Rally falls short, but Twins still tied atop AL Central

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- With the chance to take over sole possession of first place in the AL Central, the Minnesota Twins came up just short.

Phil Nevin struck out with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning, ending a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox that left the Twins tied for first with the Detroit Tigers.

"We were one big hit away," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We couldn't come up with one big hit."

A crowd of 45,439 packed the Metrodome, many waving the newest edition of the Homer Hanky, to try to push their team to the division crown. Having already clinched a playoff berth, the Twins were looking to cap an improbable finish to the regular season and avoid a first-round matchup with the New York Yankees.

The Tigers, who wasted a five-run lead in a 9-7, 11-inning loss to Kansas City, hold the tiebreaker in the head-to-head matchup with the Twins, which means Detroit would win the division if it the teams finish tied.

Freddy Garcia (17-9) pitched 7 1/3 strong innings and Jermaine Dye and Alex Cintron homered for the White Sox. Garcia allowed one run and five hits and Bobby Jenks pitched the ninth for his 41st save in 45 chances.

Michael Cuddyer hit a two-run double off Jenks to cut it to 4-3 and the crowd erupted, hoping to see a second straight ninth-inning rally. On Thursday night against Kansas City, Joe Mauer homered with two outs in the ninth to tie the game and Jason Bartlett won it in the 10th with a single.

Not this time.

After walking Lew Ford to load the bases, Jenks struck out Nevin to end the game.

"It's a little frustrating I'm sure for everybody," Gardenhire said. "Three games left and you lose a game? Yeah, it's a missed opportunity."

The defending World Series champions entered the night having lost nine of their previous 13 games to fall out of contention.

Manager Ozzie Guillen vowed before the game that he wouldn't take it easy on the Twins as they tried to lock up their fourth division title in five years. He sent out his heavy hitters for Game 1, and it didn't take them long to break through against
right-hander Boof Bonser (7-6).

Dye hit his 44th homer in the first inning and Jim Thome's
single past a diving Justin Morneau made it 2-0 in the fourth.

Cintron's homer just cleared the big baggie in right field to give the Sox a 3-0 cushion after five. It was Cintron's fifth homer of the season and first since Aug. 16, a span of 26 games.

That turned out to be just enough for Garcia, who has been outstanding in September. He entered the game 3-0 with a 1.58 ERA in his last three starts and cruised on Friday, needing just six pitches to retire the side in the sixth against the free-swinging Twins.

"We have to keep playing," Guillen said. "I don't want to be embarrassed. We have two games to go and we have to play the same way like we have 100 games to go."

But Garcia's performance has been too little, too late for the White Sox, who were eliminated from postseason contention on Monday.

"I like to finish strong," Garcia said. "It's different than last year. I pitched pretty good in September this year."

A.J. Pierzynski's RBI single in the top of the ninth off Dennys Reyes proved to be the game winner.

The Twins were holding Bonser to a strict pitch count, wanting to keep him fresh for the playoffs. He is expected to start Game 2 of the divisional series after ace Johan Santana.

Bonser wasn't very sharp against the White Sox, allowing three runs and seven hits with three strikeouts in five innings.

"He's ready," Gardenhire said.

Bonser didn't get much help from his offense in this one.

Garcia threw just 57 pitches in the first six innings and the Twins didn't get on the board until Cuddyer singled in Luis Rodriguez in the seventh.

Rodriguez had two of Minnesota's five hits.

"The good news is we're still tied with them," Gardenhire said. "Neither team took advantage."

Game notes
Mauer was 0-for-4, dropping his league-leading batting average to .346. ... White Sox rookie center fielder Jerry Owens left after scoring in the fourth inning with strained toes on his left foot. He was replaced by Ryan Sweeney. ... Despite helping the Twins to three AL Central titles and being traded to make room for Mauer, Pierzynski continues to be booed in the Metrodome. ... Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla was scratched because of a sore neck. Rodriguez started in his place.