The noise was cacophonous and the emotions ran even higher as the Twins and Tigers played a cat-and-mouse game for 12 innings. Finally, the Twins' speed and tenacity drove in the winning run.
The Dome would not go quietly. Our belittled bastion of baseball butterflies has never done anything quietly, or conventionally.
As one last sellout baseball crowd stood and shook Homer Hankies, the Metrodome, having insisted on one extra baseball game before the Twins leave for Target Field, now insisted on one extra inning after another.
In a building known for pop-ups that never come down, the Twins won their final game in typically improbable fashion, with two benched best friends finally producing the game-winning run to give the victory to a journeyman reliever who contemplated retirement last winter. When the Twins finally won, 6-5, in 12 innings, in this one-game playoff for the American League Central Division title, the identities of the Twins' protagonists were as improbable as the game itself.
"I've never been involved in anything like that,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I started laughing. I'd go out there, talk to the guys on the mound, start giggling and say, 'OK, I'm out of here, boys. Good luck.' ''
"This game is going to live forever. People are going to talk about this game forever.''
The game threatened to last that long until, with one out in the bottom of the 12th, two players who had been benched a lot lately came through. Infielder Alexi Casilla drove home his best friend on the team, outfielder Carlos Gomez, with a single to right. That made a winner of reliever Bobby Keppel, who may have quit baseball if not for the opportunity to throw for Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson last winter. "Biggest win?'' Keppel asked, incredulous. "Let's see, how many days have I been in the bigs, 104? And this is my first win? And it comes in Game 163? I think so.''
Gomez, the fastest player on the team, flew home after Casilla's hit, sliding on his belly across home plate and starting a celebration reminiscent of 2006, when the Twins also won the division on the last day of the season.
Tuesday, the players lapped the field, shaking hands and pumping their fists, and even Joe Mauer -- Joe Cool, the guy known almost as much for his shrug as his swing-- sprinted for the stands.
Mauer had just clinched his third batting title in four years -- the only three ever won by an AL catcher. "That atmosphere was probably the best I've been in,'' he said.
A Twins record crowd of 54,088 packed the off-white elephant a day after Brett Favre played and beat the Green Bay Packers for the first time with a brilliant performance in purple, and yet Favre produced only the second-strangest and most suspenseful story of 24 hours under the Teflon roof.
The victory sent the Twins -- immediately after their clubhouse celebration -- to New York for their divisional championship series against the Yankees in new Yankee Stadium. Game 1 is scheduled for 5:07 p.m. today, with Game 2 scheduled for 5:07 p.m. Friday.
The Twins would not have scripted this transition, from spraying alcohol in each other's eyes late one night to playing baseball's best team in a city where the Twins have rarely won this decade, but no one was complaining. "This just shows what Gardy says all the time is true,'' said closer Joe Nathan, who recorded five outs, stranding four runners. "He always says we will need everybody on the roster to win, and that's the way this team won. We needed every last guy.''
The Twins used eight pitchers and 12 position players. They left 12 runners on base -- and stranded 12 Tigers.
Shortstop Orlando Cabrera, acquired in a late-season trade, hit a two-run homer in the seventh to give the Twins a 4-3 lead. The Tigers' Magglio Ordonez tied it with a homer leading off the eighth.
Then, as ballplayers like to say, it was "on.'' Cabrera turned a line-drive double play to help Nathan out of the ninth, and they left the field pumping fists.
The Tigers scored in the 10th; so did the Twins. Twins shortstop Nick Punto saved a run with a throw home in the 12th, and that gave the Twins the opening they needed.
Gomez, who had entered the game for defensive purposes, hooked a single to left. Cuddyer's chopper moved him to second.
The Tigers intentionally walked Delmon Young, then Casilla bounced a single to center.
Long after the game, Gomez belly-flopped on the Twins' clubhouse table and pretended to swim with one hand while pouring beer on himself with the other.
His buddy Casilla stood nearby, getting doused, saying "Things happen, you know? Carlos has been like me, not playing much, and he gets the game-winning run and I get the game-winning hit. It's something special.''
Nearby, in Gardenhire's office, the manager was lining up his rotation when third-base coach Scott Ullger walked in and joked, "We've got a game tomorrow?''
Probably not one like this.