NEW YORK - Major League Baseball could not have scripted a better introduction to the 2009 postseason than tonight's 6-5 Minnesota Twins victory over the Detroit Tigers which will go down as one of the great late-season thrillers.
Maybe the AL Central champion Twins will be hung-over, tired and downright blurry-eyed by the time they face the New York Yankees tonight at 6:07 at Yankee Stadium for the start of the American League divisional series. But they will do it knowing they won the AL Central division with such a memorable and exciting fashion when Alexi Casilla sent a grounder through the first and second base hole scoring speedy Carlos Gomez with the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning. What an unbelievable two days in the Twin Cities, watching Brett Favre and the Vikings go 4-0 by beating his old team, the Packers, and then the playoff game to decide the AL Central.
Major League Baseball might have come under some criticism for the scheduling issue which delayed the one-game playoff for a day while the Vikings and Packers used the building for their Monday night showdown, but the wait was well worth it. The game and the positive feedback from such a great game was well worth the scheduling snafu..
"If you're advertising why you should watch playoff baseball, all you had to do was watch that game. It kept you on the edge of your seat. It was everything baseball was all about. It was the underdog Twins, the franchise that seems to do it right year-after-year, slaying the Tigers and winning in Metrodome which they'll be vacating after their run is over. Pretty dramatic stuff," said one American League baseball executive.
The Twins-Yankees series is now being called the David-Goliath Series and with good reason. The Yankees are the spending Goliaths and the Twins, the frugal team that has arguably the best management in baseball. There is also perhaps no better team fundamentally on the field than the Twins, whose players play the game hard and right. While the series is a giant mismatch on paper, the Yankee staff will still have to neutralize Joe Mauer, who could do some damage at Yankee Stadium. Mauer, who of course is a free-agent after next season, is expected to re-sign with his hometown Twins, but if he ever pressed the issue and became a free-agent, the Yankees would likely be a front-runner for his services. Mauer, who won his third batting title, finishing at .365, may have also secured an MVP award for the first time in his career as well. Mauer has carried the Twins team on his back particularly after former AL MVP Justin Morneau was lost for the season with a back injury.
"One of the best games I'll ever play in," Mauer told reporters after the game.
You could see the magnitude of what the Twins had done in their post-game comments.
Former Red Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera told TBS that "It was the most unbelievable game I've ever played or seen." And Cabrera, who ended the season with a 16-game hitting streak including a two-run homer in the seventh inning, saw and played in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS for the Red Sox.
It was tough for anyone to have to lose this one, especially the Tigers, who will be known for their season-ending collapse and who became the first team in history to lose a three-game lead with four games to go.
"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 as 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 poor Tigers probably should have taken the lead in the 12th when Brandon Inge's uniform was grazed with a Bobby Keppel pitch with the bases loaded. Not so, ruled umpire Randy Marsh and Keppel got out of the inning with nobody scoring.
But oh those Twinkies.
Of course, the Yankees wanted the Twins to win feeling they have the best chance against them. The Yankees were 7-0 against Minnesota this season.
"We're not afraid. I can guarantee you that," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
The Marsh call, the Twins' heroics, which started when speedy Gomez (who hit .143 after September 1) singled to lead off the 12th, made up for last year's disappointment when the White Sox defeated the Twins in a one-game playoff, 1-0, when current Red Sox outfielder Brian Anderson made a terrific tumbling catch to end the game in Chicago's favor.
With the largest crowd in Metrodome history on hand to watch a baseball game - 55,408 - the Dome was as loud as it's ever been according to the players. The crowd chanted "Mauer MVP!" throughout the game.
Beating the Yankees will be a monumental task for the Twins who will start Game 1 with a depleted pitching staff after using eight pitchers in the 163rd game, and very tired players. Yet the Twins still opened the champagne and celebrated. They still ran around the Dome shaking hands of adoring fans who truly appreciated the incredible effort. That, to them, was the toughest part. The rest is icing.
Maybe this is the matchup the Yankees wished for, but maybe the Yankees will have to be very careful about what they wished for.