Twins enjoy last laugh on A's, rallying to take opener, 7-5

Oakland's early 4-run lead built on Minnesota errors

Division Series

October 02, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - If the Minnesota Twins know one thing, it's how to laugh at themselves, and they needed that yesterday.

They needed it when some players took the wrong train from their San Francisco hotel and found themselves 15 miles north of the ballpark a few hours before Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics.

They needed it when they made three errors in the first two innings and turned two infield pop-ups into circus plays, as Oakland grabbed a four-run lead.

They needed it right up until the moment they completed a 7-5 victory before a stunned crowd of 34,853 at half-empty Network Associates Coliseum.

"Honestly," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said, "it was kind of comical."

Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said starting pitcher Brad Radke and general manager Terry Ryan were among the members of the traveling party who hopped on the wrong train in the morning. And things only got worse from there.

The low point came in the second inning, when Oakland's Scott Hatteberg hit a ball straight into the sky, and four Twins let it drop on the grass between home plate and the pitcher's mound.

Radke, Mientkiewicz, third baseman Corey Koskie and catcher A.J. Pierzynski just stood there stunned for a moment as Ray Durham scored from second with Oakland's fourth run.

ABC Family equipped Mientkiewicz with one of those live microphones for the game, and after that play, he figured the network had better do a little editing.

"I said a lot of things I wouldn't say to my worst enemy," Mientkiewicz said.

Koskie made an error on the next play, fielding a grounder from Miguel Tejada and throwing the ball in the dirt. Mientkiewicz, a Gold Glove performer, normally makes that play, but this time the ball got behind him.

"If I could have dug a hole in the ground," Mientkiewicz said, "I would have."

Eric Chavez added to the insult, making it 5-1 with a run-scoring single. The comedy routine continued as Jermaine Dye hit another pop-up to the same spot as Hatteberg's.

This time Koskie collided with Radke as Mientkiewicz made the catch.

At that point, the Twins didn't look like the best-fielding team in baseball. They looked like the Bad News Bears.

Radke and center fielder Torii Hunter fired their gloves into the dugout in disgust. Gardenhire, who replaced humorless Tom Kelly last winter, wore a frown for a while and then he just smiled.

"He kept popping off, kept trying to make us laugh," Radke said. "That was big for us, just to keep it loose."

It must have worked. The game's biggest goats started turning into heroes.

Koskie hit a two-run homer off Oakland starter Tim Hudson in the third inning, a moment Gardenhire would call the turning point.

"There was some unease in the dugout," Gardenhire said. "There was some guys walking around screaming, `Let's go!' and I was trying to calm them down. Koskie hit the home run, and everything fell into place."

Mientkiewicz led off the sixth inning with a home run, trimming the lead to 5-4, and one batter later Oakland manager Art Howe pulled Hudson from the game.

At that point, Hudson had thrown just 77 pitches.

"I just thought he wasn't as sharp as he could be," Howe said. "A couple of home runs, that's not healthy, and I wanted to get him a win, and we had our left-handers ready."

Ted Lilly entered in relief, and the next four Twins batters reached base. Jaque Jones tied it with a run-scoring double, and Minnesota took the lead when Luis Rivas scored on a Koskie groundout.

Oakland put the tying runs on base in the ninth against Twins closer Eddie Guardado, but Adam Piatt flied to left field, ending the game.

Not bad for a day that started on the wrong track. Mientkiewicz explained why the team was never fazed.

"We've had guys go to the [Houston] Astrodome, where they don't even play any more," he said. "We've had guys go to Shea [Stadium in New York] when we're supposed to be at Yankee Stadium. You just realize, we're not the brightest group."

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