After a long, hard-fought season full of injuries and skeptics, the Minnesota Twins are finally in control of their own destiny heading into the home stretch of the 2008 season. On Thursday night, the Twins capped off a sweep in a way that could only be described in one word; epic.
Kevin Slowey got the starting nod for the Twins in what most considered to be the biggest game of the year. Through the first 3 1/3 innings, he was cruising. He got got the first batter of the game, DeWayne Wise to fly out to center on his very first pitch. He then proceded to set down the next nine batters he faced.
That's when he appeared to hit a wall. Orlando Cabrera launched a pitch into left-center field to knot the game at 1. Jermaine Dye singled and Jim Thome followed with a double to center. The ball off the bat of Thome was high enough that both Denard Span and Carlos Gomez could catch up to it, but due to the noise inside the dome, neither heard the other call him off and the collided in mid-air allowing the ball to drop. Paul Konerko then grounded out to short to allow Dye to score and Thome to go to third with two outs. Slowey then walked Ken Griffey Jr. on four pitches which made it first and third. Alexei Ramirez came up and hit a soft grounder to Brian Buscher which should've ended the inning, but Buscher couldn't get it out of his glove which allowed Thome to score, Griffey to second and Ramirez to reach safely. Next was A.J. Pierzynski who was greeted with a wave of boos. Slowey got ahead quickly 0-2 and A.J. fouled off four straight pitches. Then a fastball from Slowey ran up and in which succeeded to nail Pierzynski in the left shoulder to fill the bases. Juan Uribe came up next and lined a pitch straight back up the middle which caught the wrist of Kevin Slowey. Slowey tried to come off the mound and make the throw to first but it was way off course and was then bound for right field which allowed all three runs to score and Uribe to go to third. Slowey had to leave the game and was replaced by Matt Guerrier who got Wise to strike out swinging to end the inning.
It appeared as though the damage had been as the Twins now found themselves in a 6-1 hole. But the Twins still seemed to believe they could pull the comeback, and with 43,601 people going crazy for them, who was to say they couldn't?
They went straight to work in the bottom half of the fourth. Delmon Young struck out to lead off the inning, Buscher followed with a walk, and Nick Punto flew out to left, but not deep enough to advance Buscher. The inning appeared to be over. That's when Carlos Gomez came up in search of redemption for the miscue by lining his first of two triples down the left field line allowing Buscherto score. Span then followed with a double which cut the lead to 6-3.
With one out in the home half of the sixth, Gomez ripped his second triple of the game down the left field line which set up Span's sacrifice bunt. Alexi Casilla's single would spell the end for Gavin Floyd who still appeared to be an alright position to pick up his 10th win following a White Sox loss.
In the eighth inning, things got interesting again. Brendan Harris pinch-hit for Brian Buscher and smacked a double into left which again electrified the crowd. Punto bounced out to short which sent Harris to third. That was when Ozzie Guillen had seen enough of Matt Thornton and sent Bobby Jenks in for a rare five out save. Gomez came up next in another clutch situation and once again delivered a single into right to score Harris and put the go-ahead run at the plate. Denard Span came up next with a chance to deliver his third RBI of the game and tie it at 6 apiece. With the way the inning was going, you had to figure something amazing would happen and sure enough, it did. Span laced a triple into right, scoring Gomez and stunning the White Sox who had just seen their five-run lead disappear. And worse yet, the Twins had Span on third with just one out. Jenks was finally able to settle down after that and got Alexi Casilla to strike out swinging and Joe Mauer to bounce out to first to end the threat.
Ron Gardenhire then called on Joe Nathan to get the Twins through the ninth and tenth and as Nathan does so well at home, he set down all six White Sox hitters he faced. Nathan and the rest of the bullpen crew combined for 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing two hits and two walks while striking out six. This was huge for the Twins as the bullpen has been struggling and overworked during the club's most recent slide.
Brendan Harris led off the inning by grounding out to short. Nick Punto followed with a walk and Gomez bounced to second to allow Punto to advance. Jenks threw a first pitch slider in the dirt to Span which Punto read perfectly allowing him to move to third with two outs. Guillen then decided to intentionally walk Span to bring up Casilla who was 1-4 with two K's on the night. That's when the young second baseman delivered the biggest hit of his career, a bloop single into center field that allowed Punto to score the game-winning run and cap off an unbelievable comeback.
The Twins don't have much time to celebrate though as they still have three games left while only holding a half-game lead. It still figures to be a race that will go all the way down to Sunday, possibly Monday, or maybe even Tuesday if everything lines up. There's only one thing that is certain in all of this. The Minnesota Twins, who were completely written off in Spring Training, now hold a half game lead over the Chicago White Sox and it figures to be the most exciting weekend of baseball in a very long time.