veteran shortstop Orlando Cabrera, whose two-run homer in the seventh gave the Twins a 4-3 lead, overcoming a 3-0 Tigers’ lead in the third inning.
The victory completed a rousing comeback this season by the Twins, who became the first team to win a division title after trailing by three games with four to play. Earlier in September, they trailed Detroit by seven games.
“I‘m really proud of my team mates. We all got together and said we got to pull this out. And now we’re in the post-season,” Cabrera said in an on-field interview about the 17-4 mark his team posted to end the season.
Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, one of the leading contenders for American League MVP honors, slapped high-fives with fans as he circled the stadium with team mates.
“Unbelievable,” said Mauer. “That was one of the best games I’ve ever played in. Detroit doesn’t have to put their heads down.”
Miguel Cabrera homered to fuel Detroit’s early lead, and Magglio Ordonez lined a homer in the eighth to tie it at 4-4.
Brandon Inge’s 10th-inning double put Detroit ahead 5-4, but the Twins answered with a run in the bottom half on Matt Tolbert’s bouncer through the middle.
Both teams squandered chances to win in the late innings, with brilliant fielding and double plays squelching threats.
Detroit had men on first and third base with no outs in the ninth but Twins shortstop Cabrera snuffed out the rally by snaring Ordonez’s liner and turning it into a double play by catching Curtis Granderson off first.
The Tigers also had the bases loaded with one out in the 12th but could not score.
After tying it in the 10th, Minnesota looked poised to win with men on first and third and one out when Nick Punto lined to left field. Ryan Raburn caught it and gunned out Casilla at the plate for another sensational double play.
Bobby Keppel, the eighth Twins pitcher used in the game, got the win to improve to 1-1. Detroit’s Rodney (2-5), who pitched three innings in the four-hour, 37-minute marathon, took the loss.
The Twins face a mammoth task overhauling the Yankees, who dominated Minnesota throughout the season, winning all seven of their encounters.
The other American League playoff series will have the Boston Red Sox playing the Los Angeles Angels, starting on Thursday in Los Angeles.
The National League playoffs begin Wednesday with the Colorado Rockies traveling to Philadelphia to play the World Series champion Phillies, while the Los Angeles Dodgers host the St Louis Cardinals.
The winners then advance to the best-of-seven League Championship Series, with the survivors facing each other in the best-of-seven World Series.
Writing by Larry Fine, Editing by Ian Ransom