Archive for Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Twins crush Royals, clinch

September 26, 2006


— With his blue shirt soaked to the skin and champagne and beer dripping off his goggles, Torii Hunter led a toast in a circle of his teammates.

Colored bottles raised, the Twins cheered their spot in the playoffs, but made clear they're still pushing for the division title.

"It ain't done yet!" Hunter yelled.

Minnesota capped a remarkable turnaround by clinching a wild-card spot Monday night, beating the Kansas City Royals, 8-1, behind home runs from Hunter and Justin Morneau.

Boof Bonser came up with another strong start to help the Twins reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five years - a feat that certainly looked unlikely when they were 25-33 in early June.

"This is fun, man. Every time!" said Hunter, one of only two position players left from the 2002 team that won the first of three straight AL Central championships.

"It's sweeter, because we were written off," he said.

After Joe Nathan pitched a scoreless ninth, the Twins streamed out of the dugout and jumped up and down in the middle of the diamond - before taking the party up to the clubhouse.

Minnesota's victory, coupled with Chicago's 14-1 loss to Cleveland, eliminated the defending World Series champion White Sox from contention. The Twins can now focus on the division race, in which they trail the Tigers by one game. With Detroit and Minnesota in the playoffs, this marks the first time the wild card will come out of the AL Central.

The small crowd of 18,108 at the Metrodome cheered when Chicago's game was final, saving more screaming for the real celebration about 90 minutes later.

"Hopefully we're doing this again. That's our goal," said Morneau, who heard a series of "MVP" chants after his three-run shot in the eighth, his 34th of the year but his first since Aug. 24. He has 129 RBIs, second in the league behind Boston's David Ortiz.

Hunter hit his career-high 30th homer and Bonser (7-5) was brilliant against the depleted Royals, who lost their seventh straight and were forced to watch the opponents party for the second consecutive game. The Tigers beat them 11-4 on Sunday to seal their place in the postseason.

"They're a great organization. They've proven that year after year by doing things right," interim Royals manager Billy Doran said.

Joe Mauer, Jason Tyner and Nick Punto hit RBI singles in support of Bonser, who is 4-0 with a 2.20 earned-run average in his last five starts - probably cementing his spot in the playoff rotation.

"Hopefully this is just the start of what we can do," said Bonser, who gave up a just-barely homer to Angel Berroa over the left-field wall in the sixth and a leadoff double to Emil Brown in the fifth, striking out five and walking two over 62â3 innings.

Bonser left to a loud serenade, "Booooof!" as Dennys Reyes took over for the last out of the seventh.

"Everything is finally coming through," Bonser said. "I can't say it's just me, because it's the guys behind me. They're hitting the ball and playing defense. That's it right there. It's all about the Twins. It's not just one guy. It's everybody."

Hunter, named the AL's co-Player of the Week on Monday, heard the loudest cheers, following his two-run shot in the seventh against Zack Greinke.


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