Oh, to be Young again: Win might be year's turning point

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 19, 2010 - 8:48 AM
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Delmon Young tried to avoid a happy pummeling from teammates after his ninth-inning, game-winning single.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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For a few moments, Delmon Young wanted nothing to do with his teammates. Didn't want them to hit him. Didn't want them to steal his helmet. Didn't want them to be his Facebook friends.

He ducked and darted until the rest of the Twins settled for high-fives instead of body blows, and by the time the boys had wobbled like Mardi Gras revelers back to the clubhouse, we knew what time it was in the AL Central:

Time for the Twins to set their postseason rotation.

Looks like they'll go with Scott Baker in Game 163 against Chicago, and Brian Duensing in Game 164 against Detroit, with Francisco Liriano, Roy Oswalt or Ted Lilly lined up for Game 1 of the ALDS in New York.

As A.J. Pierzynski likes to say, "It's on now." Young's game-winning single culminated the Twins' four-run rally in the ninth inning on Sunday afternoon at Target Field, giving them a stunning, 7-6 victory over the White Sox and a 3-1 series victory against the first-place team in the division, prompting a celebration that conjured the Ghosts of Rallies Past.

After taking command of the division for two months, then collapsing like a party tent for six weeks, the Twins on Sunday hinted that this could become another three-legged race to the finish. "This is definitely the kind of game that can keep that good feeling going for a while," said outfielder Jason Kubel. "Remember, in '06, I had that walk-off against Boston, and it seemed like we took off from there.

"I'm not going to say that's what did it, but it was a different feeling in the clubhouse after that. I think this might have the same kind of effect."

The Twins rallied to win the division late in the '03, '06 and '09 seasons, and rallied to force a playoff before losing Game 163 in '08.

Kubel's game-winning grand slam on June 13, 2006, helped propel the Twins to the most remarkable four-month run of winning baseball in franchise history. What's fascinating about the sometimes mind-numbing 162-game schedule is that you never know when the tipping or turning point might occur.

"That's a big game," infielder Nick Punto said. "We're playing against the guys in front of us. It's July, but the difference between 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 back is huge. We obviously have to play better in the second half and this is a good start."

This victory dovetails with a couple of encouraging developments for a team that, before winning the last three games of the White Sox series, had gone 15-23 since the beginning of June. The developments:

• From June 11 through Sunday, eight of the Twins' nine series were against teams at .500 or better, and the other was at Miller Park, where the Brewers swept.

From today until a rematch with the White Sox on Aug. 10, the Twins will play five of six series against teams with losing records -- Cleveland, Baltimore, Kansas City, Seattle and Cleveland again, with Tampa Bay interrupting the mediocrity before the second Indians series.

• After Nick Blackburn failed to record an out in the sixth, Brian Duensing threw 47 pitches over four innings, preparing him to take a spot in the rotation. We don't know whether he'll replace Scott Baker (sore elbow), Blackburn (high ERA) or Kevin Slowey (he's hurting my ears), but in any case Duensing promises to make a difference down the stretch.

Contrary to cliché, the Twins don't always rally in the second half, but they have improved after the All-Star break in five of Ron Gardenhire's previous eight seasons as manager -- each of the five times they've won the division.

Sunday afternoon, the Twins battered the closer of the team they're chasing to move into a second-place tie with Detroit, 1 1/2 games behind Chicago.

We don't yet know whether this game represents a tipping point or merely escapist entertainment, but as the Twins chased Young around the infield from sunshine to shade, it felt like our quaint, Midwestern, divisional drama was only beginning.

Jim Souhan can be heard at 10-noon Sunday on AM-1500. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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