Images courtesy of Keith Allison
Perhaps someone should inform New Yorkers that -- at least for the last six days -- our T.C. sporting universe has become the city that never sleeps. In a nearly five-hour affair that took on the bizarre dimensions of a Kubrick film, Alexi Casilla singled in Carlos Gomez in the bottom of the 12th last night to down the Tigers 6-5 and give the Twins the Central Division title. The victory elevated our Boys to a best-of-five American League Divisional Series playoff showdown with the New York Yankees, who sported baseball's best record at 103-59. Emblematic of the insanity was the fact that Casilla's game-winner was just his fourth hit since August 25th; in addition, the knock rescued him from the infamy of a 10th inning base running miscue that could have likely given the Twins a victory an hour prior.
To see the box score, please click here.
The Twins' victory was wrought with more history than a Stephen Ambrose biography and capped an unprecedented and wholly maniacal span of sport in the Twin Cities. Said stretch began with the Twins vs. Royals series at the Dome last Friday, continued with Twin Cities Marathon, proceeded with the Gophers and Badgers game at TCF Stadium, corralled the nation's televisions via Brett Favre's vengeance against the Packers, and concluded in ecstasy last night. The win tasted especially sweet considering the club's 1-0 tiebreaker loss to the Chicago White Sox in game #163 from last season.
From the afore-noted historical perspective, the Twins' win -- the 17th in their last 21 games -- gave them sole position of first place for the first time since April 10th. That was after their fifth game of the season. Furthermore, their ascension to the playoffs made the Twins the first team to ever
eclipse a three game deficit with four to play. In addition, they became the first A.L. team among present franchises to make the postseason in their final year at a stadium from which a team will move.
Since taking over as manager in 2002, Ron Gardenhire now has five division titles in his eight seasons at the helm. His career against the Yankees, however, paints some blurry pinstripes. Gardy's teams are just 14-41 versus New York in regular season play, and 2-6 in two playoff series that occurred in the back-to-back seasons of 2003 and 2004. In each of those years, the Twins won the first game at the old Yankee Stadium before losing the next three in the series and dropping from the playoff chase.
Of further (and frightening) reality is the fact that the Twins used eight pitchers last night and went 0-7 against the Yanks this year; they've lost eight straight ballgames in NYC dating to mid-summer of 2007. On a more sanguine note: the Twins held the lead in each of their first four losses, and -- aside from suffering a 10-2 July 7th thumping at the Dome -- lost the other six by just eight runs combined. In addition, it also worthy of note that Gardy's Yankee counterpart, Joe Girardi
, is making his playoff debut as a skipper. As a player, the former catcher went to the postseason six times with three different teams, hitting .184 in 114 playoff at-bats and winning titles with the Yanks in 1996, '98, and '99.
We collectively enjoy this moment -- but time for celebration is short. Just 20 hours exist between the win over the Tigers and the onset of the playoffs. New York doesn't sleep, just as slumber for our Boys will prove brief. Reports have the club as flying out late Tuesday night. To see if the Bread Basket can Start Spreadin' the Hits in the quick game time turnaround, please enjoy this ALDS Game 1 capsule:
Minnesota Twins (87-76)-A.L. Central Champion vs. New York Yankees (103-59)-A.L. East Champion
Best of 5 series
Game 1 (at Yankee Stadium) - Today at 5:07 p.m. Central
Game 2 (at Yankee Stadium) - Friday, October 9th at 5:07 p.m. Central
Game 3 (at Metrodome) - Sunday, October 11th, Time TBD
Game 4, if necessary (at Metrodome) - Monday, October 12th, Time TBD
Game 5, if necessary (at Yankee Stadium) - Wednesday, October 14, Time TBD
Game 1 - Brian Duensing- LHP (5-2, 3.64 ERA) vs. C.C. Sabathia- LHP (19-8, 3.37 ERA)
The 26-year-old Duensing makes his 10th start of the season and first against the Yanks. The lefty did oppose New York in a relief effort from 7/7 at the Dome in which he faired poorly, allowing 4 runs in 2.2 innings of work. The rookie also walked four in that stint, his most of the season in either a starting or relief role. Both Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira singled off him in that game, while Nick Swisher worked two of the four walks. Among all MLB pitchers with at least nine starts, Duensing was tied for 7th in HR's allowed for nine innings at just 0.8. He's yet to allow a longball to a lefty this season, and while the Yankees do sport six lefties in their lineup, four of those ballers are switch-hitters and will likely be turned around. The Pinstripes led all of baseball with 244 Home Runs this season, so young Duensing will need to keep the ball in the park to keep the Boys in this ballgame -- especially in the early-stages.
Sabathia is baseball's highest paid pitcher
-- ever. Via his eight season in Cleveland, the Twins are long familiar with the 6-7', 250lb. lefty, having faced the $161 million man 28 times in his career, most recently (and ironically, given Duensing's appearance) on July 7th when he went 7 strong innings to get the win. Sabathia finished tied for the MLB lead in wins, buoyed by an August--October sizzle in which he went 9-1; the "1," however, came in his last start on 10/2 when he was shelled by the Rays. For his career, Sabathia is 13-8 versus the Bread Basket, with a strong 3.05 ERA. Among active Twins, benchers Alexi Casilla (more irony?) and Mike Redmond hit Sabathia at a collective .564 clip (22-for-39), while Mauer, Cuddy, Cabrera, Harris, Young, Gomez, Punto, and Kubel all hit the fella .217 or worse. With 136 lifetime wins, Sabathia has (by far) the most victories for an active pitcher under 30 -- it's the postseason that has proven his Achilles. In five career playoff starts (four with Cleveland and one last year with the Brewers), Sabathia is just 2-3 with a bulky 7.92 ERA. In his last playoff start, Sabathia lost huge to eventual champion Philly, allowing 5 runs in just 3.2 innings of service.