And now we're down to one week left and the Twins are still in this thing. The Twins are still just 1 1/2 games back. Of course, it seems like they've been 1 1/2 games back for a couple weeks. They could be leading the wildcard after Tuesday's games. At this point in the season, anything can happen and the Twins can't be considered out of it until they're officially eliminated.
Look at 2009. The Twins were 3 games back with 4 to play and only 1 game left with the Tigers. The Twins went on win the division in an epic Game 163 in the final regular-season game in the Metrodome.
As for Sunday, the Twins did what they really need to do a lot of for the next week, which is score early and often. The Twins take pride in being resilient, but they really haven't shown that characteristic during games much. In fact, they haven't won a game in which they didn't score first since Sept. 5 in Houston, and that game ended with Byron Buxton making a sliding/diving catch on a line drive with the tying run at third and the winning run at second.
Fortunately, the Twins have been very good at scoring first as of late. They did so again Sunday with six runs in the second inning. It was the 14th time in the last 20 games the Twins have scored first. What was really nice to see was it started with the bottom of the lineup. The much maligned Kurt Suzuki got the Twins on the board first with an RBI single, then Buxton, getting a rare start, came up with two on and no outs. He attempted to bunt the first pitch in an obvious bunting situation, especially with a struggling No. 9 hitter at the plate. However, he got a slow curve on the next pitch and lined it into left-center for an RBI double. The top of the order kept the hit parade going to give Ervin Santana more than enough runs.
On Aug. 25, Santana was pulled in the third inning of an eventual 11-7 win over the Rays. His ERA at that point on the season was 6.05 for the pitcher who had been given the biggest free-agent contract in franchise history. After that start, pitching coach Neil Allen put Santana through some drills to help him make an adjustment in his mechanics. Since then, he's been terrific. He's pitched at least 7 innings and not allowed more than 2 runs in his last 6 starts. The Twins have won 6 of those games. The one loss was when Kevin Jepsen blew the save with help from a bad decision on a throw by Aaron Hicks and then Paul Molitor went all pinch runner crazy and the Twins ended up losing to the Tigers in 12 innings.
Santana didn't look like he was as sharp as he's been, but his biggest problem was a high pitch count early in the game, but he still managed to get through 7 innings on 105 pitches, which is right where you want a starter to be at. He pretty much made it look easy once he got the big lead, and he might have gotten some help from the Tigers, who might find it hard to get motivated to make big comebacks in games that are essentially meaningless to them and their season.
If a team wants to go on a long winning streak, they need to find ways to win without constantly using their best relievers. On Sunday, Michael Tonkin was the only other pitcher used with him throwing the final two innings.
The fun part of the game was seeing several firsts. While Buxton's double early in the game was probably more crucial to the victory, it was nearly as exciting to see him hit his first major league home run late in the game. The fact that it came on a high fastball from a hard-throwing right-handed reliever made it even more exciting.
Miguel Sano finally found a ballpark big enough for him to get his first major league triple. He hit a rocket shot to right-center field to the deepest part of probably the biggest AL ballpark. What was even better is that it came with two outs in the ninth and with rookie Max Kepler on deck pinch hitting for Torii Hunter. Sano's triple extended the inning so that Kepler could get his first major league at-bat. He ended up striking out, but at least he finally got a chance to bat after sitting on the bench for a week.