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Twins enjoy wild ride to title

MINNEAPOLIS - A baseball game became a surreal, boisterous and champagne-soaked party with 40,000 guests Sunday afternoon at the Metrodome thanks to the Minnesota Twins - with a large assist from the Kansas City Royals.

Nick Punto, Jason Kubel and Lew Ford begin to celebrate

MINNEAPOLIS - A baseball game became a surreal, boisterous and champagne-soaked party with 40,000 guests Sunday afternoon at the Metrodome thanks to the Minnesota Twins - with a large assist from the Kansas City Royals.

Completing one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history, the Twins won the American League Central Division title when they beat the Chicago White Sox 5-1 and then watched the Royals squeak out a 10-8, 12-inning victory over the Detroit Tigers.

That combination gave the once-left-for-dead Twins a 96-66 record and a one-game margin over the stumbling Tigers.

The victory saved the Twins a trip to New York to play the Yankees. Because Minnesota made the playoffs as a division winner instead of a wild-card, it will open the playoffs Tuesday at the dome against Oakland.

"You couldn't write it any better," Twins pitcher Brad Radke said. "It's a storybook."

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The dome became the home of an impromptu party after the Twins finished off the White Sox. Most of the sellout crowd of 45,182 stuck around to watch the end of the Tigers-Royals game on large video boards. Fans chanted "Let's go Royals!" and exploded in cheers every time a Tiger made an out or a Kansas City player got a hit.

Even Twins players, who usually retire to the team's clubhouse immediately after games, sat in the dugout to watch and cheer on the Royals.

When Detroit's Sean Casey grounded out to end the game, giving Minnesota the division championship 45 minutes after it completed its win over Chicago, Twins players charged onto the field to celebrate in center field. They ran a victory lap around the raucous dome, slapping hands with fans, before taking the celebration to their clubhouse.

"This group of guys, people didn't even talk about us in April, May and June," said Twins catcher Joe Mauer, who wrapped up the American League batting title with two hits to finish with a .347 average. "Then we went on that run and here we are at the top of the Central, one of the toughest divisions in baseball. It doesn't get much better than that."

The Twins were one of baseball's biggest disappointments early in the season. They were 12½ games behind the first-place Tigers on May 27. The Twins slumped a season-low record of 25-33 on June 7. As recently as Aug. 7, the Twins were 10½ games out of first place.

The team also suffered through its share of injuries, losing Radke and rookie pitching phenomenon Francisco Liriano to arm injuries for a large chunk of the season.

But a charge though August and September, combined with a collapse by the Tigers, brought the Twins into the division race by mid-September. The Twins clinched a playoff berth a week ago, triggering their first celebration of the season.

The second was even more animated as the Twins soaked their plastic-covered clubhouse with champagne and beer.

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"These guys out here in this clubhouse are a damned good baseball team and they played a lot of damned good baseball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "People are going to say you backed into this because the Tigers lost. No, no, no. Our division was as good as baseball gets. Between the White Sox, the Tigers and us battling like we did this year all the way to the end, it's as good as it gets."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580

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