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Twins clinch first division title since '91

Posted: Sunday September 15, 2002 5:06 PM
Updated: Monday September 16, 2002 2:44 AM
  David Ortiz David Ortiz gets a champagne shower in the visitors' clubhouse at Jacobs Field. AP

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Just like last winter, the Minnesota Twins had to wait to learn their future.

And when they finally got word that the AL Central title was theirs, contraction was replaced by a new word: champions.

Baseball's small-market survivors who were targeted for elimination last November, the Twins clinched the division Sunday with a 5-0 win over the defending champion Cleveland Indians.

An unexpected season has become an unbelievable one.

"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, then held a raucous party that threatened to last until October.

"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.

The Suspense is Over
Earliest division-clinching dates in a 162-game season:
Year Team Date
1975 Cincinnati Reds Sept. 7
1999 Cleveland Indians Sept. 8
1998 New York Yankees Sept. 9
2002 Atlanta Braves Sept. 9
1998 San Diego Padrers Sept. 12
1969 Baltimore Orioles Sept. 13
1998 Atlanta Braves Sept. 14
1998 Houston Astros Sept. 14
1971 Oakland A's Sept. 15
2002 Minnesota Twins Sept. 15
1983 Chicago White Sox Sept. 16
1996 Cleveland Indians Sept. 16
1998 Cleveland Indians Sept. 16
1986 New York Mets Sept. 17
2001 Seattle Mariners Sept. 19
 

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.

A few players raised beer cans to toast Bud. No, not baseball's commissioner.

Torii Hunter dropped to the floor and did some break dancing.

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

"I'm glad I was out there," Guardado said before stopping. "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 20 1/2 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."

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 consecutive games, the AL's longest streak this season and the longest current string in the majors.

 
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