Twins drop A's

Posted: Monday, October 07, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Not only are the Minnesota Twins here to stay, now they're going home -- to open a most unlikely AL championship series.

Brad Radke pitched 6 2-3 dominant innings to beat Oakland again, and the Twins survived a late rally to top the Athletics 5-4 Sunday in the decisive Game 5 of their division series.

The Twins made their first playoff appearance in 11 years despite a tiny payroll and baseball's offseason plan to eliminate them. But facing consecutive elimination games, the Contraction Kids won 11-2 at the Metrodome on Saturday, then crossed half the continent to win the tense clincher about 30 hours later.

''People keep underestimating us, but we've had our backs against the wall all year long,'' said All-Star catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who hit a two-run homer in the ninth. ''We're the Twins. That's the way we like to live, and we're not done yet.''

But it didn't happen without drama. After A's closer Billy Koch gave up three runs in the ninth, Mark Ellis hit a three-run homer against Minnesota closer Eddie Guardado to pull Oakland back within a run.

Randy Velarde singled with two outs, but Ray Durham -- who homered earlier and had three hits in the game -- fouled out to second baseman Denny Hocking.

The Twins formed a joyous pile on the field, while many of the A's sat motionless in the dugout. Later, the Twins doused each other with champagne and beer -- as well as the ice from the champagne trays -- while leaving a layer of ice and water on the clubhouse carpet.

The Twins, who ran away with the AL Central, will face Anaheim in the ALCS beginning Tuesday night in Minnesota. The wild-card Angels shocked the four-time defending AL champion New York Yankees in the division series.

During spring training, there probably wasn't a soul who would have predicted a meeting between the underfunded Twins and the overlooked Angels.

''I don't think we're surprised to be here, and I don't think Anaheim is surprised, either,'' All-Star outfielder Torii Hunter said. ''Everybody else in the world? They're surprised as hell.''

Matthew LeCroy drove home one run and scored another as the Twins got two early runs to support Radke, who got two of Minnesota's three wins in the series. The Twins simply outpitched the A's, who won 103 games and the AL West with their peerless starting rotation.

Pierzynski homered off A's closer Billy Koch in the ninth to finally give Minnesota some breathing room, and the Twins leaped out of their dugout to celebrate. Several hitters later, David Ortiz added an RBI double to make it 5-1 -- and provide what turned out to be the winning run.

With consecutive victories against star Oakland pitchers Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, the Twins stuck around while big spenders like the Yankees and Arizona went home early this October.

Hocking also had a run-scoring single as Radke, who also won the series opener at the Coliseum on Tuesday, mesmerized the A's and outpitched 19-game winner Mulder.

LaTroy Hawkins dramatically struck out Miguel Tejada to end the eighth with a runner on, preserving a one-run lead. Guardado struggled mightily in the ninth in a non-save situation, but he survived.

Minnesota hadn't been to the postseason since 1991, but the Twins have won all five playoff series they've been in since 1970. Oakland has lost its last five series since 1990 -- the last three in a decisive fifth game.

''What we've got to do is find out how to get it done in three or four games instead of going to a fifth game,'' said manager Art Howe, who might not be back to figure it out with the A's.

Oakland hoped the series would turn on its outstanding starting pitching. Instead, Mulder and Barry Zito were good but not great, while Hudson was terrible in two starts.

Radke, on the other hand, was phenomenal in his first postseason starts after eight seasons with Minnesota. He struck out four and didn't walk a batter Sunday.

Durham had a solo homer in the third, but he was the only A's player to get to second base against Radke, who left with a runner on in the seventh. J.C. Romero then got an easy grounder from Terrence Long, who went 3-for-18 in the series.

But Long wasn't the only lousy Oakland batter. Tejada, the A's MVP candidate, went 0-for-4 -- striking out against the hard-throwing Hawkins with two outs and a runner on base in the eighth -- to finish 3-for-21 (.143) for the series. He also made several defensive blunders at shortstop, particularly in Oakland's Game 4 loss.

With the Yankees out of their way, the A's thought this would be the season when its young roster finally showed it was capable of great things. Instead, they showed they're still not capable of handling postseason pressure; their lineup managed just six runs in the final two games of the series after getting 20 in the first three games.

Mulder, pitching on three days' rest, struck out nine in seven innings, but he also allowed nine hits and got into trouble in each of the first four innings.

''I was making a lot of my pitches, but they hit the few mistakes I made,'' Mulder said. ''I just don't think we played that bad in this series. If Ray hits a two-run homer (in the ninth), we're not even talking about it. When you lose, I guess you have to find reasons.''

Hocking singled home in the second. The Twins added another run in the third when Cristian Guzman doubled and scored on LeCroy's single.

The crowd of 32,146 was smaller than either of the gatherings at the series' previous mid-week games, but it also was louder and more enthusiastic.

Notes: Guzman got two doubles -- but he was easily thrown out at third base when he tried to stretch for a triple in the first inning. ... A's catcher Ramon Hernandez went 0-for-2. He's 1-for-27 in the past two postseasons.

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