'Dome will bear no resemblance to home for A's

Quirks of indoor facility shorten odds for Twins

Baseball

October 04, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - The questions have come at the Oakland Athletics all week, like inquiries from concerned citizens. Are they sure they are prepared for what they will encounter today inside the Metrodome?

Game 3 of their Division Series with the Minnesota Twins brings them to a place where an enclosed stadium, artificial turf and sellout crowds waving white Homer Hankies can combine to create the perfect storm.

Playing in the quirky Metrodome is hard enough for a visiting team during the regular season, with its off-white roof camouflaging the baseball every time someone hits it in the air.

But now it's the postseason. The big curtain in the upper deck has been lifted, exposing thousands of extra seats, and sellout crowds of 55,000-plus are expected for the next two games.

Every Twins fan above the age of 20 can remember what a distinct home-field advantage this team enjoyed during its 1987 and 1991 playoff runs. Those World Series title teams combined to go 11-1 at home and 5-7 on the road in the playoffs, and this is the first time the Twins have been back.

So with this series tied at one game apiece, old Twins can't wait to see what the home fans have in store for the A's.

"When we get home, you'll see, it's going to be totally different," Hall of Fame center fielder Kirby Puckett said this week at Network Associates Coliseum, where the crowds for the first two games averaged 33,403.

"It's going to be loud," Puckett promised. "It's going to be incredible, people waving these hankies. You can't hear. This conversation wouldn't happen. We scared some people in there. They didn't like playing in the dome."

Opposing teams didn't like it very much this season, either. Minnesota won two of every three games at home and went .500 on the road. Perhaps most telling was the Twins' record in the first game of a series at the Metrodome: 23-3.

Historically, visiting teams have a hard time coming in and making the adjustments. The Orioles, for example, won five of six games against Minnesota this season, with the only loss coming in Game 1 of their three-game series at the Metrodome. On June 4, Cleveland opened a series here and lost, 23-2.

On Sept. 6, Oakland came in riding a 20-game winning streak and lost, 6-0. The A's, however, did rebound to win the final two games of that series.

"Each team that comes in here is a little different," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "When we are on that Astroturf, we are fast, and we have to use it to our advantage. Oakland does a good job of pitching, so we know it's going to be tough no matter where we're at."

A's manager Art Howe fielded questions about the Metrodome before and after his team's 9-1 victory in Game 2. He wasn't overly concerned.

"We were there just this past month, so I think we'll remember what it's like," Howe said. "But you know, the crowd noise will definitely have some effect, and we have to be aware that communication is going to be a problem there."

Oakland left fielder David Justice, who played for the Atlanta Braves team that lost to the Twins in the 1991 World Series, said outfielders must rely on hand signals to avoid colliding in pursuit of fly balls.

Other than that, the A's pretty much dismissed the thought of being affected by the noise. Howe picked 23-game winner Barry Zito as today's starter, and Zito is known for putting himself in a Zen-like trance before taking the mound.

"It's probably pretty loud," Zito said, "but Yankee Stadium was pretty loud, too. Blocking out the crowd is blocking out the crowd. If it's 10, 15 decibels more than Seattle or Yankee Stadium, I don't think it makes a difference. You are either susceptible to it, or you are not."

After getting crushed in Game 2, the Twins couldn't wait to get home. But they felt very good leaving Oakland with a split, considering they didn't pitch or field well in either game.

Twins pitcher Joe Mays made it sound like they left home without their security blanket. "I wish we could pack the dome up and take it with us wherever we go," he said.

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