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Mulder Is Big Bore as A's Square Series

Baseball: Oakland left-hander baffles the Twins in 9-1 victory before crowd of 31,953. Chavez, Justice have the big hits.


OAKLAND — Tim Hudson is the ace of Oakland's rotation, the right-hander with the shaved head, elongated soul patch and nasty split-fingered fastball, and Barry Zito is the team's leading Cy Young Award candidate, the quirky left-hander who travels with pink satin pillow cases and has a passion for Taoism and other Eastern religions.

And then there is Mark Mulder, the 25-year-old Athletic left-hander whom Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz refers to as "the same-old, boring, shut-you-out-for-seven-innings Mark Mulder."

The Zen-master General he isn't, but what Mulder seems to lack in odd personality traits or menacing looks, he more than makes up for in stuff, a point he drove home again Wednesday in Oakland's 9-1 rout of the Twins in Game 2 of an American League division series.

A sparse Network Associates Coliseum crowd of 31,953 saw Mulder limit Minnesota to one run and five hits and strike out three in six innings, as the A's evened the best-of-five series at one game apiece. Game 3 is Friday in Minneapolis.

Third baseman Eric Chavez and left fielder David Justice provided the big blows, Chavez hitting a three-run home run in the first inning and Justice a three-run triple to highlight a five-run fourth, as Oakland ended a five-game home playoff losing streak dating to Game 2 of the 2000 AL division series.

Mixing a 95-mph fastball, sinker, cut-fastball and slow curve, Mulder allowed one runner to reach second base in the first five innings before giving up Corey Koskie's leadoff homer in the sixth. That cut the lead to 9-1.

What made his performance even more impressive is that players from both teams agreed Mulder didn't have his best stuff. Mulder, who limited Twin left-handers to one hit in 11 at-bats, said he was overthrowing a bit and left too many balls up in the strike zone.

"What makes him so good is he makes adjustments to you," Mientkiewicz said. "If you're looking inside, he goes away; if you're looking away, he goes in.... You don't see too many guys throwing 95 with that much movement."

Another Mulder strength: He seems unflappable, which is why Oakland Manager Art Howe set up his playoff rotation so that Mulder, as he did against the Yankees in last year's division series, will start Game 5 if necessary.

"I don't think anybody would get rattled with his stuff," Mientkiewicz said. "The most emotion I've seen from him is when he gave up three home runs to us [Sept. 1]. He smacked his glove and we thought, 'This guy is coming unglued.' He's a confident young man. In a perfect world, I'd like to see him next year, not in Game 5."

As they did in Game 1 Tuesday, the A's scored three runs in the first inning Wednesday, as Ray Durham walked, Scott Hatteberg doubled to right and Chavez smoked a home run to right, sending a 1-and-1 Joe Mays fastball far over the wall.

Chavez dropped his bat in the box and admired his work for a moment before breaking into his trot, but no one in the Oakland dugout considered it a victory lap.

The Twins overcame deficits of 3-0 in the first inning and 5-1 in the second in Tuesday's 7-5 win, and it looked as if they could hang around long enough to mount another comeback Wednesday when Mays escaped a first-and-third, no-out jam in the second and a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the third.

But the A's pounded Mays and reliever Tony Fiore for five two-out runs in the fourth and added another run in the fifth, putting the Twins in a 9-0 hole.

Durham was hit by a pitch with one out and Miguel Tejada, who struck out with runners on in the sixth and eighth innings Tuesday, lined an RBI double to left-center with two out. Chavez was intentionally walked, and Minnesota Manager Ron Gardenhire put in Fiore.

Jermaine Dye walked, and up stepped Justice, who has played in more postseason games (109) than any player in major league history and has hinted that this season may be his last.

Justice grounded career postseason hit No. 88 into the right-field corner for a bases-clearing triple. Mark Ellis capped the rally with an RBI infield single for an 8-0 lead, and Durham's double and Hatteberg's RBI single extended the lead to 9-0 in the fifth.

"At that point," Mientkiewicz said, "it was, 'Hurry up so they don't score 40 runs against us.' There wasn't much to worry about after the fifth inning."

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