Twins playoff hopes come down to one game
By Dave Campbell
MINNEAPOLIS — While the Chicago White Sox played and won, the Minnesota Twins could only wait and watch.
It’s not what the Twins hoped would happen on their strange day off, a rain-delayed 8-2 victory by the White Sox in their makeup game with the Detroit Tigers on Monday.
Instead of traveling to Tampa Bay to start the first round of the playoffs as AL Central champions, the Twins instead were forced to point the charter plane toward Chicago and play the White Sox tonight to once and for all determine the division title neither team has seemed to want.
"We know where we’re going, and we know what we’ve got to do," manager Ron Gardenhire said through a team spokesman.
The winner of the tiebreaker game will advance to face the AL East champion Rays in a best-of-five series beginning Thursday. With right-hander Kevin Slowey still recovering from a line drive Chicago’s Juan Uribe hit off his wrist last Thursday, rendering it sore and stiff, the Twins will send right-hander Nick Blackburn to the mound at U.S. Cellular Field against White Sox lefty John Danks.
"I’m excited about it," Blackburn said.
He has already pitched against the White Sox five times this season, going 2-2 with a 5.67 ERA, 37 hits, four homers, nine walks and 12 strikeouts over 27 innings.
Not exactly spectacular numbers, though Blackburn — 11-10 with a 4.14 ERA in 187 innings over 32 starts on the season — built some confidence by holding Chicago to two runs in five innings last Wednesday.
"The couple starts before that weren’t too good, so to know that I can still go out there and get guys out was good," Blackburn said. "But I’m not going to let it change my thinking. I’m just going to approach it just like I do every other game I have this year."
Despite the familiarity with the White Sox and their homer-happy lineup as well as the stakes of this pressure-packed game, Blackburn wasn’t about to change his approach or focus.
"I’m going to go out there with my game plan in my mind, and hopefully I can execute everything I can," he said.
Shortstop Nick Punto expressed his faith in Blackburn.
"He’s pitching well. He’s going to work the sinker, work the cutter, and hopefully work some magic," Punto said.
Most players convened in the clubhouse at an otherwise-empty Metrodome to watch Monday’s game, which was delayed by three hours due to rain in Chicago and didn’t finish until almost 7:30 p.m. local time.
For the second straight day, they walked out of the stadium in a most anticlimactic way. On Sunday, the Twins beat the Kansas City Royals to finish 88-74 but saw Chicago top the Cleveland Indians to push the season into extra time.
Punto claimed no disappointment about Monday’s outcome.
"We were all packed up to go somewhere. Whether it be Tampa or Chicago, we were ready to go," he said. "We’re looking forward to getting out there. It’s a one-game playoff. It’s going to be exciting."
Still, the tiebreaking grand slam by Alexei Ramirez in the sixth inning for Chicago was clearly a buzz kill for the guys gathered in the room.
"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kick myself or was a little upset, but it is what it is," Punto said. "We’ve got business to take care of in Chicago, and that’s all I’m worried about."
NOTES: Slowey will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday if the Twins win, before his status for the playoffs is determined. ... C Joe Mauer has a four-point lead at .330 over Boston’s Dustin Pedroia in the AL batting race. He would have to go 0-for-7 or worse to fall behind. Also, Mauer’s 85 RBIs are the most ever by a Minnesota catcher. ... 1B Justin Morneau needs one RBI Tuesday to match Josh Hamilton of Texas for the AL RBI lead with 130. ... The Twins went 8-1 against the White Sox at home but 2-7 on the road.