Spell Twins T-E-A-M
Game ball should be chopped into 30 pieces
MINNEAPOLIS -- The clubhouse already was wrapped in a protective coating of plastic. The Twins already had done their part by beating Cleveland 4-1. More than 10,000 fans waited for the formality of the final innings in Chicago and Kansas City to play out on dueling big screens at the Metrodome.
And as players emptied the clubhouse to watch with the fans, from the dugout, Twins closer Eddie Guardado quietly went to manager Ron Gardenhire's office to return a gift.
"Here, you should have this,'' Guardado told Gardenhire as he tried to hand the manager the game ball he had given Guardado after the closer earned his 40th save of the season in Tuesday's division-title clincher.
Gardenhire refused. "It means more to me that you have this,'' he said.
Eventually, Guardado relented. "I saw Gardy holding (Al Newman's) jersey, and I thought it would be better for him to have it,'' Guardado said.
In fact, that ball might have been best chopped into about 30 pieces and shared by manager, closer, hospitalized coach, pitchers, outfielders, infielders, catchers and other coaches after what this team went through to get to where it stood Tuesday night:
Champions of the American League Central Division for the second straight year, and, in all likelihood, toe-to-toe with the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs.
"I've watched the celebrations on TV. But you can only watch,'' said left fielder Shannon Stewart, who drove in two runs Tuesday in his latest example of why he has become a legitimate American League most valuable player candidate since his July 16 trade from Toronto. "You have no idea until you get here and experience it.''
One of the most important parts of Tuesday night's victory, if not the Twins' success this season, also has been one of the more forgotten Twins during a second-half surge that has put the spotlight on Stewart and a threesome of starters that will make up the early playoff rotation: Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Kyle Lohse.
"Only forgotten by you,'' Gardenhire said of left-hander Kenny Rogers (13-8), who took a shutout two outs deep into the ninth inning Tuesday night. "We didn't forget anybody in this clubhouse.''
Signed in March to replace injured Eric Milton in the rotation and assure the Twins of their best chance of returning to the playoffs, Rogers completed the job when he won his second straight start and got within one out of his first complete game since June 2002.
"I just talked to him and said, 'This is what you were here for,''' pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "You talk about Santana and Radke winning back to back in Chicago as being huge. Kenny Rogers has come up as big as both of them. He came out and beat Chicago, too, and came up just as big tonight.''
During the Twins' winning streak to the clincher that Rogers helped extend to 10 games Tuesday, he won both starts, pitching a combined 15 innings.
Rogers leads the pitching staff with 193 2/3 innings this season and continued to pitch six, seven or eight innings a start during the June-July swoon to the break when the rest of the rotation struggled to pitch five.
"What he's meant to this team is unbelievable,'' Anderson said.
If there's an irony to it all it's that Rogers doesn't fit into a three-man playoff rotation.
"Those things happen,'' he said. "I really don't look at that. If they're going to start Santana twice, he's the best lefty in the league right now, and I couldn't say a word about it. All those things take care of themselves.''
Anderson said that kind of attitude has been one of Rogers' strengths all season. Rogers offered to pitch out of the bullpen between some of his shorter starts at times this season when the bullpen was getting overworked.
"And look at that game in Kansas City,'' Anderson said, referring to an important 9-2 victory over then-first-place Kansas City that kept the Twins within three games of the Royals. "It's 110 degrees, and he throws 135 pitches, and each time I go to the mound, he says, 'You're not taking me out. The bullpen needs a rest.'''
He pitched eight innings that day.
"I'm just a small part,'' Rogers said of the Twins' second straight title. "I really feel like I'm not one of the head honchos, but I can go out and give you innings and do what I do.''
Said Anderson, "He's been exactly as advertised.''
And if that means he gets forgotten at times?
"I don't care,'' Rogers said. "I like that. They (Radke, Santana, Lohse) can have that. They deserve it. I'm just going to go try to do my business.''