Twins clinch playoff spot, A's still trying

Tuesday, September 26th 2006, 5:31 am
By: News On 6

The Twins are in. As for Oakland, not yet.

Capping a remarkable turnaround from a miserable start, Minnesota clinched a playoff spot Monday night by beating the visiting Kansas City Royals 8-1 behind home runs from Torii Hunter and Justin Morneau.

The victory, coupled with Chicago's 14-1 loss in Cleveland, guaranteed the Twins at least the AL wild card and eliminated the World Series champion White Sox from the pennant race.

Boof Bonser came through with another strong start, helping the small budget Twins reach the postseason for the fourth time in 5 years. This one certainly looked unlikely when they were 25-33 in early June, and players celebrated their comeback with a champagne-and-beer celebration in the clubhouse.

``Hopefully, this is just the start of what we can do,'' Bonser said.

The Athletics were denied the AL West title for a third straight day when the 2nd place Los Angeles Angels beat Texas 8-3. Then, Oakland closer Huston Street blew a 3 run lead in the 9th at Seattle and the A's lost 10-9 in 10 innings.

That kept their magic number at 2. On the cusp of wrapping up its first division championship since 2003, the A's have lost 3 straight.

``It's still in our hands,'' Street said in a silent, mostly empty clubhouse. ``And I've got to pitch again. I've got to just move past it.''

In other AL games, it was: New York 16, Tampa Bay 1; and Toronto 5, Boston 0.

Ichiro Suzuki had 5 of Seattle's season best 21 hits and scored the winning run. The Mariners snapped a 15 game losing streak to Oakland, which tied the major league record for division rivals since divisional play began in 1969. It was their first victory over the A's since their initial meeting this season on April 6.

``It's been no secret we've been abused by them,'' Seattle's Raul Ibanez said after he had 4 hits and 4 RBIs, including his 31st home run. ``That was an intense game.''

Richie Sexson also connected and Willie Bloomquist lined an RBI single with 2 outs in the 10th to give the Mariners a comeback win after they rallied from a 9-3 deficit.

J.J. Putz (4-1) pitched 2 scoreless innings for the victory.

Street had his 10th blown save in 46 chances.

At Minneapolis, after Joe Nathan pitched a scoreless 9th, the Twins streamed out of the dugout and jumped up and down in the middle of the diamond before taking the party up to the clubhouse.

With his blue shirt soaked to the skin and champagne and beer dripping off his goggles, Hunter led a toast in a circle of his teammates. Colored bottles raised, the Twins cheered their spot in the playoffs but made clear they're still pushing for the division title.

``It ain't done yet!'' Hunter yelled.

Minnesota moved within 1 game of 1st place Detroit in the AL Central. Both teams are in the playoffs, marking the first time the wild card will come out of that division.

``This is fun, man. Every time!'' said Hunter, one of only two position players left from the 2002 Twins team that won the first of 3 straight AL Central championships.

``It's sweeter, because we were written off,'' he said.

The small crowd of 18,108 at the Metrodome cheered when Chicago's game went final, saving more screaming for the real celebration about 90 minutes later.

``Hopefully, we're doing this again. That's our goal,'' said Morneau, who heard a series of ``MVP'' chants after his 3 run shot in the 8th, his 34th of the year but his first since August 24. He has 129 RBIs, 2nd in the league behind Boston's David Ortiz.

Hunter hit his career high 30th homer and Bonser (7-5) was brilliant against the depleted Royals, who lost their 7th straight and were forced to watch the opponents party for the second consecutive game. The Tigers beat them 11-4 on Sunday to seal their place in the postseason.

``They're a great organization. They've proven that year after year by doing things right,'' Kansas City interim manager Billy Doran said.

Hunter hit his career high 30th homer and Bonser gave up 1 run and 2 hits in 6 2-3 innings. He is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his last 5 starts, probably cementing his spot in the playoff rotation.

Indians 14, White Sox 1

At Cleveland, Casey Blake hit a grand slam, the Indians' major league record tying 14th this season, to highlight an 8 run 6th inning. Chicago's Jon Garland (17-7) gave up 12 runs, 8 earned, and 12 hits in 5 1-3 innings. Cliff Lee (13-11) limited the White Sox to 1 run over 7 innings.

Angels 8, Rangers 3

At Anaheim, California, Vladimir Guerrero hit 2 homers and Chone Figgins added a solo shot. Joe Saunders (7-3) gave up 2 runs in 7 innings, and Juan Rivera had 4 hits.

Texas' Michael Young reached 100 RBIs, a career high.

Yankees 16, Devil Rays 1

At St. Petersburg, Fla., Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui each hit a 3 run homer off Jae Seo (1-7) in the 1st inning for New York, which had a season high 20 hits. Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon and pitching coach Mike Butcher were ejected during the inning.

Jaret Wright (11-7), bidding to be the Yankees' 4th starter in the postseason, gave up 1 run in 6 innings. The Yankees (94-62) are tied with Detroit for the best record in the AL.

Randy Johnson will miss his final regular season turn for New York because of back spasms. The AL East champions hope he will be ready for the postseason.

Blue Jays 5, Red Sox 0

At Toronto, Shaun Marcum (3-4) and Jason Frasor combined on a 2 hitter, and the Blue Jays moved past Boston into 2nd place in the AL East.