Minneapolis - Nick Punto's voice was hoarse and he strained to describe how the Minnesota Twins have rallied from seven games down in less than a month to push the AL Central race to the final day.
“It’s been Game 7 for the last two weeks,” Punto croaked.
And, thanks in large part to Michael Cuddyer, for one more day.
Cuddyer hit a solo home run in the eighth inning, lifting the Twins to a thrilling 5-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Saturday that moved them into a tie with first-place Detroit.
“This is what it’s all about,” Cuddyer said. “When you break spring training, you hope to experience this. All 162 games are going to count. You can’t go wrong with that.”
The Tigers lost, 5-1, to the Chicago White Sox. Today is the final day of the regular season.
Joe Mauer delivered his biggest hit in an MVP-caliber season, a two-out single off Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke that broke a scoreless tie in the sixth. Delmon Young added a three-run double later in the inning for a 4-0 lead.
After the Minnesota bullpen let the Royals tie it, Cuddyer hit his 31st homer of the season off Dusty Hughes (0-2).
“What we’ve done and the run we’ve had up to this point has been pretty special,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, whose Twins have won 15 of 19 to surge back into contention. “These guys really have just huge hearts out there.”
Greinke had also been on an impressive tear, entering the game with an 0.43 ERA over his previous six starts.
He didn’t allow a hit through three innings but was outpitched by Nick Blackburn, who was perfect through four innings and allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings.
Jon Rauch (5-1) went one inning for the win and Joe Nathan got a brilliant diving catch from Denard Span in right field to help him pick up his 47th save.
Mauer came to the plate in the sixth inning with Punto on third base and two outs – the AL’s best hitter against arguably the league’s best pitcher with so much on the line.
“That makes for great drama,” Cuddyer said.
Greinke went right after Mauer with two straight 95 mph heaters to get ahead 0-2. Mauer fouled off a slider and then took another one low before ripping a 94 mph fastball into right field for a 1-0 lead.