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Bonser stellar as Twins wrap up playoff berth

Sep 26, 2006 - 3:15 AM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- After missing the postseason party last season, the Minnesota Twins are back for the fourth time in five years.

Rookie Boof Bonser continued his outstanding September with 6 1/3 strong innings as the Twins clinched a playoff spot with an 8-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals.

Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau each homered for Minnesota (93-63), which secured its postseason spot with its victory and Chicago's 14-1 loss to Cleveland earlier Monday. The Twins, attempting to become the sixth team in history to come back from a 12 1/2-game deficit to win its division, are just one game behind first-place Detroit.

"It ain't done yet," Hunter said in a toast to his teammates before the champagne corks flew in Minnesota's clubhouse.

"It's an emotional day for me."

After winning three straight American League Central Division titles, the Twins sat out the postseason last year with an 83-79 record and looked anything like a playoff team early this season, losing 33 of their first 58 games.

But Morneau and Joe Mauer sparked the offense, Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano led the rotation and Joe Nathan anchored the best bullpen in the major leagues, as the Twins posted winning streaks of seven, eight and 10 since the middle of June.

"We took a little different route to get here," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's probably the most unbelievable part of it."

After Nathan closed out the Royals by getting Emil Brown on a comebacker, the Twins celebrated on the mound in front of 18,108 fans.

"It's just a good feeling," Nathan said. "For us, we've got a bunch of hard-working guys, some young guys who did some special things for us. There's really not one guy in this clubhouse you can say he didn't do anything. There's one guy every day stepping up - a different face every time. It's really not one situation or one thing that's brought us back in this thing, and that's what makes it so special."

Bonser (7-5) allowed just one run and two hits in improving to 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in four starts this month.

He retired the first nine batters before issuing a leadoff walk in the fourth. The righthander yielded his first hit when Brown doubled to lead off the fifth and lost his shutout one frame later when Angel Berroa sent a 2-2 offering into the left field seats for his ninth homer, cutting the Royals' deficit to 2-1.

For Bonser, it was a sweet way to cap off a regular season that saw him sent down to Class AAA twice while he got accustomed to pitching at the big league level.

"I've been up and down, but I learned a lot going down and I'm still learning pitching up here," Bonser said. "I was up and down like three times, so for me to be here and enjoy it with these guys, it's great. Unbelievable."

Minnesota took a 1-0 lead three batters into their half of the first. Luis Castillo worked a leadoff walk against Jorge De La Rosa (3-4), advanced to second on a base hit by Nick Punto and scored on a single to left field by Mauer, who leads the AL in hitting at .349.

The Twins tacked on another run when Hunter bounced a one-out double off the left field fence and Jason Tyner lined a single to left two batters later, plating Hunter.

Punto singled home a run after Berroa's blast to build a 3-1 edge, then Hunter drilled a two-run shot in the seventh off Zack Greinke to reach the 30-home run plateau for the first time in his 10-year career with the Twins.

Morneau added a three-run blast, his 34th of the season, in the eighth against Jimmy Gobble to cap the scoring.

"With Torii behind me hitting 30 tonight, I think I was as happy as he was," Morneau said. "For him, he's been around for a while trying to do it and talking about it. For everybody, the whole team, it's a great feeling."

Hunter and Morneau are the first Twins to hit 30 homers in the same season since 1987 when Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky reached the mark.

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