Despite Gut-Wrenching Loss, Twins Still Ticking in AL Central Race

Andrew KneelandSenior Writer ISeptember 2, 2009

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 14:  American League All-Star Joe Nathan of the Minnesota Twins pitches during the 2009 MLB All-Star Game at Busch Stadium on July 14, 2009 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Well, that one stings.

His team leading 2-0 in the top of the ninth, the best closer in baseball had dwindled the Chicago White Sox to their final strike. Rookie Gordon Beckham had one swing of the bat to prolong his team's chances in their last game at the Metrodome.

Beckham could never know the full extent of the horrors this stadium had caused the White Sox.

From quirky bloop singles to the springy Metrodome turf, virtually all luck seemed to benefit the Twins.

It's almost fitting that Chicago won their last game in the Metrodome because of the same luck they had cursed for years. Almost.

After taking three straight balls that were well out of the strike-zone, Beckham connected on a fastball nearly down the center of the plate for a home run. The Twins led 2-1 with Paul Konerko stepping up to bat.

It's important to understand here that Nathan had never given up two home runs in a game since 2003, with the San Francisco Giants. In fact, Nathan had only given up four previous home runs in the season.

Coming once again within one strike of ending the game, Nathan hung a slider that ended up over the left field wall. Tied game.

I won't go further into the messy, painful details, but Nathan wound up walking both Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin before being removed from the game. It was the first time Nathan had left a game without finishing the inning since 2005.

Matt Guerrier allowed those two inherited runners to score, giving the White Sox, a team who wanted nothing more than to leave Minnesota, a 4-2 lead.

While Nathan is historically a worse pitcher in September, nothing could have prepared Twins fans for the way he imploded today. This loss certainly becomes the most gut-wrenching one of the season, replacing another painful game that seems to have become a distant memory.

While it would be totally fair to blame this game on Nathan (something Twins fans can't normally do), the truth of the matter is that a loss like this is better than a blowout.

The Twins held the White Sox scoreless for eight innings, and were it not for a usually-reliable component, would have won the game.

If the Twins play the way they did today for the rest of the season, they will win the division.

After watching Brian Duensing throw seven innings of shutout baseball, pitching his way out of several tricky situations, Twins fans can take a temporary deep breath. The starting rotation just finished a complete rotation with five acceptable starts from five quality pitchers.

For now, at least, it appears that Scott Baker, Carl Pavano, and Nick Blackburn are capable of lasting six or seven innings and will be crucial for the Twins as they begin this September stretch run. As Patrick Reusse points out, though, four of the seven games the Twins have remaining against the Detroit Tigers will be started by either Jeff Manship or Brian Duensing.

What makes that significant is the fact that Duensing started the season in Triple-A, while Manship began in Double-A. Just 20 percent of the original starting rotation is still intact.

The acquisition of Jon Rauch appears to be a smart one, as he has thrown three scoreless innings for the Twins and has a 2-0 record. Mahay has successfully completed two outs.

While I'd be the first to call "Small Sample Size!,"these two could help anchor what appears to be a semi-reliable bullpen.

While a four-game deficit could be discouraging to look at, it's hardly insurmountable.

It ain't over yet, Twins fans. It ain't over.