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09/26/08 2:10 AM ET
Twins take first on Casilla's walk-off hit
Second baseman singles in 10th to complete sweep of Sox
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The jubilant way that the Twins jumped into a pile following Alexi Casilla's game-winning single on Thursday night made them look like a team that had just clinched a playoff spot. And if the Twins do go on to make the postseason, they will likely look back on it as the game that propelled them. After coming back from a five-run deficit to pull off an improbable 7-6 victory in 10 innings over the White Sox and finish the series sweep, the Twins found themselves with a half-game lead over Chicago in the American League Central race. It's the first time the Twins have held sole possession of first place in the division since Aug. 23. "It feels like you should just quit playing right now and be in the playoffs," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But there are still three really tough games for us going against a tough Kansas City team that is playing great baseball. We are going to have to enjoy the heck out of this win, but tomorrow we have to turn around and really get after it, or this will all be for naught." That final three-game series against Kansas City certainly would not have meant as much had the Twins not been able to pull out this victory. And for a while on Thursday night, it looked like that might be the case. The Twins came into the series with the feeling that their only way to another playoff berth was to sweep Chicago. But that goal looked far from reachable early on Thursday after a disastrous fourth inning in which the White Sox took a 6-1 lead. Twins starter Kevin Slowey not only saw his perfect game ended in the inning after retiring 10 straight batters, but on a bases-loaded, two-out play, he also was knocked out with a right wrist injury. Rather than fold up due to the large deficit, the Twins appeared to use the injury as a rallying point. And a charged up crowd of 43,601 fans at the Metrodome -- the largest crowd since Opening Day -- also gave the home team a boost. The Twins first had to put behind them the two defensive miscues that led to runs in that inning -- including a collision between Denard Span and Carlos Gomez in right-center. With Span looking to have the ball in his sights, Gomez streaked in from out of nowhere and leapt for the ball at the same time as the right fielder. The two collided in mid-air, jarring the ball out of Span's glove. "He said he called me off the ball, but I didn't hear anything," Gomez said. "In the Metrodome, it's hard to hear when you've got a lot of people in the stadium." The missed catch, which came after Chicago tied the game on an Orlando Cabrera solo home run, could possibly have been the second out of the inning and kept the damage to the one run. Instead, that miscue extended the inning, along with a defensive mistake by third baseman Brian Buscher. After that play, Slowey loaded the bases by hitting A.J. Pierzynski with a pitch, and that's when Juan Uribe lined a shot up the middle that struck the pitcher in the right wrist. The ball bounced off Slowey to the front of the mound where he was able to recover and pick up the ball, but a wild throw past first base with his injured hand allowed two more runs to score. "You think, oh boy, there they go," Gardenhire said after his team gave up the six runs. "But you know what? Not this ballclub. They are game on, they kept playing." Gomez made up for the miscue with his play the rest of the night, helping to spark the offensive comeback with two triples -- one in the fourth and one in the sixth -- as the Twins tagged White Sox starter Gavin Floyd for four runs over his 5 2/3 innings. But it wasn't until the eighth, after the Twins' bullpen had combined for 4 1/3 scoreless innings, that Minnesota finally got itself in real position to finish off the comeback. With a runner on third and the Twins trailing 6-4, White Sox closer Bobby Jenks came in to try to capture a rare five-out save. But on an 0-2 pitch, Gomez singled to right field, scoring one run. The crowd was already into the contest at this point, but it didn't erupt until Span followed with a triple down the right-field line to tie the game. And the emotion of the moment was clear by Span's huge fist pump at third base as he screamed to his teammates, who were cheering inside the dugout. "I was rounding second, and I felt the electricity from the crowd already cheering," Span said. "I slid and got up from third. I just couldn't contain myself." The Twins wouldn't be able to finish off the rally, stranding Span at third base with one out, but closer Joe Nathan came out to pitch the ninth. He retired the side, before having to come out and do that again in the 10th. "After the first inning I threw, I came into the dugout, and I said, 'This is definitely the best game I've ever been a part of, win or lose,'" Nathan said. Luckily for Nathan and the Twins, it ended up a win. With Jenks out for his third inning in the 10th, Nick Punto drew a walk with one out. He got to third on a groundout and a wild pitch before Jenks intentionally walked Span to get to Casilla. After striking out with the go-ahead run on third in the eighth, Casilla this time lifted a single just over the infield into shallow center field to drive home the game-winning run. "That's why they are the Minnesota Twins. They play their heart out," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "They show up to play against us this week, and their resolve, that's what you saw. They never quit." Casilla's teammates swarmed him between first and second as they celebrated what everyone agreed was the biggest win of the season. "I don't have words to explain that," Casilla said of what he was feeling when he got the hit. "It feels great. The first walk-off hit of my career." One night of excitement is one thing. But the Twins are ready for a few more games to give themselves a celebration to remember -- a true playoff clincher. "This is do or die," Justin Morneau said. "We win this division, we go to the playoffs. We don't, we're going home. I think its going to be a pretty big celebration if we end up taking this thing."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.