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Unearned Run Isn't Average

American League: Bizarre seven-run rally in fourth inning propels Twins to 11-2 win over A's, forcing a Game 5.

October 06, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — Had the baseball gods conspired to concoct their most bizarre inning, one in which everything imaginable could go right for one team and wrong for another, it might have looked something like the Minnesota Twins' fourth Saturday.

The Oakland Athletics committed two errors, one on what looked to be an easy toss by usually sure-handed shortstop Miguel Tejada; threw two wild pitches, both allowing runners to score; hit a batter; gave up four hits, and could blame none of it on the quirky, often game-altering Metrodome.

By the time the Twins had sent 11 men to the plate, they had scored seven unearned runs and were well on their way to an 11-2 blowout of the A's in Game 4 of the American League division series, evening the best-of-five match at two games apiece.

The teams will meet for a decisive Game 5 today in Oakland, where A's left-hander Mark Mulder will oppose Twin right-hander Brad Radke. The winner advances to the AL championship series against the Angels; the loser goes home for the winter.

The heavily favored A's will need to shake off one of their worst games of the year, an effort third baseman Eric Chavez described as "comical" and "ugly." The Twins, playing with a chip on their shoulder because Commissioner Bud Selig tried to eliminate them last winter, seem loose, confident, as if they have nothing to lose.

"Everyone counts us out," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "We get tired of people telling us we have no chance. We have a chance. We're underdogs, and we like it. No team wants to get eliminated. Our whole team almost got eliminated last winter, so we're used to it."

Both teams will face demons. The A's have lost Game 5 of the division series for the last two years, both to the New York Yankees, while the Twins have gone 23-31 in games against left-handed starters this season, including a Game 2 loss to Mulder.

"The media makes a big deal of how we do against left-handers, but we've lost to some pretty good lefties," Minnesota left fielder Jacque Jones said. "We just need to be patient, make him throw the ball where we can hit it. We can't be overanxious. We've been overanxious this whole series, this whole season."

Saturday, the Twins got a solid start from their left-hander, Eric Milton, who gave up two runs and six hits, including Tejada's two-run homer in the third, and struck out three in seven innings.

Minnesota countered with two runs in the bottom of the third on RBI at-bats by Cristian Guzman (groundout) and David Ortiz (double), and then the A's collapsed in the fourth.

Doug Mientkiewicz, who had three hits, including a two-run homer in the seventh, and made a superb diving stop of Terrence Long's grounder to end the top of the fourth, opened the bottom of the inning with a single to center. Michael Cuddyer struck out, and A.J. Pierzynski walked.

Luis Rivas hit a grounder to the shortstop hole, and Tejada, fielding the ball as he moved to his right, needed a mere 25-foot flip to third to force Mientkiewicz. But the ball slipped out of his hand and his throw sailed about five feet over Chavez's head and bounced into a camera well, allowing a run to score.

"Miguel usually makes that play with his eyes shut," said Oakland pitcher Tim Hudson, who started on three days' rest and didn't make it out of the fourth. "That started a chain reaction, and things started snowballing from there."

It was more like an avalanche. Hudson bounced a splitter past catcher Ramon Hernandez for a wild pitch, Pierzynski scoring to make it 4-2, and Jones was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and third.

Guzman slapped a grounder to first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who had such an easy play at the plate that Rivas, running on contact, stopped about 15 feet from home, hoping to get caught in a rundown.

But Hatteberg hesitated before firing a one-hop throw in the dirt that Hernandez couldn't handle. Rivas tiptoed around the catcher to score, and the Twins were ahead, 5-2. Manager Art Howe pulled Hudson in favor of Game 1 goat Ted Lilly, who gave up an RBI single to Corey Koskie that made it 6-2.

Guzman scored on Lilly's wild pitch for a 7-2 lead, and Hunter's RBI double to left-center, a play on which Long, the A's center fielder, fell on his back after fielding the ball, made it 8-2.

Mientkiewicz, whose single started the madness, capped the rally with an RBI single that made it 9-2, setting a division series record for runs in an inning--a record eclipsed by the Angels' eight-run fifth later Saturday--and leaving both dugouts stunned.

"Miguel Tejada is an MVP candidate, a Gold Glove candidate, but when we get guys running around the field and force teams to play catch, sometimes that happens," Jones said. "Anybody can make an error any time. You're not immune."

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