MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Twins capped a remarkable turnaround by clinching a playoff spot Monday night, beating the Kansas City Royals 8-1 behind home runs from Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter.

Boof Bonser came up with another strong start in helping the Twins reach the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. This one certainly looked unlikely when they were 25-33 in early June, and the Twins celebrated their comeback by jumping up and down in the middle of the diamond.

Minnesota’s win, coupled with Chicago’s 14-1 loss to the Indians, eliminated the defending World Series champion White Sox from contention. The Twins can now focus on the AL Central race, in which they trail Detroit by one game.

With Detroit and Minnesota in the playoffs, this marks the first time that the wild card will come out of the AL Central. The Twins won three straight division championships from 2002-04.

The small crowd of 18,108 at the Metrodome cheered when Chicago’s game was final, saving more screaming for the real party about 90 minutes later.

Hunter hit career-high 30th homer and Bonser (7-5) was brilliant against the depleted Royals, who lost their seventh straight and were forced to watch the opponents party for the second consecutive game. The Tigers beat them 11-4 on Sunday to seal their place in the postseason.

Morneau hit his 34th homer in the eighth, a three-run shot that gave him 129 RBIs. Joe Mauer, Jason Tyner and Nick Punto hit RBI singles in support of Bonser, who is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA in his last five starts – probably cementing his spot in the playoff rotation.

Bonser gave up a just-barely homer to Angel Berroa over the left-field wall in the sixth and a leadoff double to Emil Brown in the fifth, striking out five and walking two over 6 2-3 innings.

Bonser left to a loud serenade, “Booooof!,” as Dennys Reyes took over for the last out of the seventh.

Hunter, named the AL’s co-Player of the Week on Monday, heard the loudest cheers, following his two-run shot in the seventh against Zack Greinke. He popped out of the dugout minutes later for a curtain call. The five-time Gold Glove winner, who has been hobbled this year by a sore left foot, also made two exceptional running catches in center field, doubled and stole third base before scoring a run.

Jorge De La Rosa (3-4), who arrived in a July trade with Milwaukee, has struggled with his command all season and was typically inefficient. His career-long outing came in his previous start, 6 2-3 innings in a loss, but he didn’t make it out of the fifth against Minnesota despite allowing only two runs.

De La Rosa walked six in 4 2-3 innings, giving up five hits and striking out five. He got Michael Cuddyer to ground into a double play in the first after Mauer’s run-scoring single and then fanned Cuddyer with two on to end the third.

The Royals (58-98) have three more games at Minnesota and three in Detroit against the Tigers, so they’re likely on their way to a third straight season with 100 or more defeats. They had been playing better, going 12-7 during a three-week stretch before the current losing streak started.

In fact, they’re essentially the reason that Minnesota is in second place instead of first. Kansas City is 6-10 against the Twins, but just 1-14 against the Tigers.

Notes: The Twins (93-63) have a realistic chance to finish with their largest victory total since 1970, when they won 98 games and lost in the league championship series to Baltimore. They won 94 in 2002 and 95 in 1991, the year of their second World Series title. … An MRI test on Royals infielder Andres Blanco revealed a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury sustained while swinging in Sunday’s game. … Minnesota’s Rondell White has a sore left hamstring that will keep him out of left field for the next couple of days. … The last time the Twins had multiple 30 home run hitters was 1987, when Kent Hrbek, Tom Brunansky and Gary Gaetti helped power the Twins to their first World Series title. Morneau became the first Minnesota player to pass that mark on Aug. 4.

AP-ES-09-25-06 2304EDT


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