Twins players celebrate in center field at the conclusion of the Detroit-Kansas City game.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune


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Banner Day: Players, fans watch fate unfold, share their elation

  • Article by: Joe Christensen
  • Star Tribune
  • October 2, 2006 - 9:25 AM

The Metrodome always has been a multipurpose building, but Sunday its role in Minnesota sports lore expanded, as the stale old marshmallow became the multimedia hub for one of the greatest celebrations in Twins history.

On the season's final day, Joe Mauer won a historic batting title, the Twins defeated the Chicago White Sox 5-1, and then the players settled in with about 35,000 of their fans for a little TV.

Together, they watched on the stadium's two JumboTrons as Kansas City finished a 10-8, 12-inning victory over Detroit that knocked the Tigers behind the Twins for the first time all season.

After coming from 12 games back, the Twins won their fourth American League Central title in five years, setting up a first-round playoff matchup with Oakland that starts Tuesday at the Metrodome.

The Twins arrived at the ballpark with their suitcases packed for New York, but the Tigers were the ones who drew a first-round matchup with the Yankees after settling for the wild card.

"People are going to say, 'Well, we backed into this,' " Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "No, no, no. Our division was as good as baseball gets between the White Sox, the Tigers and us, battling until the end."

After six months, the final chapter was almost surreal.

Everyone in the building -- from Gardenhire to the fans in the upper deck -- had their attention divided between the events in Minnesota and the out-of-town scoreboard, which brought detailed updates from Detroit.

At one point, Gardenhire asked bench coach Steve Liddle if the other side had a knuckleball specialist warming up.

"No," Liddle said. "That's [Scott] Dohmann. We scored two runs off him at Kansas City."

Gardenhire laughed. He was referring to Charlie Haeger in the White Sox bullpen. Liddle saw Dohmann's name on the scoreboard, as the Royals pitcher of the moment.

"I'm talking about our game!" Gardenhire told Liddle.

Of course, using computers back in the clubhouse they were tracking the Yankees too, since Derek Jeter (.343) and Robinson Cano (.340) were both trying to wrest the batting title from Mauer.

In the fifth inning, Mauer was at the plate when a tremendous roar came over the crowd, forcing him to call time. The Royals had just come back from a six-run deficit to tie the Tigers 7-7.

Mauer calmly stepped back into the box and lined the single to left field that sealed the batting title. He finished 2-for-4, leaving him at .347 and making him the first catcher to win the AL batting crown.

With Mauer's place in baseball history secure, and the Twins sitting on their 96-66 record, the players returned to the dugout, watching live coverage of the Tigers and Royals.

To describe the moment, Michael Cuddyer reached back into Twins history.

"You see the old videos of back in '87, when they came home from [Detroit], and there's 50,000 people in the stands just to greet them when they got off the plane," he said. "You know that's what this city and this area's all about. To be able to watch it with the fans, you couldn't ask for a better situation."

As Kansas City took a 10-8 lead in the 12th, Torii Hunter joined the fans in singing the day's unusual battle cry: "Let's go, Royals!"

Waiting for Kansas City to get those final three outs, Justin Morneau turned to Cuddyer on the bench and made his own analogy.

"It was like we were going up the roller coaster," Morneau said. "And it was like, click ... click ... click. ... And there it goes."

As soon as Royals first baseman Jeff Keppinger tucked away the final out in Detroit, the Twins dashed from their dugout, spilling beer behind them. They gathered momentarily in the infield but then kept running to center field and left field, giving high fives to the fans along foul territory as they made their way back to the dugout.

The Tigers finished 95-67. For the first time since May 15, they weren't in first place.

The Twins hadn't even had a share of first place until Thursday, and now, 37 minutes after their 162nd game, they were all alone on top, celebrating their ninth trip to postseason in team history.

Gardenhire grabbed a microphone and thanked the fans.

The players sprayed the champagne and beer, hooting and hollering as if there had been no party just like it only six days earlier.

"I've seen them pretty excited," Gardenhire said. "But I have never seen them this excited."

Joe Christensen •

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