for this game

Twins win AL Central after watching Tigers fall to Royals

Oct 1, 2006 - 9:41 PM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Watching the scoreboard proved to be a fruitful endeavor for Torii Hunter and the Minnesota Twins.

Hunter hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning as the Twins posted a 5-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox and wrapped up the division title about 30 minutes later, when the Detroit Tigers lost to the Kansas City Royals.

With the win and the loss by Detroit, Minnesota (96-66) won its fourth American League Central Division title in five years and will open the AL Division Series at home Tuesday against Oakland.

Had Detroit won, Minnesota would have been headed to to New York to play the Yankees. But the Twins don't seem to care who they are playing.

"We need 11 wins, and that is our focus," Twins backup catcher Mike Redmond said. "This team is just crazy enough to pull it off. This has just been unbelievable, a lot of fun."

With much of their fate in the hands of the Tigers, Twins players and fans alike kept a constant eye on the scoreboard for updates.

"It was nerve-wracking," Redmond said. "Here you are playing in front of 50,000 people and you are sitting there watching the scoreboard. We scored some runs and played a great game today."

With their end of things completed, the players went back out to the field to watch the Royals finish off the Tigers. They were joined by most of the 45,182 fans, who watched on the Metrodome's video scoreboard.

The celebration began as soon as Kansas City scored twice in the 12th inning and held on for a 10-8 victory and a sweep of its three-game set with Detroit.

"We played a good baseball game today and good things happen when you keep playing," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We lost a couple here and it didn't look very good. We saw early in the game when Detroit was up, 6-0, and we were thinking we were just going to do our thing and get everybody ready."

For the Twins, it was the completion of an improbable comeback. On May 27, Minnesota trailed Detroit by 12 1/2 games. Since then, the Twins had baseball's best record at 74-40.

"We are just lucky," Gardenhire said. "We got lucky a little bit here, but we played pretty darn good to get lucky."

Despite losing the first two games of the series, Minnesota quickly turned around their struggles Sunday.

Justin Morneau's bloop double in the fourth tied the score at 1-1 and Hunter followed with his 31st homer off Javier Vazquez (11-12) to put Minnesota ahead for good.

Michael Cuddyer had an RBI single in the fifth and Jason Bartlett added a run-scoring hit in the sixth as Minnesota snapped a three-game losing streak to Chicago.

Twins starter Carlos Silva (11-15) had a solid tuneup for the postseason, allowing a run and five hits in 5 1/3 innings.

"That was very big," Silva said. "I wanted one more opportunity to go to the mound. I was ready."

Joe Mauer went 2-for-4 to become the first catcher to win an AL batting title at .347. The last catcher to win a batting crown was the Ernie Lombardi for the Boston Braves in the NL in 1942.

The 23-year-old Mauer was given a standing ovation when it was announced that he officially clinched the batting title. The catcher did not leave the dugout to acknowledge the ovation until Gardenhire motioned to him.

"I was nervous today," Mauer said. "I am happy it is over with. With everything that has happened today, it is unbelievable."

Vazquez gave up four runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. He struck out seven without a walk but dropped his sixth straight decision.

"Vazquez deserved better than that," Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We did not score any runs for him and we made a couple of mistakes over that period."

When all was said and done, the White Sox (90-72) - denied the chance to defend their World Series title - were left to watch a celebration they partook in last season.

"We are disappointed," Vazquez said. "We are not where we wanted to be and where we thought we should have been if we would have played better."

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