MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Minnesota Twins last won a division title, Bert Blyleven was a 19-year-old rookie who pitched a fit when told he wouldn't be starting Game 3 of the American League playoffs against the Baltimore Orioles.

Sunday, in front of 53,106 fans (the biggest crowd in franchise history), Blyleven pitched a five-hit complete game against the Kansas City Royals as Minnesota clinched a tie for the West Division title. Monday, he poured champagne and, when that ran out, doused beer on anyone who got within celebrating distance after the Twins beat Texas for their first title since 1970.

Excuse the Twins for being giddy, because it has been a long time between successes. There was hardly an expert who gave them a chance when the season started. Their reputation was as a bunch of sluggers who, in other facets of the game, amounted to little more than a bunch of slugs. They lost 91 games last season, and finished above .500 only once in the last nine.

"You have to have people with a certain kind of personality to take the beating we took and keep coming back without getting down on ourselves," said pitcher Frank Viola, who has lost only four of his last 19 decisions and will start Wednesday's playoff opener against Toronto or Detroit.

The title road wasn't even very rocky. Minnesota held first place for all but six weeks of the season. Every time the Twins faltered, their pursuers were unable to close the gap. The way they played at the Metrodome, compiling the best home record in the major leagues at 56-25, kept them from extended slumps.

"There's an awful lot of experience here," said pitching coach Dick Such, who had a 7.56 ERA for the Washington Senators in 1970. "I think that's a big factor that's been overlooked. We have an assortment of guys from other organizations, but experience is a big key."

Blyleven, of course, has been around for 17 1/2 years. He has a 15-11 record this season while averaging more than seven innings per start. Viola was undefeated in July even though his teammates only provided a handful of runs, and was named AL pitcher of the month. His 17-9 record and 2.89 ERA should garner votes for the Cy Young Award. Jeff Reardon rallied from a horrible start (a double-digit ERA one month into the season) to save 31 games, and has been especially effective in the past few weeks.

Acquired from Montreal in February, Reardon (8-8, 4.59) has been the biggest difference. The Twins' bullpen had 24 saves in 1986, the fewest in the league, and before the trade, Manager Tom Kelly bravely talked of a bullpen that would feature George Frazier and Mark Portugal as his closers.

"Jeff Reardon is just awesome," said third baseman Gary Gaetti. "It seems like when he gets his adrenaline flowing, you can just forget about hitting the ball. I've never seen anybody like him."

"I think once {the starters} realized they didn't have to go nine innings because of Reardon, that allowed them to give their all, or give as much as they can {for} as long as they can," said Rangers Manager Bobby Valentine. "A reliever like Reardon takes a lot of the burden off everybody's shoulders."

As expected, the offense has been impressive. Going into Friday's game against Kansas City, the Twins have three players with at least 30 home runs -- Kent Hrbek (34), Tom Brunansky (31) and Gaetti (31) -- and will become only the second team ever to have four if Kirby Puckett hits two more. (The 1977 Dodgers hold that record.) Gaetti has 109 RBI and Puckett 99, both career highs.