's voice was hoarse and he strained to describe how the
have rallied from seven games down in less than a month to push the AL Central race to the final day.
''It's been Game 7 for the last two weeks,'' Punto croaked.
And, thanks in large part to
, for one more day.
Cuddyer hit a solo home run in the eighth inning, lifting the Twins to a thrilling 5-4 victory over the
Kansas City Royals
on Saturday that moved them into a tie with first-place Detroit.
''This is what it's all about,'' Cuddyer said. ''When you break spring training, you hope to experience this. All 162 games
are going to count. You can't go wrong with that.''
The Tigers lost 5-1 to the
Chicago White Sox
. Sunday is the final day of the regular season.
delivered his biggest hit in an MVP-caliber season, a two-out single off
that broke a scoreless tie in the sixth.
added a three-run double later in the inning for a 4-0 lead.
After the Twins bullpen let the Royals tie it, Cuddyer hit his 31st homer of the season off
''What we've done and the run we've had up to this point has been pretty special,'' said manager
, whose Twins have won 15 of 19 to surge back into contention. ''These guys really have just huge hearts out there.''
Former AL MVP
was shelved for the season by the Twins on Sept. 12 because of a back injury. Cuddyer moved from right field to first base
to fill in and has responded by hitting .352 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 19 games since.
Greinke has been on an even more impressive tear, entering the game with a 0.43 ERA over his previous six starts.
He didn't allow a hit through three innings, but was outpitched by
, who was perfect through four innings and allowed two runs on four hits in seven innings.
(5-1) went one inning for the win and
got a brilliant diving catch from
in right field to help him pick up his 47th save.
''Nothing amazes me anymore,'' Gardenhire said. ''I take that back, this team amazes me because of the courage they're showing.''
Greinke definitely sensed the gravity of the game. He took plenty of time between each pitch, making sure he was comfortable
and ready to deliver, as if a playoff berth was hanging on every delivery.
For the Twins, it was.
Mauer came to the plate in the sixth inning with Punto on third base and two outs - the AL's best hitter against the league's
best pitcher with so much on the line.
against MVP,'' Cuddyer said. ''That makes for great drama.''
Just as he did in the previous two at-bats, Greinke went right after Mauer with two straight 95 mph heaters to get ahead 0-2.
Mauer fouled off a slider and then took another one low before ripping a 94 mph fastball into right field for a 1-0 lead.
''That's what everyone wanted to see,'' Mauer said. ''I was glad. That's the position you want to be in as a player, even
if it is a tough spot. That's what you play the game for.''
Greinke came a little unglued after the showdown with Mauer, giving up a double to
and hitting Cuddyer before Young's opposite-field double cleared the bases for a 4-0 lead.
''I think what happened was, they did such a bad job of hitting my fastball the first five innings, that I started to think
that they weren't going to hit it,'' Greinke said. ''And then that last inning, Mauer hit a fastball. Kubel hit a fastball.
hit a fastball. Just maybe got a little overconfident with it.''
Greinke's ERA rose from 2.06 to 2.16, the first time in seven starts that number has increased. But the Royals offense finally
gave him some run support to avoid his first loss since Aug. 19.
responded with a homer and
added a two-run shot off
in Kansas City's three-run eighth to tie the game.
But Cuddyer came through in the eighth, ensuring that the final regular-season game in the Metrodome on Sunday will be a memorable
If both teams win or lose on Sunday, a one-game playoff will be held here on Tuesday. The same thing happened to the Twins
last season when they lost at Chicago in game No. 163 to miss out on the playoffs.
''It's like deja vu,'' Punto said.
The Twins will move outdoors to Target Field next season, but they're not ready to leave quite yet.
''They're the only team I've faced over the years that can actually, they elevate their game when the pressure is on the line,''
Greinke said. ''Most teams either stay the same or get tight and try to do more than they can do.''
NOTES: If the Tigers and Twins are tied after Sunday, the playoff game would be held at 4 p.m. Central time on Tuesday and
broadcast on TBS. ... Twins manager
will pitch on three days' rest Sunday against
. ... Royals SS
got the day off with a bruised quad muscle.