Jays win, but Twins finish trip from 7th place to 7th heaven


TORONTO -- As fine a season as the Minnesota Twins have had, the way they clinched yesterday was pretty lame. They got the word on the team bus, which pulled away from the SkyDome just before the Chicago White Sox succumbed to the Seattle Mariners, 2-1, ending the American League West race.

The turn of events capped a last place-to-first place turnaround for the Twins, who finished last season 74-88.

Minnesota was prevented from celebrating on the field by the Toronto Blue Jays, who, by winning impressively again, 2-1, increased their lead to 4 1/2 games, an advantage so big even skeptical Jays fans are saying it's over as they hum that cult

classic, "Help, Help Us, Mookie" (not available in stores).

Even before they fell to their fourth straight loss, beaten by Milwaukee, 5-4, after blowing a 4-0 lead, the Boston Red Sox were simply not an issue here yesterday. Although Toronto players refused to proclaim victory with six games remaining, the Twins were openly talking about facing the Blue Jays in the playoffs next week: "We are two good teams," Junior Ortiz said. "I think it will go six or seven games."

Toronto (87-69) has won five of seven since the Red Sox cut the lead to one-half game Sept. 21. The Blue Jays went 4-2 during a stretch in which they faced six of the nine winningest pitchers in the league, including Minnesota's Scott Erickson, who was prevented from becoming the first pitcher this season to win 20 games only by a stellar effort by Todd Stottlemyre (14-8).

"You have to give our offense credit, the way we've played the past week," said Stottlemyre, who allowed one run and four hits in 6 1/3 innings.

Meanwhile, the Twins await the AL playoffs, which begin in Minnesota a week from tomorrow.

"No, it's not disappointing," Twins centerfielder Kirby Puckett said when asked if he regretted not clinching on the field. "It doesn't matter to me. I don't care where I'm at, just as long as it's over and done with. It doesn't take anything away from what we've accomplished."

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