Tiebreaker springs Baker, Porcello into starring roles

A
strange thing happened during the final moments of the 1972 Olympic men’s gold
medal game, which pitted Cold War rivals USA and USSR against one another.

 

Team
USA began celebrating a 50-49 victory upon hearing the final buzzer. But the
game wasn’t over. The horn sounded prematurely, the referees claimed, adding
two more seconds to the clock and replaying the final possession. The Soviets wound
up scoring an uncontested layup to win the gold.

 

It
has to go down as one of the most memorable premature celebrations in sports
history.

 

Over
the past few days, we’ve seen some of the most premature celebrations in
fantasy sports history. Across America, countless owners could be seen dancing
around their computers singing sweet victory.

 

What
most neglected to realize was this:

 

The
regular season wasn’t over.  

 

And
until the American League Central tiebreaker between the Tigers and Twins is finished
Tuesday, fantasy owners, whose fortunes seemed doomed on Sunday, still have a
chance to pull off another 1972 Summer Olympics moment.

 

Mind
you, this doesn’t apply to leagues where the first-place team sits miles ahead of
the second-place team.

 

This
is solely for races that went down to the wire, where one win, one save, a
couple of homers and a few RBIs and/or stolen bases can be the difference
between winning and losing.  

 

Cory
Schwartz, co-host of MLB.com’s Fantasy 411, recounted how the 2007 tiebreaker
between the Rockies and Padres left him heartbroken.

 

“I
was leading the 411 listener league at the end of the regular season, but my
prescient opponent picked up every Rockies and Padres scrubeenie as soon as
Sunday’s games started; he got an RBI triple from Seth Smith to catch me in
that category, a run from some other benchie, and we ended up in a flat-footed
tie for the league championship.”

 

Which
Twins and Tigers players will turn the tides this time around?

 

You
have to start with Rick Porcello of Detroit and Scott Baker of Minnesota, each
of whom take the mound in the highest-pressure outings of their careers.

 

That’s
especially true for Porcello. I don’t know about you, but when I was 20 years
old, the idea of starting a one-game playoff, in front of a combined audience
that figures to top one-million people, would be enough to put me on the first
plane to Mexico.

 

But
Porcello isn’t your average 20-year-old. He’s coming off a Rookie of the
Year-caliber campaign in which he notched 14 wins and a 4.04 ERA, including six
strong innings against the Twins last time out. Throw in the fact that he leaped
from Single-A to Detroit, and it’s tough to rule him out altogether.

 

Still,
the odds favor Baker for a number of reasons. He has the luxury of pitching in
front of a raucous home crowd after a smooth second half that included an 8-2
record and a 3.21 ERA. It can’t hurt that he’s pitching for a Twins club that
staged in an improbable comeback without 2006 MVP Justin Morneau, winning 16 of
their last 20 games to force a do-or-die matchup. Porcello lost his only two
starts at the Metrodome, getting shelled for seven earned runs over 10 innings
(6.30 ERA).

 

And
if the Twins ride their momentum to victory, count on Joe Nathan contributing
in some fashion, possibly even picking up his 48th save, which would tie him
with Brian Fuentes for the Major League lead. The same goes for Tigers fireman
Fernando Rodney, who showed a knack for bringing his “A” game during save
chances.     

 

Other
usual suspects include MVP candidates Joe Mauer and Miguel Cabrera.  It might be tempting to sit Cabrera amid an
0-for-14 funk and off-the-field troubles, but you don’t sit a .323 hitter who’s
finishing his third straight 30-homer, 100-RBI campaign.

 

An
even bigger mistake would be sitting Jason Kubel, who went 8-for-11 against
Porcello (.727 AVG) and owned Tigers pitchers this season with a .383 average
against them collectively. Oh, and Kubel is also in the midst of a career year
and coming off a scorching stretch that earned him AL Co-Player of the Week honors
Monday.

 

There’s
no shortage of Twins players riding a wave of momentum.     

 

Take
Delmon Young, who shared AL Player of the Week with Kubel and went 4-for-9
(.444) vs. Porcello.

 

Fellow
outfielder Denard Span struggled in limited time against Porcello (3-for-11),
but he brings a ******** .432 average against Tigers pitchers into Tuesday’s
game, after quietly establishing himself as one of the more valuable
five-category threats.

 

And
how could anyone bench Michael Cuddyer after effectively channeling Morneau’s power
with 10 homers and 29 RBIs since the start of September, single-handedly
ruining my chances of winning an office fantasy league?

 

Even
Nick Punto contributed to the comeback run, posting seven stolen bases from
September on.

 

It
would be foolish to talk about the Tigers lineup without mentioning Magglio
Ordonez, who has regained credibility in the average department after nearly
being released/traded in July. The sweet-swinging righty heads into Tuesday
sporting a .441 average since the start of September.

 

Also
riding his hottest stretch into Tuesday is Placido Polanco, who found his
rhythm in September with a .361 average.

 

As
far as sleepers go, Ryan Raburn stands out after hammering two homers on Sunday
and putting up a .321 average and four homers as a part-timer in September. Tigers
outfielder (also qualifies at third base) Carlos Guillen and Twins shortstop Orlando
Cabrera could also emerge as unlikely heroes, given their years of seasoning
and big-game know-how.  

 

The
only players truly worth benching are Gerald Laird, among the least valuable
fantasy catchers around, and Brandon Inge, who has seemingly vanished after
appearing in his first All-Star game (.216 AVG).

 

Otherwise,
Tuesday is the day that every Twins and Tigers player merits starting status.   

 

Beggars
can’t be choosers when opportunity knocks this loudly with game No. 163.  

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