Twins secure first playoff berth since 1991

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Minnesota Twins refused to be contracted. Instead, they conquered.

The Twins clinched the AL Central title  when the Yanks beat the White Sox.
The Twins clinched the AL Central title when the Yanks beat the White Sox.

The small-market survivors that baseball couldn't eliminate,

made sure their unexpected season will include a surprising trip to

October's postseason.

The Twins, targeted for contraction last November, clinched the

AL Central on Sunday with a 5-0 win over the defending champion

Cleveland Indians.

"Bud Selig couldn't get rid of us,'' Jacque Jones said during a

wild celebration in Minnesota's clubhouse. "The White Sox couldn't

get rid of us. The Cleveland Indians couldn't get rid of us. Here

we are, and we're staying.''

Kyle Lohse (13-8) pitched six shutout innings as the Twins

secured their first playoff appearance since 1991, and then held a

raucous party that threatened to last all night.

"It's been a long haul,'' manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It

started this winter when they tried to kick us out and take away

our team. There's been a lot of buildup here, and we're going to

let it all out.''

After doing their part by winning, the Twins had to put their

postgame party plans on hold for about 20 minutes as they waited

for the final score of Chicago's game in New York.

When the second-place White Sox lost 8-4 at Yankee Stadium in a

game called by rain, many of the Twins ran into the trainer's room

to fetch champagne bottles that had been on ice since Friday.

At one end of the room, reliever Mike Jackson, wearing swimming

goggles, taught a few players how to uncork a champagne bottle and

spray it.

In the middle, Torii Hunter dropped to the floor and did some

break dancing as his teammates cheered.

And reliever Eddie Guardado, who got the final out, broke down

and cried.

"I'm glad I was out there,'' Guardado said before having to

stop. "Excuse me.''

He wasn't the only Minnesota player choking back tears between

swallows of bubbly.

The Twins have been on an emotional roller coaster since the day

last November that Selig announced his intentions of shutting down

two franchises.

"People said, 'Get rid of the Twins','' Guardado said. "But we

stuck it out. That's what we're all about.''

Denny Hocking hit a two-run single in the seventh and Matt

LeCroy had a sacrifice fly in the sixth for the Twins, who had

hoped to celebrate their division title with hugs and high-fives on

the infield grass at Jacobs Field.

But after getting the final out, the Twins headed inside to wait

-- and root for the free-spending Yankees.

How ironic.

"I could have never imagined that,'' first baseman Doug

Mientkiewicz said. "I'm looking at the TV, yelling, 'C'mon (Jorge)

Posada, let's go, you hit three home runs against us. Hit a home

run.' For the first time we scoreboard watched.''

Nothing was easy this season for the Twins, who learned in a

letter from ownership last November of baseball's plans to

eliminate them and the Montreal Expos.

And the clinching was nearly as tough.

Minnesota's magic number was stuck at three for two days as the

Indians won the first two games of the series. But after Rick Reed

pitched seven strong innings on Saturday, Lohse had one of the best

outings of his career.

The right-hander allowed just two hits, walked none and struck

out eight -- one short of a career high. He was lifted following a

67-minute rain delay for Johan Santana, who pitched two innings.

Guardado, Minnesota's "Everyday Eddie'', worked the ninth,

retiring Karim Garcia on a grounder to Hocking at second to end it.

Before the last out, Hocking looked to Mientkiewicz for advice

on how to celebrate a division title they weren't sure was theirs

just yet.

"Denny said to me, 'What do we do?''' Mientkiewicz said. "I

said, 'I have no idea.' We just decided as a group to walk off the

field as professionals and come in here and act like a bunch of

crazy animals, and that's what we did.''

Hocking had a different version of the ninth.

"Doug told me to stay down on the groundball,'' Hocking joked.

"Before the out, I asked him, "What do we do? And he said, 'I

don't know'.''

And then looking around the room as his delirious teammates lit

cigars and soaked each other, Hocking said, "I guess we're doing a

pretty good job of acting like idiots.''

For just the second time since 1995, the Indians, who dropped

20½ games back, will miss the playoffs.

"We'd like to congratulate those guys,'' Ellis Burks said.

"They did a great job this year. Hopefully, next year we'll be

able to compete with them a little better.''

Indians starter Cliff Lee (0-1), making his major league debut,

took a shutout into the sixth before helping the Twins take a 1-0

lead.

Cristian Guzman singled with one out and went to second on Lee's

balk. After Guzman stole third, Lee walked Koskie and was taken out

by Indians manager Joel Skinner, who had his left-hander on a pitch

count.

LeCroy then lifted his sacrifice fly to center, scoring Guzman.

Mientkiewicz reached on an error to open the seventh and Michael

Cuddyer walked. Both runners moved up on a fielder's choice, and

Hocking delivered his two-run single to right.

Before the game, Hocking told Gardenhire he would come up with a

big hit.

"I told him, 'If this game is going to be won or lost by me

getting a hit, I guarantee we win','' Hocking said. "Now, I'm

getting ready for the postseason.''

Game notes

Hunter sat out his third straight game with a strained

glutius muscle. ... Lee is the 58th player used this season by

Cleveland -- a team record that seemingly grows every day. ...

Cleveland's Jim Thome has reached base in 44 straight games, the

AL's longest streak this season and the longest current string in

the majors. ... Nine of Lohse's wins have come against the AL

Central.