COLUMN: Gardenhire on '10 Twins: 'We've kept fighting'

MINNEAPOLIS Ron Gardenhire had a suggestion. "Why don't you just watch a ballgame and write what happens in that ballgame?" he said. He did not say this sweetly. In fact, he appeared to be very grumpy before Tuesday's game against the Indians. Al...

Gardy applauds the fans
Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire celebrates after clinching the American League Central division Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010, in Minneapolis. The Twins beat the Indians 6-4 and the White Sox lost to the Athletics 7-2 to clinch the title. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)


Ron Gardenhire had a suggestion.

"Why don't you just watch a ballgame and write what happens in that ballgame?" he said.

He did not say this sweetly. In fact, he appeared to be very grumpy before Tuesday's game against the Indians. All this talk about a potential division-clinching celebration didn't sit well with him. I don't know why. Even Gene Mauch couldn't have flubbed this lead.

Fortunately for Gardenhire and the Twins, Ozzie Guillen's White Sox couldn't roll over fast enough. Not only are they losing every single game, but they are losing them rapidly. Their half-hearted efforts, combined with Minnesota's continued exemplary play, had resulted in the Twins' magic number being reduced at a dizzying rate.


The Twins whipped the Indians 6-4 Tuesday night. And while they all originally expected to head home immediately afterward, the White Sox were losing so thoroughly and so quickly out in Oakland that a champagne celebration was put in motion after all.

"Those guys aren't going to let me go home," Gardenhire said.

It was quite a night for the organization: a division-title clinching, Gardenhire's 800th career victory as manager and the 3 millionth fan passing through the turnstiles of the new ballpark. This has been as close to a perfect season as any team will ever experience.

Like in so many other games, they came from behind to beat the Indians. And like so many other games, they had to patch up their lineup and get

it done with whatever healthy bodies were available. Shortstop J.J. Hardy came down with a migraine and was a late scratch.

"I think the one thing it says about our club is that we've done this all year," Gardenhire said. "We've kept fighting."

They fought through the loss of Joe Nathan and then Justin Morneau. They've survived injuries to their shortstop, catcher and several starting pitchers. They mixed and matched the roster on the fly, making over their bullpen as the summer wore on. Now they are pretty much where everyone expected them to be. Now it gets harder.

First off, the team has to set its roster for the opening playoff series. That won't be easy. Gardenhire says he will carry 11 pitchers and 14 position players. A couple of guys are going to get left out. The playoff starters: Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing and, if needed, Nick Blackburn. Sure things in the bullpen: Matt Capps, Brian Fuentes, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch and Jose Mijares. That leaves one spot, which likely will go to Kevin Slowey because he is a better bet out of the bullpen than Scott Baker.


Meanwhile, Baker struck out seven in five innings against the Indians on Tuesday night. Gardenhire also has to decide on his final position player. Nick Punto, Drew Butera, Jason Repko and Alexi Casilla are locks. That leaves either catcher Jose Morales or Matt Tolbert as the final bench player.

"We have a couple of tough decisions," Gardenhire said while waiting for the White Sox game to end. "It's not like with this team, the lineup there, we're going to be pinch-hitting. Do I need a pinch-hitter? Do I need a third catcher? I need pinch-defense for Kubel in the late innings and a pinch runner for Thome. Maybe something like that. I'm looking at options. We've looked at it over and over.

"Who are we going to pinch hit for? Unless somebody goes into a funk and couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat ... Hardy is not a great runner. What if he gets on in the eighth inning of a ballgame and we want another run? I might pinch-run."

He still has some time to figure it all out. That's the good thing about a team playing so well that it clinches early. After two straight seasons of 163 games, the Twins are the first team in baseball to clinch.

"Considering we've been to game 163 the last couple of years, I think this might work out a little better for us," Gardenhire said. "At least we'll be rested for Game 1."

They turned on the afterburners in the second half and blew past the competition. It's hard to say whether they've yet to play their best baseball because they've shown no signs of letting up.

It's about to get a lot more difficult. But the excitement quotient also rises proportionately.

Copyright (c) 2010, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.


Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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