MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Since clinching the AL Central, the Minnesota
Twins have been trying to get healthy and secure homefield
advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
They still can do both.Corey Koskie homered and hit a go-ahead two-run single in the
eighth inning, lifting the Twins past the Cleveland Indians 4-3 on
Friday night.Minnesota must beat the Indians Saturday and Sunday and have
Anaheim and Oakland avoid a sweep in their three-game series. Then
the Twins would host Boston in Game 1 of the division series on
Tuesday. If not, they open on the road against the New York
Yankees."We know this crowd picks us up," said manager Ron Gardenhire,
who rested ailing regulars and limited Johan Santana and Brad Radke
to five innings apiece while Minnesota was swept by the Yankees
this week."We understand what's at stake," Gardenhire said. "We want to
play here."Ronnie Belliard went 3-for-5 with a home run, and Coco Crisp was
2-for-3 with an RBI for Cleveland (79-81) -- which missed a chance
at its first winning season since 2001. The Indians were 68-94 last
year."We take it like a team," Belliard said. "We know Minnesota
comes back in the late innings ... they did that again."The crowd, announced at 25,322, stood and cheered as the Twins
took the lead in the eighth and Joe Nathan pitched a perfect ninth
for his 44th save in 47 tries. The rally served as a mini-reminder
of how electric the atmosphere can be under the Metrodome's roof
when the games mean something."I've always kind of enjoyed it when people are rooting for me
instead of against me," starter Terry Mulholland deadpanned.
"Call me strange, but I'll take cheers walking off the field
instead of boos."After Jesse Crain (3-0) pitched a scoreless eighth, Bobby Howry
(4-2) allowed singles to Lew Ford and Jason Kubel and a walk to
Torii Hunter. Cliff Bartosh relieved and got one out before
Koskie's big hit."We weren't able to get the job done in the eighth inning,"
Indians manager Eric Wedge said.Koskie, who went 3-for-4, hit his team-leading 25th home run to
spoil Scott Elarton's shutout bid with one out in the seventh.
Cristian Guzman's RBI groundout cut the lead to 3-2.The 6-foot-8 Elarton, whose career has been marred by shoulder
problems, signed with Cleveland in May after going 0-6 with a 9.80
ERA in eight starts and being waived by the Rockies.He's been much better with the Indians -- this was his fifth
straight start allowing three runs or less. He's still looking for
his first victory in 24 starts on the road, however. The last one
came with the Astros on May 6, 2001, at Montreal.Elarton gave up two runs, five hits and two walks in 6 2-3
innings. He watched the Indians lose for the 10th time this year
after leading through seven."I've felt more comfortable since my first four or five starts
here," he said. "I had a lot of adjustments to make."Since clinching a third straight division title on Sept. 20,
Minnesota has struggled to find a rhythm with several regulars
healing nagging injuries. Left fielder Shannon Stewart (hamstring)
and second baseman Luis Rivas (elbow) still weren't ready to start
Friday, and right fielder Jacque Jones was held out following the
death of his father.This was the Twins' third win in 10 games since they clinched.Mulholland pitched seven strong innings -- allowing seven hits,
three runs (two earned) and one walk in his longest outing since an
eight-inning no-decision in Cleveland on Aug. 15. Minnesota won
that game 4-2 in 10 innings, the turning point in the race.Seven weeks ago, it looked like this series would be big. After
pulling within one game of the Twins on Aug. 14, though, the
Indians lost nine straight and the Twins surged ahead of the pack.
Belliard made a routine catch of Hunter's pop-up in the
fourth inning look anything but routine. Backpedaling from second
base into the outfield as he held his glove parallel to his body,
Belliard watched the ball pop out of his mitt and ricochet off his
bare hand, chest and chin before landing back in the glove. ...
Nobody struck out until Justin Morneau went down swinging in the
bottom of the eighth, but four of the last six outs were
strikeouts. ... Cleveland scored twice in the second on a double by
Crisp and a sacrifice fly by Josh Bard.