Fired-up Twins push A's to limit in 11-2 rout

Win sends fans home happy, series to Game 5

Baseball

October 06, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz had the sickening thought yesterday that he might have to watch all those white-shoed Oakland players dance and celebrate on his home turf before a hushed Metrodome crowd.

"These fans have been through hell and back with us," Mientkiewicz said. "The only celebration they deserve to see is ours, not someone else's."

It never happened. The team that can't be killed lived to see another sunrise, and the team that can't seem to finish the job left some more unfinished business. Minnesota and Oakland. They should have known this would take five games.

Mientkiewicz made a huge defensive play and had two hits -- in the fourth inning alone -- as the Twins pounded the Athletics, 11-2, to even this best-of-five American League Division Series at two games apiece.

Having already survived contraction, the Twins survived playoff elimination and made it look easy.

Game 5 will be today in Oakland, and the A's are seeing some ghosts after losing Game 5 of the Division Series to the Yankees the previous two seasons.

"We can't think about what's happened the last two years," Oakland shortstop Miguel Tejada said.

This is a team looking for its first playoff celebration since the 1990 AL Championship Series, and it had champagne on ice yesterday when Tejada hit a two-run homer in the third inning.

Pitching on three days' rest, Oakland starter Tim Hudson looked strong to that point, with his split-fingered fastball diving out of the strike zone and his sinker inducing ground balls.

But the Twins methodically broke his rhythm. A.J. Pierzynski led off the third inning with a single, and then Luis Rivas gave Minnesota one of its biggest at-bats of the day. He struck out, but it took 10 pitches, and after that Hudson wasn't the same.

Jacque Jones drilled the next pitch into right field for a double and, three batters later, David Ortiz hit another double, tying the score at 2.

Still, the success felt fleeting, especially with Jermaine Dye stepping to the plate to start the fourth inning. In Game 3, the Twins had erased a three-run deficit to tie the score before Dye put Oakland right back in front with a leadoff homer.

This time, Dye doubled off Twins starter Eric Milton. But the next two batters flied out to center field, and then Mientkiewicz showed why he won a Gold Glove last season.

Terrence Long hit a sharp grounder, destined for the hole between first and second base, but Mientkiewicz made a diving stop before making the throw from one knee to Milton, who beat Long to first base.

The play saved a run, kept the game tied and, if the Twins advance, they might look at it as the play that saved the series.

On his way into the dugout, Mientkiewicz screamed at his teammates. At that point, the Twins hadn't held the lead since Game 1. "Let's go," Mientkiewicz said. "We got the momentum; let's keep it. It seems like every time we've had it this series, we've lost it."

Mientkiewicz led off the fourth inning with a single, and then Pierzynski worked Hudson for an eight-pitch walk. The Homer Hankies were out in force when Rivas hit a grounder to Tejada's right.

With Mientkiewicz streaking for third base, Tejada tried to get the force at third -- the right decision -- but he launched the throw over the head of third baseman Eric Chavez and into the Twins' dugout.

The A's fell behind, and then they melted down. Hudson had a wild pitch, first baseman Scott Hatteberg had a throwing error and Ted Lilly added a wild pitch. By the time the inning ended, Mientkiewicz had two singles and the Twins had seven runs.

Mientkiewicz added a two-run homer in the seventh inning and pointed to his wife, Jodi, after rounding the bases.

"She's losing her mind," said Mientkiewicz, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2000 Olympics. "She gets so stressed out, she gets fever blisters. She had one in the Olympics, and she has one now. She can't take much more of this."

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