The teams had battled back and forth all season long. The Tigers had led the division since May but the Twins had never fallen far behind. The Tigers led early. The Twins then grabbed hold of the game only to see the Tigers tie the game and send it into extra innings.
The game was in itself a microcosm of the season.
While both teams had good young arms to start the season, uh game, both needed to scramble and use their bullpen to get to the end.
Both teams relied on clutch fielding with their back against the wall to starve off elimination.
Both teams also somehow found just enough clutch hitting.
Similarly to the regular season, the Tigers grabbed an early lead in the third inning. After coaxing a walk, Curtis Granderson scored from second on a single by Magglio Ordonez to get the Tigers on the board. Miguel Cabrera followed with a towering shot to center field to push the lead to 3-0.
The Twins true to the season stayed close by scoring a run in the bottom half of the third. Matt Tolbert singled and was moved to third on a single by Denard Span. Joe Mauer stepped to the plate with two outs. Ryan Porcello, not liking his options at the plate, attempted to pick off Span. Unfortunately, Porcello’s throw skipped by Miguel Cabrera and hit the first base coach allowing Tolbert to score.
The Twins appeared poised for a big inning with Porcello upset at himself for his error. The young star however gave Mauer nothing good to hit before surrendering a walk. Jason Kubel stepped to the plate and the crowd sensed that he would deliver a home run, prior to the game Kubel was 8-11 against Porcello. This time Porcello would win the battle and got Kubel to strike out on high heat.
Porcello and Baker then both settled down over the next two innings showing why both pitchers figure prominently in the plans of their respective teams. Porcello had the better stuff in the middle two frames striking out three while facing the minimum number of batters.
Baker not wanting to be out done by Porcello bore down in the top of the seventh inning getting the Tigers to go one-two-three. Porcello picked up where he left off in the sixth inning getting Orlando Cabrera to hit an easy pop fly to center. Porcello then struck out Mauer fooling him with an off-speed pitch.
Kubel then came to the plate. The odds caught up with Porcello. Kubel drove the fast ball offering of Porcello high and deep over the right center field fence. The Twins were once again breathing down the neck of the Tigers at 3-2.
In the top of the seventh, the Tigers appeared that they would get the run back but the Twins sent relievers Jose Mijares, Jon Rauch, and Matt Guerrier to the mound to strand the two Tiger base runners.
Nick Punto batting .228, lead off the inning for the Twins with a single. Most fans had to be thinking can the Twins get their homerun hitters—Mauer, Kubel, and Cuddyer to take the lead? Orlando Cabrera thought why wait and decided to hit a home run that landed in the first row just beyond left field fence giving the Twins the lead at 4-3.
The Metrodome crowd was feeling that magic was going to happen as they were on their feet rocking as Guerrier returned to the mound in the eighth. The shouting was short lived. Ordonez smelled fast ball and hit a rocket deep into the left field stands. What was loud became instantly quiet as the Tigers roared back to tie the game at 4-4.
In the top half of the ninth, the Tigers looked like they would finally finish of the pesky Twins. Ramon Santiago led off the inning laying down a nice bunt for a single. Granderson followed with a single to shallow right field moving Santiago to third.
The Tigers were in business with runners on the corners with no outs. Manager Jim Leyland began rubbing his face as if he could taste victory. Unfortunately, that taste was about to get very bitter.
Twins All-Star closer Joe Nathan reached back for a little more giddy-up on his fastball to strike out Placido Polanco. Ordonez then came to the plate. Somehow Ordonez had discovered the fountain of youth the past six weeks as the speed had returned to his bat. Ordonez hit the ball hard but right at Orlando Cabrera. Cabrera immediately fired the ball over to Michael Cuddyer at first to double off Granderson.
The Tigers committed the cardinal sin of baseball in the bottom of the ninth by walking Punto to lead off the inning. The Twins playing their brand of baseball with Span moving Punto over to second on a sacrifice bunt. A single and the Twins would be going to New York.
Orlando Cabrera sensing the moment hit a rocket which appeared off the bat to be out of the reach of Brandon Inge. Somehow, Inge was able to leap to his left to snag the ball and get to his feet to throw out Cabrera. The Twins intentionally walked Mauer to get to Carlos Gomez who had come into the game as a defensive replacement for Kubel. Gomez hitting .227, hit the ball to short for an easy force out.
