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Twins clinch Central crown

©Associated Press

September 16, 2002

CLEVELAND -- The Minnesota Twins refused to be contracted. Instead, they conquered.

CLEVELAND -- The Minnesota Twins refused to be contracted. Instead, they conquered.

The small-market survivors that baseball couldn't eliminate made sure their unexpected season will include a trip to the postseason.

The Twins, reported to be a target for elimination in November, clinched the AL Central on Sunday with a 5-0 win over the defending champion Indians.

"Bud Selig couldn't get rid of us," Jacque Jones said during a wild celebration in Minnesota's clubhouse. "The White Sox couldn't get rid of us. The Cleveland Indians couldn't get rid of us. Here we are, and we're staying."

Kyle Lohse pitched six shutout innings as the Twins secured their first playoff appearance since 1991, then held a raucous party that threatened to last all night.

"It's been a long haul," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It started this winter when they tried to kick us out and take away our team. There's been a lot of buildup here, and we're going to let it all out."

After doing their part by winning, the Twins had to put their postgame party plans on hold for about 20 minutes as they waited for the score of Chicago's game in New York.

When the second-place White Sox lost 8-4 at Yankee Stadium in a game called by rain, many of the Twins ran into the trainer's room to fetch champagne bottles that had been on ice since Friday.

At one end of the room, reliever Mike Jackson, wearing swimming goggles, taught a few how to uncork a champagne bottle and spray it.

In the middle, Torii Hunter did some break dancing as teammates cheered.

And reliever Eddie Guardado, who got the final out, broke down and cried.

"I'm glad I was out there," Guardado said before having to stop. "Excuse me."

He wasn't the only Minnesota player choking back tears between swallows of bubbly.

The Twins have been on an emotional roller coaster since the day Selig announced his intentions of shutting down two franchises.

"People said, 'Get rid of the Twins,' " Guardado said. "But we stuck it out. That's what we're all about."

Denny Hocking hit a two-run single in the seventh and Matt LeCroy had a sacrifice fly in the sixth for the Twins, who hoped to celebrate their division title on the infield grass.

But after getting the final out, the Twins headed inside to wait and root for the free-spending Yankees.

"I could have never imagined that," first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said. "I'm looking at the TV, yelling, 'C'mon (Jorge) Posada, let's go, you hit three home runs against us. Hit a home run.' For the first time we scoreboard watched."

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