MINNEAPOLIS -- Brad Radke, as steady as anyone in the Minnesota clubhouse, fought tears and was forced to turn away when talking about his return to the mound became too tough.
Manager Ron Gardenhire shook his head and laughed at the thought of his team, 12 games back just 2½ months ago, being tied for first place.
This has been an unbelievable season for the Twins, and it's not done yet.
Jason Bartlett's single to deep center field with the bases loaded in the 10th inning Thursday night gave Minnesota a 2-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals and moved the Twins into a tie for the AL Central lead with Detroit, which lost to Toronto 8-6.
Joe Nathan (7-0) pitched the 10th for the win, long after Radke's impressive return and right before Bartlett's big hit capped another wild night at the Metrodome.
It began with Radke, who needed only 57 pitches to get through five easy innings after fighting shoulder problems that kept him out for the past month. The only run against him was unearned, scoring on a double by Paul Phillips in the second -- one of three hits allowed by Radke.
The 33-year-old has said he plans to retire after the season, and he helped pitch the Twins back in the race despite a torn labrum and a stress fracture that was later found in his throwing shoulder. He left his last start, Aug. 25 at Chicago, after only two innings.
"You see a lot of things in this game as a manager, coach and player, but watching him go to the mound and be able to throw the ball like that was pretty special," Gardenhire said.
Nearly as incredible has been the comeback by Minnesota (95-64), which was 25-33 when play began on June 8 and still in fourth place and 12 games back as late as July 15.
Since then, they're 46-24.
"I'm amazed at what happened out there," Radke said. "When Joe hit that home run, it felt like the seventh game of the World Series."
The Tigers, who hold the tiebreaker over the Twins by winning the season series 11-8, host the Royals for their final three games. Minnesota is home for the final three against the Chicago White Sox.
"I'm at a loss for words right now," Radke said, his eyes moistening.
Kansas City (59-100) wasn't able to avoid becoming the 11th team in major league history to lose 100 games for a third straight year.
"A lot out of those have been one-run games that didn't go our way," said Luke Hudson, who scattered four singles over seven innings to lower his ERA to 5.12. "We weren't always getting pounded. We would come up one run short. It has happened several times."
Justin Morneau started the 10th with a single off Scott Dohmann (1-3). After David DeJesus made a sliding catch to steal a hit from Torii Hunter, Rondell White's single up the middle squirted out of the infield and Morneau raced to third. Jason Tyner was intentionally walked, and Bartlett's hit - ruled a single - sailed over the head of a drawn-in DeJesus and bounced over the fence.
Since clinching at least the wild card on Monday night, the Twins have been trying to catch the Tigers -- and figure out who they can trust to pitch in the postseason. Cy Young Award favorite Johan Santana is set to pitch Game 1 of the division series, and rookie Boof Bonser has been named the No. 2 starter.
They need four, though, and Carlos Silva, whose ERA is 6.07 after yet another poor outing this week, probably can't be counted on. That leaves the ailing Radke and up-and-down rookie Matt Garza, who began the year in Class A.
Radke received a loud cheer from the crowd of 26,654 when he was introduced and when he threw his first pitch - a called strike on the inside corner to DeJesus.
He walked two and struck out one. Mitch Maier singled in the second, moved up when Hunter let the ball get past him in center field for an error, and scored on the double down the left-field line by Phillips.
Though Gardenhire demurred on the question, it's clear that Radke will have a spot in the rotation as long as he recovers all right from this start.
"I'm sure relieved," Radke said.
Kansas City has been in next-year mode for months, and the 29-year-old Hudson, who beat Minnesota here on Aug. 30, allowing two runs in seven innings, has made a push to be included in the 2007 rotation. He has either won or left the game with a lead in 12 of his 15 starts.
"He has pitched well and certainly deserved much better," interim manager Billy Doran said.
- Mauer went 1-for-4 and leads the majors at .349.
- A surgically removed growth behind Royals manager Buddy Bell's left tonsil was cancerous, his doctor said. The biopsy revealed that resected tissue surrounding the growth, however, was free of cancer cells. Bell is resting at his home in Arizona.
- Alexi Casilla, making his first career start, had his first major league hit. He was acquired from the Angels last winter in a trade for reliever J.C. Romero.