In the 10th inning, the Twins faithful began to feel that their luck was going to run out. The Tigers with a runner on second base saw Inge hit a rope down the left field line giving them the lead at 5-4. The Tigers feeling the nightmare was finally over began jumping up and down in their dugout.
The Twins of course were not ready for the fun to end. Cuddyer lead the inning off with a hit to left field that will go in the box score as a triple but what really should have been a single. Inexplicably, Ryan Raburn gambled coming in too hard with a slide trying to catch the ball. The ball scooted by and went to the wall before Granderson could get the ball back in.
Young hit the first pitch for an easy out. Brandon Harris then drew a walk and was replaced with Alexi Casilla as a pinch runner. Matt Tolbert who has been hitting a sizzling .333 in September hit a ball up the middle. The ball initially appeared to be a tailor-made double play ball for the Tigers. The ball somehow however made it through and the Twins had once again tied the game at 5-5.
The Twins now appeared to be ready to finally put away the Tigers. Punto stepped to the plate with one out and the speedy Casilla on third. As Yogi Berri said one time if not once, it was déjà vu all over again.
Punto in the first game of the series between the two teams last week was in a similar situation. The Twins were tied with the Tigers with a runner on third with one out with Punto at the plate in Detroit last week. In that situation, the Twins asked Punto to lay down a suicide squeeze. Rodney handcuffed Punto with a rising fastball and Punto’s bunt popped in the air allowing the Tigers to turn a double play.
Punto looked over to the bench and dug in. This time the Twins asked Punto to swing away. Punto hit a fly ball to left that was caught by Raburn. Casilla failing to appreciate the situation did not have his foot on third base with his shoulders square to home plate when the catch was made. The mistake would prove costly as Casilla was gunned down at the plate by Raburn.
Both teams appearing emotionally spent could get nothing going in the 11th inning.
Then the 12th and final inning began. The Tigers looked as if they were going to finally bust the game wide open. With one out, Miguel Cabrera was walked. Don Kelly then followed with a single to left.
Delmon Young made a mental error in fielding the single. Young’s momentum in tracking down Kelly’s single took him into the alley and instead of throwing the ball to second base to hold Kelly to first. The Tigers had seized control of the game with runners on second and third.
The Twins walked Raburn to load the bases. The Twins brought their infield in. Inge attempting to get a friendly hop of the artificial turf hit the ball hard into turf. Punto playing second base raced to his left, fielded the ball and quickly threw home to get Miguel Cabrera out at home.
The Twins were still not out of the woods. The bases were still loaded and with two outs the Twins could be assured that at least two runs would score on any hit. Laird worked the count to 3-1. Mauer showed his golden glove skills by knocking two pitches into the dirt.
Minnesota reliever Bobby Keppel fought back to get the count to 3-2. On a pitch that appeared would have been called a ball, Gerald Laird struck out swinging.
Gomez, who had seen very limited action in the second half of the season, hit a sharp single to left to lead off the inning. Cuddyer grounded out to third but did advance Gomez to second. Young was then intentionally walked to bring up Casilla.
Casilla entered the game batting .198. If there was a Twins hitter that the Tigers had to feel that they could handle, Casilla had to be the player. Casilla promptly brought the saga to an end with a single to right center.
There were expectations at the beginning of the year that Gomez and Casilla would play prominent roles for the Twins. Both players struggled throughout the year. Yet, in game 163 of the season, Gomez and Casilla would play huge roles in getting the Twins to the playoffs.
Last week in Detroit after Nick Punto failed to execute the suicide squeeze, the Tigers threatened in their half of the inning. The Tigers failed to score and the Twins went on to win the game. I wonder if Jim Leyland appreciated the symmetry.
Tonight’s game was a microcosm of the season.
The Tigers jumped out into the lead early. The Twins battled back staying on the heels of the Tigers. The Tigers on several occasions looked like they would put away the Twins. Last than a week ago with four games left in the season, the Twins stood three games behind the Tigers. Twins fans wondered if their team would ever catch the Tigers.
Yes, tonight’s game was a microcosm of the season.
The only difference between game 163 and the first 162 games was that...the Twins finally figured out a way to finally get past the Tigers.
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