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Willmar, 56201
West Central Tribune
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Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins wrapped up their regular season with a win. Up next? Another agonizing afternoon spent cheering against the Chicago White Sox.

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Scott Baker scattered four singles over seven shutout innings, pitching the Twins past the Kansas City Royals 6-0 on Sunday to preserve their half-game lead in the AL Central.

The White Sox snapped their five-game losing streak by beating Cleveland 5-1, pushing the season into an extra day.

On Monday, Detroit visits Chicago for a makeup game. If the White Sox (87-74) win, they'll host the Twins on Tuesday in a one-game playoff to determine the division title and the first-round opponent for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Delmon Young's two-run single and Joe Mauer's two-run triple gave Baker (11-4) some extra insurance.

Relievers Jose Mijares and Joe Nathan finished the final two innings to give Minnesota an 88-74 record -- far exceeding almost every forecast.

Mauer took a five-point lead over Boston's Dustin Pedroia in the AL batting race into the game and went 2-for-5 to finish at .330. Baker matched a career high with nine strikeouts.

It was a rather subdued victory, though, given losses to the Royals the last two days that took the luster out of an inspired three-game sweep of Chicago earlier in the week. The Twins went 14-20 since Aug. 22.

The Royals finished 75-87, their best record since 2003 thanks to an 18-8 mark in September.

Brandon Duckworth, brought up from the minors last month, made his seventh start for the Royals and needed 116 pitches to complete six innings. They decided to rest Zack Greinke for the final week after he reached a career-most 202Zc innings. Greinke's performance this year, a 13-10 record, 3.47 ERA and 183 strikeouts, gave Kansas City good reason to be optimistic about the 2009 rotation with him and Gil Meche at the front.

Duckworth (3-3) walked four and hit two more, but he yielded only two hits -- one of them an RBI double by Denard Span with two outs and a full count in the second inning.

The defense hurt Duckworth more than the wildness, actually.

On a bouncer to first, Ryan Shealy fielded what could've been a double play, double clutched on his throw and sent the ball into left field for an error. Later, with the bases loaded and one out, third baseman Alex Gordon gobbled up a grounder and fired home for the force -- but catcher John Buck dropped the throw and let a run score.

The Twins wasted opportunities all series, at the plate just as in the standings. After totaling three runs on 14 hits -- three for extra bases -- while leaving 16 men on base over the first two games, they stranded seven runners in the first three innings on Sunday.

The Royals were generous to the Twins on the bases, too, when Mitch Maier singled to start the third but ended that inning by absent-mindedly leaving second base on a short flyout to center. There was only one out, and Maier was easily doubled up.

Baker didn't need the charity, though. Minnesota's best pitcher down the stretch, the right-hander breezed through another critical start. He went 4-0 in his final six appearances, including a 9-3 win over the White Sox on Tuesday to help spark the sweep.

Notes: Mauer established career highs for games caught (134), games played (145) and RBIs (85). ... Justin Morneau went 0-for-3 with two walks for Minnesota, finishing 3-for-23 on the homestand and in an 6-for-38 slump to finish the regular season. He set a career high with 76 walks, including 16 intentional. ... Shealy was replaced by Billy Butler in the bottom of the fourth because of tightness in his left hamstring. ... The Royals close the 2009 season here, too. That'll be the final baseball series in the Metrodome's 28-year history scheduled for next Oct. 2-4.

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