MINNEAPOLIS - The Metrodome erupted in a jet-like roar as Carlos Gomez zoomed home with the winning run to finish off an AL Central race — and a thrilling tiebreaker — that didn’t want to end.
Minnesota Twins wouldn’t quit, while the Detroit Tigers finished their historic fade. And there was little time for the Twins to celebrate, because the New York Yankees were waiting.
Alexi Casilla singled home the winning run with one out in the 12th inning and the Twins rallied for a 6-5 victory Tuesday night, completing a colossal collapse for the Tigers.
“This is the most unbelievable game I’ve ever played or seen,” Twins shortstop Orlando Cabrera said.
How was that for bonus baseball?
As Gomez scored from second — well ahead of a late throw from right field — Homer Hankies spiraled. The Twins celebrated and scrambled: They had 21 hours to get ready for Game 1 of the AL playoffs at Yankee Stadium against New York ace CC Sabathia. He’ll face rookie Brian Duensing.
The Tigers will head home instead. They became the first team in history to blow a three-game lead with four games left.
“I guess it’s fitting to say there was a loser in this game because we lost the game, but it’s hard for me to believe there was a loser in this game,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Both teams played their hearts out. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
The Twins overcame a seven-game gap in the final month, went 17-4 to pull even on the final weekend and won their fifth division title in eight years.
Both teams had chance after chance to end it earlier, and each club scored in the 10th. Casilla was thrown out at the plate to end that inning by left fielder Ryan Raburn after tagging up.
The Tigers thought they’d taken the lead in the 12th. But with the bases loaded, plate umpire Randy Marsh ruled that Brandon Inge was not hit by a pitch by Bobby Keppel. The replay appeared to show the pitch grazing Inge’s billowing uniform.
“No matter what we did, it seems like it wasn’t meant to be. This is the best game, by far, that I’ve ever played in no matter the outcome,” Inge said.
It was the first AL tiebreaker to go to extra innings, making up for Minnesota’s disappointment last year when it lost 1-0 in Chicago to the White Sox in an AL Central tiebreaker. Had the Twins lost, it would’ve been the final baseball game at the Metrodome. Instead, the Twins get the Yankees — New York was 7-0 against Minnesota this season.
“We’re not afraid. I can guarantee you that,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi: “We’re not going to have to face questions like ’Can you beat them?’ like we’ve had to answer during the course of the year. Once the playoffs start though, it’s a new series and we know the importance of each game. You can pretty much throw everything else out the window.”
A day after Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings beat the Green Bay Packers at the Dome — “Monday Night Football” is what delayed this tiebreaker for a day — the Twins pulled off a Tuesday Night Frenzy.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney (2-5) worked his longest appearance of the season, getting the last two outs of the ninth. But he didn’t have enough to get out of the 12th. The Twins rushed out of the dugout in celebration even before Gomez reached the plate, and their comeback from a seven-game gap with 20 to play was complete.
Joe Mauer, who heard thunderous “M-V-P!” chants from the largest regular-season baseball crowd in Metrodome history throughout the game, led his team on a sprint around the warning track as they slapped hands with fans in the first rows.
“One of the best games I’ll ever play in,” Mauer said.
Keppel, Minnesota’s eighth pitcher, loaded the bases with one out in the 12th. After the non-call on Inge, second baseman Nick Punto then scooped Inge’s grounder and fired home in time to get the runner on the force. Then Keppel struck out Gerald Laird to squelch that rally.
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