Casilla tames Tigers in 12th

Baseball’s only real pennant race needed an extra game and extra innings to finish off an AL Central thriller that got better with every pitch.

Minnesota Twins’ Carlos Gomez (22) scores the game-winning run as his teammates follow during the 12th inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday.

Twins 6 Tigers 5

MINNEAPOLIS — Baseball’s only real pennant race needed an extra game and extra innings to finish off an AL Central thriller that got better with every pitch.

Alexi Casilla singled home the winning run with one out in the 12th 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 streaked home from second with the winning run — well ahead of a late throw from right field — Homer Hankies spiralled around the Metrodome.

The Twins celebrated and scrambled — they had 21 hours to get ready for Game 1 of the AL playoffs at Yankee Stadium against New York ace CC Sabathia.

The Tigers became the first team in major-league history 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 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 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 1-0 in Chicago to the White Sox 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.

Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi: “We’re not going to have to face questions like ‘Can you beat them?’ like we’ve had to answer during the course of the year.

“Once the playoffs start though, it’s a new series and we know the importance of each game. You can pretty much throw everything else out the window.”

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 centre-fielder — who came in for defence 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.

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.

The Twins got nipped by the White Sox in Game 163 last year, but this struggle for the division on the last possible day was even more dramatic with all kinds of chances for either team to take it.

There will be no rest for the winners, though: The Yankees predictably picked Wednesday to start their series, with Game 2 scheduled for Friday. Both managers played down the potential disadvantage before the game, but whichever team emerged from this was going to be drained. Gardenhire and Leyland made so many moves for defence and relief that the lineups and pitching staffs were depleted by the end.

Keppel, Minnesota’s eighth pitcher, loaded the bases with one out in the 12th. His first pitch to Inge appeared to brush his jersey, but it was simply called a ball by Marsh. Inge seemed ready to take his base and Leyland came out to discuss the call with Marsh.

Second baseman Nick Punto then scooped Inge’s grounder and fired home in time to get the runner on the force, and Keppel struck out Gerald Laird to squelch that rally.

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