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10/05/09 1:24 PM EST
Dome could be Twins' ace in the hole
No denying advantage of Minnesota's park in tiebreaker
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
Of all the variables expected when the Twins and Tigers meet in a one-game playoff to decide the American League Central title on Tuesday on TBS at 5:07 p.m. ET, there is one true guarantee.
"Every pitch," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "will be a roar."
In their final season of playing indoors, the Twins are trying to extend their stay at the Metrodome while the Tigers want to turn out the lights for good.
The stadium at 34 Kirby Puckett Place has given Minnesota one of the greatest home-field advantages in baseball -- especially when everything is on the line. It has the white roof that makes fly balls harder to track, a baggie right-field wall that creates funky caroms, artificial grass and yes, enough noise to spike a decibel meter.
That should help the Twins and so could the fact that recent history has done the most for the host. The home team is 4-4 in eight Major League tiebreakers, but all four wins came in the past five games. This is the third successive year in which an extra game is needed before the playoffs can formally begin.
The last time a road team won a Game No. 163 to earn a postseason berth was a decade ago in 1999, when the Mets claimed a 5-0 shutout over the Reds in Cincinnati and advanced as the National League Wild Card team.
"There's no way to go around the fact that we're playing in the Dome and not in Detroit," said Twins right-hander Scott Baker, who will be starting Tuesday's game. "I think we've seen in the past how well we play in front of our fans and how much it can affect the outcome of the game. We're all very excited to be here at the Dome."
For the Tigers, they have every reason to feel less excited about heading to Minneapolis. Detroit is 7-11 vs. Minnesota this season, including a 2-7 record when playing under the roof.
The Twins are 48-33 at home this season, while the Tigers are 35-46 on the road, which is the worst road record among the nine teams that are still alive. Detroit's starting pitcher, rookie Rick Porcello, is 0-2 with a 6.30 ERA in two starts at the Metrodome.
However, the Twins can be beaten at home in big games. During the best-of-five 2006 AL Division Series, the A's cruised to a 3-0 sweep with two wins in Minnesota.
The Twins are the first team to play in a tiebreaker game in back-to-back years. They were the road club last year when they fell to the White Sox, despite winning the season series. In a rule change that eliminated the coin flip in favor of head-to-head records deciding home field, the Twins get to host a one-game playoff this time around.
Officials in Minnesota decided to pull back the upper-deck outfield curtain to expand seating to more than 50,000 fans for the game. Tickets sold out within minutes.
|The winners of the eight one-game tiebreakers played in the history of Major League Baseball have been evenly split between the road and home teams.|
|1948||Indians at Red Sox||Indians||LOST|
|1978||Yankees at Red Sox||Yankees||LOST|
|1980||Astros at Dodgers||Astros||LOST|
|1995||Angels at Mariners||Mariners||WON|
|1998||Giants at Cubs||Cubs||WON|
|1999||Mets at Reds||Mets||LOST|
|2007||Padres at Rockies||Rockies||WON|
|2008||Twins at White Sox||White Sox||WON|
"We're going to have a packed house," Twins first baseman Michael Cuddyer said. "Maybe we'll have a whiteout. Chicago last year had a blackout, maybe we'll have a whiteout in the Dome."
Fans at U.S. Cellular Field went in "blackout" mode with everyone wearing Chicago's primary color during the 1-0 White Sox win.
In 2007, the Rockies needed 13 innings to beat the Padres, 9-8, at Coors Field and earn a NL Wild Card berth.
Lack of familiarity will not be an issue for either team. Of the 18 Twins-Tigers meetings, eight happened over the final 18 days of the season. The two teams last faced one another at the Metrodome on Sept. 18-20, with Minnesota taking two of three. However, it was Baker that took the 6-2 loss on Sept. 20, after he allowed four earned runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.
"You might want to put your earplugs in," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. "It gets loud. That's OK, though. We're looking forward to it."
When the final out of this final regular-season game is recorded, one team will go on to play the Yankees while the other team will go home wishing it could play in the Bronx.
"We had that experience in last year's game," said Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who is injured and unable to play the rest of the year. "I feel like the difference this year is we're home, having the home crowd behind us, get ready to win a game and go to New York."