Commentary

Twins unite to take lead over divided White Sox

Originally Published: September 25, 2008
By Amy K. Nelson | ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- With all the drama, turmoil and unrest that seemed to be swirling around the Chicago White Sox recently, things looked to be turning in their favor on Thursday night. Then, their division rival reminded them where they were. It seems the scrappy, hustling, bloop-hit happy, slash-and-burn, suicide-squeezing Minnesota Twins have more determination to win this intense American League Central race.

"You can never count a team out that has heart like we do," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "If you look at us on paper, they do things we can't do … but you can never account for what's inside. We've got a lot of guys with that."

No one on this Twins team even had to say it, because the White Sox's own shortstop did it for them before the game even started. Chicago's Orlando Cabrera suggested that the Twins play with more hustle than the White Sox.

"Somehow, some way, you have to get it done. We have to do what we gotta do and find a way to win, find a way to score runs and play defense and hustle," Cabrera said to reporters before the game. "The thing I see from the other team is that they hustle every day, and it's so hard to double [them] up, it's so hard to throw them out … and we don't show the same thing."

[+] EnlargeOrlando Cabrera
AP Photo/Paul BattagliaOrlando Cabrera is impressed with the Twins, and not all that impressed with his own team, which didn't sit well with White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen.
Interestingly enough, on Thursday night the White Sox actually did, if only for an inning. Cabrera jump-started a six-run fourth inning, only to watch the Twins strike back and drain any momentum Chicago had shown earlier in the game. The Twins clawed their way back from a 6-1 deficit, bunting, blooping and fighting until Alexi Casilla drove in the game-winning run in the 10th inning with -- you guessed it -- a bloop hit to left field for his first walk-off hit ever. The Twins won 7-6, swept the three-game series and now sit a half-game up in the division as they enter the final weekend of the regular season.

"I don't have words to explain it," said an elated Casilla, who practically giggled when he spoke about his game-winning swing.

Carlos Gomez tripled twice, had four hits and scored the tying run, driven in by Denard Span, and six relievers kept it scoreless in a booming Metrodome filled with 43,601 people. It was a day filled with emotion, beginning with Cabrera's words.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen didn't seem all that impressed with Cabrera's rallying cry. Not only did Guillen say Cabrera had to "back up" what he said with his play, he cautioned that players who talk too much without consistently acting like leaders will gain them little respect. When asked if Cabrera was a leader, Guillen flatly said no.

"People win games in the lines, and not win games with the papers and in the media," Guillen said. "If he's trying to criticize a teammate, that's not the right way to do it. … You gotta remember, if we win this thing, we win as a team, and if we lose as a team, he'll be a part of the losing team.

"A big part."

On Thursday, at least, Cabrera backed it up, going 2-for-5 and pumping up his pitchers on the mound -- and he even stole third. Twins 24-year-old starter Kevin Slowey had retired the first 10 batters of the game before Cabrera homered to left field. It sparked a six-run inning and, by the end of the fourth, Slowey had been knocked out of the game with a contused right forearm, and Chicago had a 6-1 lead. But the Twins came back in the bottom of the inning with two runs; then they scored another in the sixth. Then came the eighth.

That's when the heart and hustle were exemplified by a core of young, exciting players, with Gomez leading the way. With his fourth hit of the night, an RBI single, he pulled the game to within a run at 6-5. Span followed with a triple past a diving Paul Konerko at first base. The Metrodome went wild. Beers started flying in the air. Span said his trip around the bases felt like a roller coaster because he just started screaming when he rounded second. And Gomez -- "Loose Cannon" is what they call him -- popped up from his slide into home as if he had just sprung off a trampoline. Span beat his chest, Gomez yelled to the heavens, and the Twins were on the verge of completing the sweep and moving into first place.

"I never had a feeling like that playing this game," Span said. "I would say the biggest hit of my career to this point. To hear the crowd yelling and screaming, it just felt surreal. ... I couldn't contain myself, I couldn't help myself, really. I just couldn't do nothing but scream."

When Casilla drove Nick Punto home in the bottom of the 10th, it sent the Metrodome into a frenzy, and the White Sox back into second place and in search of answers.

"I don't even know what to say anymore," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "I'm sick of [expletive] losing. I thought we brought some energy [Thursday]. I thought we had a good game plan and they just dinked and dunked us, found some holes when they needed to.

"The bottom line is we have four games left and we need to win every [expletive] game."

Guillen was rather subdued after the game. He said he's never been a quitter, and he doesn't plan on being one now. He lamented his team's inability to hit and hoped that the city of Chicago still had faith in his team. Then he said how he was best going to handle the awful series.

"I might take a sleeping pill tonight. And a glass of vodka," Guillen said. "Twenty-seven innings and we only had one good one. We wasted 26 innings in this town."

There was a moment in the game, though, that perhaps crystallized all that's happened this week and may be an example of what's to come over the next few days, when the Twins host the Royals in the Metrodome, while the White Sox have to face Cliff Lee and the Indians in Chicago. It was the seventh inning, and Cabrera had just singled to right field. The Twins had cut it to a two-run lead, and Morneau and Cabrera exchanged glances at each other.

"'We just don't quit, do we?'" Morneau said to Cabrera.

Then the shortstop gave the first baseman a slight smile and said, "No, but that's the way you're supposed to play."

And if the Twins continue, as manager Ron Gardenhire said they would, then they -- and not Cabrera's team -- will be playing into October.

Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached via e-mail at amy.k.nelson@espn3.com.

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