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Twins win AL Central in epic fitting of ballpark that just won't die

Back in the day, the Thing That Wouldn't Leave was John Belushi, in a classic Saturday Night Live skit about a rude slob who plants himself on the neighbors' couch, raids their refrigerator, dials long-distance and sent his castmates into screams of mock terror. It was all done to -- da-dah-DAH! -- blaring sound effects and ominous voice-over, parodying those vintage '50s sci-fi trailers.

Skip ahead 30 years from the early SNL and The Thing That Wouldn't Leave, major league baseball-version, is the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, overstaying its welcome to epic proportions these days. With the emphasis on epic, and no foreseeable end in sight.

"Hopefully it's in November,'' Minnesota Twins pitcher Scott Baker cracked late Tuesday night, relatively safe and dry at one end of his team's bubbly, beery clubhouse as the cavorting and hysteria tilted toward the other.

Wait a minute. November? The Metrodome? Da-dah-DAH! Aaaaeeeeiiiii!!!

The Twin Cities' gray mausoleum of a ballpark was supposed to have staged its own funeral Sunday, synchronized with game No. 162 of the regular season. The team had been counting down to Oct. 3, 2009, since back in 2008. Through state-of-the-art marketing methodology, the Twins had managed to sell the joint out in advance for the alleged finale while wringing nostalgia out of a building known for more engineering gaffes, lousy ergonomics, cut corners and aesthetic effrontery than the last Yugo plant in Kragujevac.

Then a funny thing happened (funny strange, not funny ha-ha): Minnesota caught Detroit in the AL Central and extended the season to a tiebreaker for the division title. That meant game No. 163 Tuesday (one day after the other Thing That Wouldn't Leave, Brett Favre, owned the Dome) and game No. 82 under this particular Teflon sky. One more opportunity for baseball fans who prefer their cathedrals plastic and pre-fab and submerged rather than, y'know, green and retro and outdoors.

So what happened? The AL Central title that no one wanted to win for so much of this season was decided in a game that seemingly wouldn't end, at a ballpark that refuses to die. Until AlexiCasilla's one-out single to right drove home Carlos Gomez in the bottom of the 12th inning for a 6-5 Minnesota victory (RECAP | BOX SCORE), it really wasn't clear who or what would flatline first: the Tigers, the Twins or the crowd, a gathering large enough (54,088) to set the Metrodome record for a regular-season game on its final chance, 28 years in. We should have known, though, that the ballpark itself would keep on ticking, its life force right up there MichaelMyers' or -- da-dah-DAH! -- Godzilla's for sequels and false endings.

Funny thing is, the Metrodome's never-say-die attitude really suits the Twins team still playing there. Whether building or club, each time someone tries to pull its plug, it perks up and starts the machines to blinking again. And lot of folks' pulses to racing.

"This is the most unbelievable game I've ever played or seen,'' said Minnesota shortstop Orlando Cabrera, whose two-run homer in the seventh had the Twins up 4-3. Two innings later, Cabrera's catch of MagglioOrdonez's line drive and throw across the diamond to double-up Curtis Granderson kept it alive at 5-5.

Said Twins catcher Joe Mauer, after leading a victory lap of teammates around the field's perimeter: "One of the best games I'll ever play in.''

Even the Tigers had to agree. Saddled with this most regrettable of collapses -- they led the division by seven games on Sept. 6 and went 3-5 in their final eight when winning just once more would have clinched the title -- they managed to separate the disappointment of it all from the game. Across 12 innings and 4 hours 37 minutes, even the losers could appreciate what they'd been part of.

"I guess it's fitting to say there was a loser in this game, because we lost the game, but it's hard for me to believe there was a loser," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "I'm disappointed in the results, obviously, and I'm disappointed that we didn't get there. . . . But at the same time, this isn't one you sit and [think] about. Like I told my guys after the game, there's not a manager alive who could complain about what they did today.''

Said Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge: "No matter what we did, it seems like it wasn't meant to be. This is the best game, by far, that I've ever played in no matter the outcome.''

Inge had doubled home the lead run, 5-4, in the 10th, only to see Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer triple and score in the bottom of the inning. In the 12th, with one out and the bases loaded, Inge claimed he was hit by a pitch from Bobby Keppel and replays seemed to show that at least his uniform shirt got hit. But home plate umpire Randy Marsh said no and Inge instead banged a chopper to Twins second baseman Nick Punto, whose off-balance throw got a tough force at the plate. Then Gerald Laird struck out, setting up the unlikely Twins heroics from Gomez and Casilla.

That's how it goes, though, in the Metrodome when the leaves change color and the mercury drops (not that anyone would know, of course, since they're all inside). The magic now is a little weaker; this wasn't Jack Morris going 10 innings against the Braves or Twins infielders faking out Lonnie Smith or Kent Hrbek hip-checking Ron Gant off first base, all pivotal moments in the 1991 World Series classic. Instead, it was Cuddyer's ball skipping to the wall past Ryan Raburrn, Cabrera's double-play toss, Detroit starter Rick Porcello marring his outing with one errant pickoff throw and Minnesota closer Joe Nathan getting out of a jam of his own doing to exit with three innings still to be played.

If the magic is flickering, maybe it's because the Metrodome is older, showing more age, about to be dumped for alluring new Target Field on the other side of downtown. It is not, however, dead yet, something the New York Yankees would do well to remember for the game or -- da-dah-DAH! -- games it faces there in a few days.

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