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Twins clinch division with 10th straight victory

9/24/2003

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins had a much more difficult
time winning the AL Central this year than they did in 2002. The
half-hour wait for a second straight title Tuesday night seemed
almost as hard.

Minnesota clinched the division with a 4-1 victory over the
Cleveland Indians, winning its 10th consecutive game as Kenny Rogers came within one out of a shutout.

"I knew how much it meant," said Rogers, a 38-year-old veteran
signed as a free agent in March when Eric Milton needed knee surgery.

Shannon Stewart drove in two runs and Cristian Guzman went
2-for-2 with a homer and two runs for the Twins. Their celebration
was delayed by 30 minutes until New York's 7-0 victory over Chicago
and Detroit's 15-6 rout of Kansas City -- each shown on a
Metrodome scoreboard -- were complete.

"I was watching the scoreboard the whole time," manager Ron
Gardenhire said. "I'm not going to lie."

The whole team, already decked out in cream-colored T-shirts and
hats declaring them 2003 AL Central champions, anxiously watched
the Royals and White Sox games in a beer-soaked dugout.

Center fielder Torii Hunter looked like a boxer before a fight,
hopping up and down with a towel draped around his neck.
Gardenhire's eyes were misty as he stared up at the screen in the
upper deck.

About half the crowd of 33,650 stuck around, too, roaring when
the Tigers finished off the Royals. Players hugged, pointed to
their fans and watched Gardenhire walk around the infield holding
the jersey of third-base coach Al Newman -- who's recovering from a
brain hemorrhage in a Chicago hospital.

Six of the seven crowds on the Twins' final homestand have been
30,000 or bigger.

"They picked us up," first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said.
"We wanted to do it here."

Last year, the Twins won at Cleveland on Sept. 15 and waited in
the visitor's clubhouse for the Yankees to beat the White Sox
before uncorking the champagne. Minnesota wound up 13½ games ahead of Chicago.

It wasn't the same story for the Twins, who survived baseball's
attempt to eliminate them before last season and advanced to the AL Championship Series in 2002. They overcame a 7½-game deficit at the
All-Star break this year, going 45-20 in the second half -- the best
record in baseball. Tuesday's results gave them a six-game lead
over Chicago and Kansas City with five to play.

"We fought each other, we yelled at each other, we did
everything we possibly could to motivate each other," Mientkiewicz
said. "We've been through a lot together."

Rogers (13-8), probably the odd man out of the postseason
rotation, rolled through a lineup stocked with eight rookies. His
last shutout was a five-hitter against Seattle on April 19 last
year.

He gave up one-out singles to Jody Gerut and Alex Escobar in the
ninth before Josh Bard hit a two-out single to make it 4-1. Eddie Guardado got the final out for his 40th save in 43 tries.

Rogers gave up eight hits and struck out two.

People in the stadium had eyes on the out-of-town scoreboard in
the upper deck above left-center field, where updates on the other
games scrolled by. Each time Detroit or New York added a run, the
crowd cheered.

The players couldn't help but watch.

"My at-bats were terrible," said Mientkiewicz, who went
0-for-3. "I can't do two things at once."

Guzman sparked a two-run third with a leadoff single against
Jake Westbrook (7-10). Stewart and Luis Rivas followed with
back-to-back RBI doubles.

The Indians, who have lost 15 of 20 to fall a season-high 24
games under .500, were a part of Minnesota's celebration for the
second straight season.

"It was an exciting game for them," Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia
said. "We just wanted to prevent them from clinching, but they
deserve it."

Westbrook gave up four runs -- three earned -- and six hits in
seven innings. He walked three.

Rogers had runners on first and third with one out in the second
inning, but he picked Bard off first and got Greg LaRocca to
ground out.

Rogers hit Casey Blake and Gerut with pitches to begin the
fourth, but Escobar struck out and Victor Martinez grounded into a
double play. Brandon Phillips squelched a fifth-inning rally with a
double-play grounder after LaRocca doubled and Jhonny Peralta
singled with one out.

Game notes
Blake, a former Twins 3B, was Cleveland's only non-rookie
in the starting lineup. ... The Twins won the AL pennant in 1965,
the AL West in 1969, 1970, 1987 and 1991 and the AL Central last
year, but those titles were clinched on the road. ... The
Indians are 9-3 on artificial surfaces this year, and their final four games are on turf. ... Minnesota will flip-flop its rotation so Johan Santana starts Thursday in Detroit and Eric Milton on Friday. ... Gardenhire is just the sixth in baseball history to begin his managing career with consecutive first-place finishes.