MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins seem to think that 162 regular-season games aren’t enough.
The Twins will host the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday in a tiebreaker for the American League Central title and a trip the playoffs. It is the second straight season that the Twins have needed a 163rd game to finish the season, a first in league history.
One year after losing a 1-0 heartbreaker in Chicago to the White Sox in a one-game playoff, the Twins will get the homefield advantage this time around as they look to cap their remarkable September rally.
“It’s like deja vu,” second baseman Nick Punto said. “Last year, same thing. A lot of these guys have been through this, though. I think that’s the best part about it. That breeds confidence just knowing you’ve been in a position like this before. It’s fun. We’re having fun.”
Why wouldn’t they be?
A month ago, the Twins were seven games behind Detroit in the division. Three weeks ago, they lost Canadian all-star slugger Justin Morneau to a season-ending back injury. Last week, they were three games down with four to play.
Yet here they are again, thanks to 16 victories in 20 games and four straight to close the season.
“Everybody wrote off the Twins, it seems like, a long time ago, especially when Morneau went down,” said outfielder Johnny Damon, whose Yankees are awaiting Tuesday’s winner. “A team needs to keep fighting and they’ve been one of those special teams for a long time. It seems like they don’t give up. That’s the great thing about baseball. You never know.”
The Tigers, who went 11-15 in their final 26 games to let the Twins back into the race, aren’t putting too much stock in the experience factor.
Manager Jim Leyland is putting 20-year-old rookie Rick Porcello (14-9) on the mound for the start in front of more than 50,000 fans who will make it deafening inside the Metrodome.
“It’s going to be the loudest environment any of these guys have ever been in, and I can tell you that firsthand because I was up there for the ’87 World Series when they called it ’The Hankie Dome’ and my wife couldn’t even hear each other talk,” Leyland said. “But that’s OK. Sometimes that works for you, and sometimes that works against you.”
Young pitchers, and even veterans, have been known to get rattled in the din of the Metrodome, which was supposed to hold its final regular season baseball game on Sunday when the Twins played the Royals. The Twins are hoping there is still plenty of more baseball to be played under the roof before the move outside to Target Field next year.
Tigers centre fielder Curtis Granderson isn’t worried about his young starting pitcher.
“He’s going to be fine,” Granderson said of Porcello, who will face Tigers’ right-hander Scott Baker (15-9). “I don’t think there’s any question that he’ll be poised and relaxed. He just pitched against them, and he’s pitched there, so this isn’t going to be anything new for him. We’re very confident in him.”
The game is being played in Minnesota because the Twins won the season series 11-7, including seven wins in nine games at the Metrodome. The Twins are eager to get outdoors next season, but there is no place they would rather play this one.
“The situation is the same, but the setting is different,” Baker said in comparing this game to last year’s loss in Chicago. “There’s no way to get around the fact that we’re playing at the Dome and not in Detroit. I think we’ve seen in the past how well we play in front of our fans and how much it can affect the outcome of a game.”