Chavez, Athletics get back on track, 9-1

Three-run homer in first helps Mulder beat Twins

series heads to Minn. tied

October 03, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Mark Mulder has a picture above his locker of Oakland Athletics teammate Eric Chavez in mid-stride - bat in hand, right leg cocked in the air, and a tiny caption written in marker that reads, "I am good."

If Mulder needed any reassurance yesterday before he took the mound for Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, he didn't have to wait long.

Chavez crushed a three-run homer in the first inning, flipping his bat in front of the plate with dramatic flare, and the A's never looked back, cruising to a 9-1 victory before another half-empty crowd of 31,953 at Network Associates Coliseum.

The win evened the best-of-five series at one game apiece, with Game 3 scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.

"We had all the confidence in the world going into today," Chavez said from the clubhouse, with his arms crossed and his head tilted back.

At 24, Chavez is already somewhat of a playoff veteran, with two Division Series losses under his belt. Both of those series were five-game heartbreakers against the New York Yankees, and last year, Chavez didn't help matters much, hitting just .143.

He had never hit a postseason home run before, in fact, so when it finally came he did it in style. Twins starter Joe Mays left a 1-1 slider over the plate, and Chavez sent it screaming just short of the second deck of right-field seats.

Chavez admired his work for a split second, then jogged around the bases. Mulder felt better immediately.

"That home run," Mulder said, "really let me relax. When Chavy needs to, he can step it up a notch, and he has done that so far in these first two games."

Chavez had two run-scoring singles Tuesday, helping Oakland build a four-run lead and then watching it evaporate into a 7-5 loss to the scrappy Minnesota bunch.

With two more hits yesterday, including a line-drive single to the opposite field in the third inning against Mays, Chavez looks as if he's trying to carry the A's this time. Most Valuable Player candidate Miguel Tejada is batting a mere .222.

"I feel a lot more in control of myself," Chavez said. "I'm just feeling more comfortable. I was overanxious last year and took myself out of some at-bats."

Chavez even managed a little dig at Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who decided not to have Mays intentionally walk Chavez with one out and runners at second and third.

"I was a little surprised," Chavez said. "But I was glad [Mays] decided to pitch to me."

Gardenhire said, "You don't want to throw Chavez anything, maybe a ground ball, give him a run, whatever. [Mays] has got a great sinker, and then he sends a slider up there, and the guy whacks it out of the ballpark."

The Twins entered this series as heavy underdogs, partly because of their inability to hit left-handed pitching this season. Against right-handed starters, they were 71-38, and against lefties they were 23-29. This didn't bode well for them, with Mulder and fellow left-hander Barry Zito joining right-hander Tim Hudson in Oakland's three-man rotation.

Mulder breezed through his six innings, holding the Twins to one run on five hits. With the eight-run lead, Oakland manager Art Howe was able to pull Mulder after just 90 pitches, which could help if Mulder needs to pitch Game 5 on three days' rest.

The A's look like a team that doesn't think it'll need all five games to win this series. Not with young stars like Chavez and Tejada, and an older guy named David Justice playing like it's his favorite time of year.

Justice, playing in his major-league record 109th postseason game, hit a bases-clearing triple in the fourth inning against Twins reliever Mike Fiore, stretching Oakland's lead to 7-0.

That was the knockout punch. Justice made the first of his six World Series appearances against the Twins as a member of the Atlanta Braves in 1991, and Minnesota won that series, so Justice wouldn't mind getting a little revenge.

As only he could, Justice also said he might retire if he wins a third world championship this month.

"If we win the World Series," Justice said, "I'm taking it to the house."

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