MINNEAPOLIS - Baseball's only real pennant race needed an extra game and extra innings to finish off an American League Central thriller that got better as the game went on.
Alexi Casilla singled home the winning run with one out in the 12th inning and the Minnesota Twins rallied past Detroit, 6-5, in their 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 raced home from second base with the winning run — well ahead of a late 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.
The Tigers became the first major league team to blow a three-game lead with four games left.
“I guess it’s fitting to say there was a loser in this game because we lost the game, but it’s hard for me to believe there is a loser in this game,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Both teams played their hearts out. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
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 team had their chances to end it earlier, and each club scored in the 10th. Casilla was thrown out at the plate to end that inning by left fielder Ryan Raburn after tagging up.
Detroit thought it had taken the lead in the 12th. But with the bases loaded, plate umpire Randy Marsh ruled that Brandon Inge was not hit by a pitch by Bobby Keppel. The replay appeared to show the pitch grazing Inge’s billowing uniform.
It was the first AL tiebreaker to go to extra innings, and made up for Minnesota’s disappointment last October when it lost to the White Sox, 1-0, in Chicago 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,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
A day after Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers at the Dome — Monday Night Football is what delayed this tiebreaker for a day — the Twins pulled off a Tuesday Night Stunner.
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 – who came in for defense late in the game – moved up on a groundout. He came racing around for the winning run when Casilla’s single made it through the right side of the infield.
The Twins rushed out of the dugout in celebration even before Gomez reached the plate. Their comeback from a huge gap with 20 to play was complete.
Catcher Joe Mauer, who heard thunderous “M-V-P!” chants from the largest regular-season baseball crowd in Metrodome history throughout the game, 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.
There will be no rest for the winners, though: The Yankees predictably picked today to start their series, with Game 2 scheduled for Friday.
According to sports researcher STATS LLC, three teams since 1901 have blown a three-game lead in the standings with four games left.
The Houston Astros lost three games to Los Angeles in 1980, but they recovered to defeat the Dodgers in a tiebreaker game for the NL West. The Milwaukee Brewers lost three in a row to Baltimore in 1982 to force a tie, but they beat the Orioles in the final regular season game to win the AL East.