Twins advance

again, series slips through A's fingers

Result is doubly sweet for contraction survivors, triply painful for Oakland

Division Series

October 07, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Denny Hocking walked across the champagne-soaked carpeting inside the Minnesota Twins' clubhouse yesterday and lifted his middle finger.

No, this wasn't another message for Bud Selig. Hocking didn't miss many opportunities to criticize Selig during the months when Major League Baseball was threatening to contract the Twins, but Hocking is pretty much over that now.

He had better things on his mind after playing a big role as Minnesota finished off the Oakland Athletics with a 5-4 victory in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.

Everything was downright peachy until one of Hocking's teammates jumped onto the Twins' pile at Network Associates Coliseum and landed on his right middle finger.

"Obviously," Hocking said, "we haven't figured out this celebration thing."

Hocking was only half-kidding. While his teammates doused each other in champagne and beer for several minutes after the game, he was in the trainer's room getting treatment for the finger. He emerged with a big white bandage, and the cut marks were still visible.

"It's not broken, but I'll probably need stitches," Hocking said. "I'll talk to the doctor when we get home, but the trainer said I might be out for the year."

The Twins might have to replace Hocking on their roster for the American League Championship Series against the Anaheim Angels, which opens tomorrow in Minnesota.

As painful as that will be, considering all Hocking represents, it's the kind of price Oakland would have been happy to pay. This marked the third consecutive year the A's have fallen in Game 5 of the Division Series.

In those three years, Oakland has gone 0-6 in chances to clinch the series, which included its Game 5 loss to the New York Yankees in 2000, its three consecutive losses to the Yankees after taking a 2-0 lead last year, and two more heartbreaking defeats this year by the underdog Twins.

"This is harder than the last two years," Oakland pitcher Mark Mulder said. "We really expected a lot more of ourselves."

"Don't remind me," A's manager Art Howe said. "I am not looking forward to the offseason thinking about it, but it's better being there having a chance to win than being home when the season is over. We'll find a way to get it done."

For now, Oakland is left to think how another series got away, even with Tim Hudson pitching Game 4 and Mulder pitching Game 5.

Howe left himself open for plenty of second-guessing when he went with a three-man starting rotation, which forced him to use Hudson and Mulder on three days' rest.

The task got the best of Hudson in Oakland's 11-2 loss at Minnesota in Game 4, but Mulder turned in a pretty solid effort yesterday. The Twins managed nine hits against him in seven innings, but they also stranded seven runners on base and spent most of the game clinging to a 2-1 lead.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire gave Hocking his first start of the series, putting him at second base in place of Luis Rivas, who was nursing a sore hamstring.

Hocking had good career numbers against Mulder (7-for-19 coming into the game), and, batting ninth in the order, he delivered a two-out, run-scoring single in the second inning.

Brad Radke held Oakland to one run in 6 2/3 innings, and Minnesota finally caught some breathing room when A.J. Pierzynski hit a two-run homer off Billy Koch in the ninth. David Ortiz added a run-scoring double, giving the Twins a 5-1 cushion, and they needed every bit of it.

Closer Eddie Guardado gave up a three-run homer to Mark Ellis in the ninth inning, and the A's put the tying run on first base before Ray Durham finally hit a pop fly into right-field foul territory.

Gardenhire said it felt like the ball hung in the air forever, but there was Hocking, making a running catch, pumping his fist toward the Twins' bullpen, and then turning back to the infield for what seemed like a harmless little celebration.

Hocking called the whole thing "bittersweet." But the questions kept coming about how much this victory must mean to a franchise once targeted for contraction. Inevitably, someone brought up Selig's name, and Hocking finally smiled.

"Having him home watching SportsCenter," Hocking said, "seeing us spraying our champagne is satisfying enough."

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