Commentary

Twins, Tigers save the best for last

In Game No. 163, Metrodome's regular-season finale becomes an instant classic

Originally Published: October 6, 2009
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Do I have to leave here? Because you can't swing an umbrella in this rain-soaked city without hitting a game that causes your goose bumps to be treated for exhaustion.

Monday, it was "Brett Favre Turn Back The Clock" Night.

[+] EnlargeAlexi Casilla
Leon Halip/US PRESSWIREAlexi Casilla follows through on his game-winning hit in the 12th inning.
But less than 24 hours later, in this same noise-bruised Tupperware container known as the Metrodome, the 163rd game of the Minnesota Twins' and Detroit Tigers' season out-drama'd Favre, out-drama'd anything in spikes this season. It lasted 12 wonderful innings, but it achieved instant classic status much earlier.

The Twins won, 6-5, on a run-scoring single to right by Alexi Casilla, who entered the game as a pinch runner in the 10th and became Minnesota's newest hero in the 12th.

Congratulations, Twins. You get no sleep and a five-game playoff series against the well-rested and winningest team in the big leagues, the New York Yankees, who watched this epic from the comfort of their living room couches.

You think the Twins care about sleep deprivation? It beats the alternative: postseason deprivation. The place was so delirious that Metrodome officials played the Yankees' anthem on the PA system after the win: Sinatra's "New York, New York."

"That's the sickest game," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire to friends outside the clubhouse. "Was that sick, or what?"

Sick, as in great. Sick, as in memorable. I mean, shouldn't there be a mandatory day off for the Twins, just so everyone can appreciate what they just did?

"That has got to be one of the best games I've ever been a part of," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said.

And his team lost.

The Tigers led the AL Central by seven games on Sept. 6. They had a three-game lead over the Twins with four to play. Their champagne was poised and chilled for uncorking.

Instead, the Tigers dog-paddled toward season's end while the Twins did a Michael Phelps and out-touched Detroit at the wall. Not only did the Tigers have a lead going into the final few days of the season but they had a lead going into the bottom of the seventh and 10th innings of Monday evening's game. Each time, the Twins did just enough to tie or, finally, inch ahead.

"It was hard for me to believe there was a loser in this game," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

This was the kind of game you tell other people's grandchildren about. It was that compelling, that tense, that full of moments that made your scorecard hurt.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Inge
AP Photo/Jim MoneBrandon Inge couldn't convince plate umpire Randy Marsh that the pitch hit his jersey in the 12th.
There were tens of plays that shaped the outcome:

• Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera hitting a two-run homer as the largest regular-season crowd in Metrodome history (54,088) chanted "Al-co-hol-ic," a classless reference to Cabrera's recent domestic incident.

• A botched play by Tigers left fielder Ryan Raburn in the 10th that ended up giving the Twins a tying run.

• Raburn's 10th-inning catch and throw from left that nailed Casilla at the plate with what would have been the winning run.

• A non-call on reliever Bobby Keppel's slider that appeared to graze the jersey of Inge with the bases loaded in the top of the 12th. Instead, Inge grounded into a fielder's choice (Cabrera was forced out at home) and the Twins eventually escaped without giving up a run.

Should I go on? Casilla's game-winning single … Keppel, a minor league free agent, getting the victory in relief … Tigers closer Fernando Rodney gutting it out for three innings and 48 pitches.

"You have that emotion inside where you just want to clap when it's over," said journeyman Keppel, who recorded the first win of his big league career. "It was such a wonderful baseball game."

He wasn't alone. Tigers fans congratulated Twins fans when the game ended. And Inge said of the Twins' playoff spot: "They earned it. They did."

Inge looked as if he had earned an RBI in the 12th inning. But plate umpire Randy Marsh said the ball never touched Inge's jersey.

"The ball did hit Inge," Leyland said. "It hit his jersey. That's a shame. No excuses, but it would have been a run. It definitely hit him. You don't know if that changes anything, so there's no blame to be put on umpires or anything like that. That's a shame because it did hit him."

Said Inge: "It's human error. Everyone makes mistakes. … [Marsh] just didn't catch it. That's just one of the many things that didn't kind of go our way tonight. That's just the way it goes."

Keppel wasn't sure whether he hit Inge. "He's got that [size] 58 jersey that flaps," he said.

Keppel, in the Pacific Coast League a year ago, was soaked in champagne. Everyone was. The Twins sprayed something called "Barefoot Bubbly" on each other. In one corner of the clubhouse, a man in a coat and tie plucked the empty bottles out of a garbage can.

"I'm curator of the Twins museum," the man said. "We save some of the bottles."

Then he poured the remaining bubbly out of a bottle, grabbed a few others by the neck and walked out of the clubhouse with his newest exhibit.

Historic game. Historic cheap champagne.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

ALSO SEE