Twins force deciding game with Oakland

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Oakland Athletics are finding out, the Minnesota Twins are a tough team to eliminate.

The team that baseball couldn't get rid of flustered Tim Hudson with a seven-run fourth inning, Eric Milton shut down the A's and the Twins forced a decisive fifth game in the AL division series with an 11-2 victory Saturday.

Given new life when the owners' contraction plan was blocked in court just before spring training, Minnesota is one win away from the AL championship series.

''With this group, it seems like our backs have been against the wall since we were born,'' said first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, who went 3-for-4 with a two-run homer.

Game 5 is Sunday afternoon in Oakland, with Game 2 winner Mark Mulder pitching for the A's against Brad Radke.

''That's what we needed,'' center fielder Torii Hunter said. ''I think we do have a little momentum going. We've got another crack at Mulder -- now we'll see what we can do with him.''

MVP candidate Miguel Tejada gave Oakland an early lead with a two-run homer, but his throwing error started the fateful fourth and led to another early exit by Hudson.

''It just started snowballing,'' Hudson said. ''They did a great job of taking advantage of our miscues. That's what they're good at.''

Oakland was forced to a fifth game in the opening round for the third straight year. The A's, eliminated by the New York Yankees the past two seasons, lost for the fifth straight time when they were one win away from the ALCS.

''We can't worry about that,'' Minnesota left fielder Jacque Jones said. ''They're a great team -- they're still dangerous.''

Hudson frequently went deep in the count and wound up throwing 90 pitches in 3 1-3 innings -- his shortest outing since lasting three innings on Sept. 19, 2001, against Texas.

The starter in both of Oakland's losses this series, Hudson allowed seven runs (two earned), five hits and two walks and has given up 11 runs in 8 2-3 innings of the series. He got a no-decision in Game 1.

Milton (1-0) gave up six hits, two runs and a walk while striking out three.

''We weren't able to do anything against him,'' A's first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. ''He shut us down.''

Mientkiewicz started the fourth-inning rally with a single and A.J. Pierzynski worked a one-out walk.

Then the A's -- who talked about keeping their composure and not letting the noise bother them after 6-3 win in Game 3 -- came completely unraveled as the Metrodome playoff record crowd of 55,960 roared.

''Pandemonium,'' was how Jones described it.

When the damage was done, this was the ugly result: two wild pitches, a hit batsman, two errors, four hits and seven unearned runs.

''When the guys are hitting, scoring runs like that, you get some adrenaline going yourself,'' Milton said. ''Anytime you score seven runs in an inning, it's a definite plus.''

Tejada threw Luis Rivas' grounder over Eric Chavez's head at third, allowing Mientkiewicz to score and giving the Twins a 3-2 advantage, their first lead since Game 1.

Pierzynski slid home on a wild pitch by Hudson, and Jones was plunked on his foot.

Hatteberg fielded Cristian Guzman's grounder and threw errantly to catcher Ramon Hernandez. Rivas stopped short of the plate, let the ball trickle by him and scored to make it 5-2.

Game 1 loser Ted Lilly relieved, and Corey Koskie got his fifth RBI of the series with a single that scored Jones. Another wild pitch, an RBI double by Hunter and a run-scoring single by Mientkiewicz, his second hit of the inning, gave the Twins a 9-2 lead.

''We knocked it around and ran around the bases like we've been doing the whole season,'' Jones said. ''Maybe they rushed a little bit, but that's our game. We use our speed.''

Shortly after that, the Twins' clubhouse crew started loading their equipment for a trip to California.

''We just didn't help Huddy out,'' Hatteberg said.

Hudson had already started to falter in the third after Tejada's homer gave him a 2-0 lead.

''But after we tied it up in the next inning, the homer was all forgotten about,'' Milton said.

Guzman drove in a run with a groundout, and David Ortiz -- 0-for-8 in the first three games -- doubled to tie it.

Milton was rolling this summer, picking up his 13th victory with a three-hit shutout against the White Sox on Aug. 1, but five days later he tore the meniscus in his left knee while warming up in the bullpen in Baltimore.

Returning to the rotation Sept. 2, Milton struggled to regain his rhythm until two strong starts in the final week of the regular season.

Effectively running his fastball inside against the five righties in Oakland's lineup, Milton consistently hit 93-94 mph on the stadium radar and cruised once he got the lead.

''Milty did what we needed to have done,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ''It was a great performance.''

Notes: Jack Morris, a Minnesota native who threw 10 shutout innings in the Twins' 1-0 Game 7 victory over Atlanta in the 1991 World Series, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Twins third base coach Al Newman -- an infielder on the '91 team. ... Mientkiewicz became just the second player to get two hits in an inning during a division series. Chuck Knoblauch did it for the New York Yankees in 2000 against Oakland. ... The Twins' seven-run fourth was the most by any team in a division series. ... Milton was the first Twin to survive the first inning without a run this series.

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