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10/03/09 1:46 AM EST
Twins cut AL Central deficit to one
Young rips first career grand slam; 'pen staves off KC
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins opened their final regular-season series at the Metrodome on Friday night, but the hope is that it won't mark the last stretch of baseball that will be played under the Dome's teflon roof. For that to happen, it would require the Twins to do one of two things: force a one-game tiebreaker for the division title or find a way to pull off the remarkable and win the division outright. But first the mission was just to find a way to cut their deficit in the American League Central to one game with two left to play. To do that, the Twins knew that they'd not only need a win over the Royals but also a little help from the White Sox in Detroit. They got both. A packed crowd of 40,223 at the Metrodome on Friday night cheered at approximately 8:30 p.m. CT when Chicago's 8-0 win over the Tigers was posted on the out-of-town scoreboard. But that win only meant something because the Twins were able to stave off a late charge to defeat the Royals, 10-7. A few tense moments were had, to be sure. The Twins watched a 10-run lead whittled away before turning to closer Joe Nathan, who protected a three-run lead in the ninth for his club-record 46th save of the season. Yet the Twins were just focused on this fact -- that their deficit in the division is now just one game. "The bottom line and all that really matters is we won the ballgame and we gained a game on the other guys over there because they lost a ballgame," Gardenhire said. "That's all really in the big picture that matters. Now we've got to find a way to come out tomorrow in an afternoon ballgame and do it again." Every contest now is a virtual must-win for the Twins, and as they've captured 14 wins in their past 18 contests, they've found different players to step up in key situations. On Friday night, it was rookie Jeff Manship, who delivered his first Major League win, and Delmon Young, who produced his first career grand slam early in the contest, to help the Twins catapult out to a robust lead through four innings. Five of those runs came off Royals starter Lenny DiNardo in the first inning. Jason Kubel had an RBI single before Young stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Young ripped a 1-0 pitch from the left-handed DiNardo to left-center for his 10th homer of the season. A sore knee from Thursday's beanball incident with the Tigers didn't seem to slow down Young, who has batted .337 since the start of September. He went 2-for-4 in the contest and tied his single-game career high with five RBIs. "Hopefully it's the last one in Metrodome history," Young said. "I think we're all trying to get the last homer in Metrodome history, too. Hopefully we'll get a couple tomorrow." The crowd was certainly appreciative of Young's efforts, giving him a curtain call following the grand slam and cheering loudly once again when he came to the plate with the bases loaded the next inning. Young wasn't the only one to earn a huge ovation, as Manship was serenaded with one when he walked off the mound following his career-high 5 1/3-inning outing. The right-hander allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits to earn his first win. "It's an unbelievable feeling right now," Manship said. "I can't really express it. It's awesome." The bullpen, however, would make things a little tenuous. Jesse Crain gave up one run to snap his scoreless-innings streak at 17, and Bobby Keppel gave up two more. Jose Mijares hit a batter and gave up a single to put the tying run on base with one out in the eighth, creating a heart-pumping moment for fans before Matt Guerrier came in and got the club out of the jam. "It was just good that we didn't fold up," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "In this situation, with three games left and everything they've got on the line, especially with the excitement of the crowd seeing the Detroit final, it would've been real easy for these guys to just shut down, and they didn't." Not that Kansas City's tenacity surprised Gardenhire. The manager said he couldn't help but think of how the Royals had come back from early deficits before, and he was trying every way he could to think of how to stop them. Because on this night, the Twins couldn't afford to see their 10-run lead erased. Not when their postseason hopes had already gotten a boost from the White Sox and when they had a chance to ensure at least a few more memorable and meaningful moments inside this Dome. Of course, not all things will be easy. The Twins need to keep getting help from the White Sox, as well as to keep producing wins of their own. Saturday provides a formidable task in the form of Royals ace and AL Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke, who picked up his 16th win last Sunday against Minnesota. "It's a good thing that we did face him, so know what to expect," said Kubel. "Hopefully we'll have better results this time."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.