Fast Start for A’s Drives It Home
The Oakland Athletics went under and then over the Minnesota Twins on Friday, lining one home run under the glove of center fielder Torii Hunter and knocking three others into the Metrodome seats, and now they’re in a position to roll right through the Twins and into the next round of the playoffs.
Ray Durham opened the game with a fluke inside-the-park homer, and Scott Hatteberg, Terrence Long and Jermaine Dye had traditional homers to lead the A’s to a 6-3 victory over the Twins in Game 3 of the American League division series.
A Metrodome-record crowd of 55,932, which at times seemed to create as much noise as a 747 taking off, saw Oakland left-hander Barry Zito give up three runs and five hits in six innings to earn the victory, giving the A’s a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-five series. Oakland, a division series loser to the Yankees in 2000 and 2001, can close out the Twins with a victory in Game 4 today.
“We slipped in Game 1,” Durham said of a 7-5 loss, in which the A’s blew leads of 3-0 and 5-1. “Now, we have to finish them off. We want to go back to Oakland, but we want to go back to rest, not to play Minnesota [in Game 5].”
The pesky Twins rarely allow opponents to breathe easily. They fell behind, 3-0, Friday but pecked away at Zito, scoring on A.J. Pierzynski’s bloop RBI single in the fourth and tying the score in the fifth on Corey Koskie’s RBI triple and Hunter’s two-out RBI single.
But Dye led off the sixth with a laser into the left-field seats off starter Rick Reed to make it 4-3, and the A’s scored two insurance runs in the seventh on Randy Velarde’s RBI double and Miguel Tejada’s sacrifice fly.
“That home run was crushing,” Hunter said of Dye’s shot. “We had just tied the game.... That just crushed us.”
Hunter’s first-inning gaffe didn’t help. Both teams were concerned that the concrete-like surface and decibel levels inside the Metrodome would affect the game, and those fears were justified.
Durham lined Reed’s third pitch of the game up the middle for an apparent single, but Hunter, after hesitating at first, raced in to attempt a shoe-string catch. One problem: The ball never hit his glove, skipping past him and to the wall, 408 feet away, giving Durham time to circle the bases for an inside-the-park home run.
“It was a sinking line drive, and I’m an aggressive player,” said Hunter, who won a Gold Glove award last season. “I made the decision to go for the ball at the last second, and it went under my glove. That could have changed the momentum of the game, but I’m always going to go after those balls.”
Hatteberg then drove a home run to right, the first time in post-season history consecutive homers were hit to start a game.
In the bottom of the first, Jacque Jones lifted a popup to the right side. Hatteberg, the A’s first baseman, drifted toward the dugout and lost the ball, which bounced about three feet in front of the first-base bag and into foul territory.
“The longer you stare up there, the worse it is,” Hatteberg said. “I couldn’t find it. The sheets [that make up the roof] are the exact color of a dirty baseball. I don’t know why they did that. [My teammates] are going to make fun of me for weeks, and I’m sure I’ll be on the blooper reel, but you can’t catch what you can’t see.”
In the bottom of the second, Hunter lifted a popup behind first. Hatteberg went back and had an easy play until A’s second baseman Mark Ellis, unable to communicate because of the noise, crashed into Hatteberg, the ball bouncing off the two for an error.
Zito’s next pitch slipped out of his hand and flew about 15 feet straight up, allowing Hunter to reach second. Walks to Doug Mientkiewicz and Pierzynski loaded the bases with two out, but Zito recovered to strike out Luis Rivas to end the inning.
The A’s calmed down, and their pitching, defense and power prevailed. Reliever Ricardo Rincon threw two scoreless innings behind Zito, and closer Billy Koch had a scoreless ninth for the save, finally silencing the raucous crowd.