- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS | Baseball’s only real pennant race needed an extra game and extra innings to finish a thriller that got better with every pitch.

The Minnesota Twins wouldn’t quit, and the Detroit Tigers finished their historic fade. But there was little time for the Twins to celebrate - the New York Yankees are waiting.

Alexi Casilla singled home the winning run with one out in the 12th as Minnesota rallied past Detroit 6-5 in the AL Central tiebreaker Tuesday night, completing a colossal collapse for the Tigers.

“This is the most unbelievable game I’ve ever played or seen,” Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrera said.

As Carlos Gomez streaked home from second with the winning run - well ahead of a throw from right field - Homer Hankies spiraled around the Metrodome. The Twins celebrated and scrambled - they had 21 hours to get ready for Game 1 of the AL Division Series at Yankee Stadium against New York ace CC Sabathia. He’ll face rookie Brian Duensing.

The Tigers became the first team in major league history to lose its division after having a three-game lead with four games left. The Twins overcame a seven-game gap in the final month, went 17-4 to pull even on the final weekend and won their fifth division title in eight years.

“We just feel like we have nothing to lose, man,” outfielder Denard Span said.

Both teams had their chances to end it earlier, and each club scored in the 10th. Casilla was thrown out at the plate by left fielder Ryan Raburn to end that inning.

Detroit thought it had taken the lead in the 12th. But with the bases loaded, plate umpire Randy Marsh ruled Brandon Inge was not hit by a pitch by Bobby Keppel. The replay appeared to show the pitch grazing Inge’s billowing uniform.

“No matter what we did, it seems like it wasn’t meant to be. This is the best game, by far, that I’ve ever played in - no matter the outcome,” Inge said.

It was the first AL tiebreaker to go to extra innings and made up for Minnesota’s disappointment last October when it lost 1-0 in Chicago to the White Sox in an AL Central tiebreaker. Had the Twins lost, it would’ve been the final baseball game at the Metrodome. Instead, the Twins get the Yankees. New York was 7-0 against Minnesota this season.

“We’re not afraid. I can guarantee you that,” manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney (2-5) worked his longest appearance of the season, getting the last two outs of the ninth. He gave up a single to Gomez to start the 12th, and the speedy center fielder moved up on a groundout. He came racing around for the winning run when Casilla’s single made it through the right side.

The Twins rushed out of the dugout in celebration even before Gomez reached the plate.

Joe Mauer, who heard thunderous “M-V-P!” chants from the largest regular-season baseball crowd in Metrodome history, led his team on a sprint around the warning track as they slapped hands with fans in the first rows.

“One of the best games I’ll ever play in,” Mauer said.

Keppel, Minnesota’s eighth pitcher, loaded the bases with one out in the 12th. His first pitch to Inge appeared to brush his jersey, but it was called a ball by Marsh. Inge seemed ready to take his base, and manager Jim Leyland came out to discuss the call with Marsh.

Second baseman Nick Punto then scooped Inge’s grounder and fired home in time to get the runner on the force. Keppel struck out Gerald Laird to squelch that rally.

Twins closer Joe Nathan got into trouble in the ninth when consecutive singles put runners at the corners, but he got a strikeout and a line-drive double play to end that threat. The four-time All-Star gave two huge pumps of his right arm as he spun to thank his defense and run to the dugout, preserving the tie.

Inge’s two-out double in the 10th gave the Tigers a 5-4 lead, but Michael Cuddyer sliced a triple past Raburn in left and scored on Matt Tolbert’s bouncing single through the middle in the bottom of the inning.

On the potential winning sacrifice fly, though, Casilla strayed a bit too far from third and was thrown out by Raburn trying to score to end the inning. The split-second Casilla needed to retouch the base might have cost him the run.

Rookie starter Rick Porcello pitched well beyond his 20 years for the Tigers, and Miguel Cabrera made up for a miserable weekend - on and off the field - with a two-run homer against Scott Baker in the third inning that made it 3-0. The crowd chanted “al-co-ho-lic” right before Cabrera went deep, a reference to the first baseman’s fight with his wife after he came home late and drunk.

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