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NOTES

A's Suffer Another Painful Letdown

October 07, 2002|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — While the Twins celebrated their trip to the American League championship series Sunday, the A's again watched in disappointment, losing in Game 5 of the division series for the third consecutive year and having their 103-win season go down in flames.

Many considered the A's too young and inexperienced in 2000, when they were eliminated by the New York Yankees, and many thought they would be hardened by last year's division series, when they lost to the Yankees after winning the first two games in New York.

But even with three of the best young pitchers in baseball, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, and a leading most-valuable-player candidate in shortstop Miguel Tejada, the heavily favored A's weren't able to close out this series after winning two of the first three games.

"I thought this was our year to get to the World Series," Zito said. "We're going to have to be that much tougher next year."

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Twin Manager Ron Gardenhire had many decisions to make Sunday, but every one of them worked out.

He started right-handed-hitting Matthew LeCroy at designated hitter against Mulder, and LeCroy had two singles and a run batted in, then went to left-handed designated hitter David Ortiz, who knocked in what would be the eventual winning run with a double in the ninth against right-handed closer Billy Koch.

Gardenhire pulled starter Brad Radke with one on and two out in the seventh for left-hander J.C. Romero, who retired Terrence Long on a grounder to first.

With a runner on and two out in the eighth, Gardenhire summoned LaTroy Hawkins to face Tejada, even though Romero struck out Tejada in the eighth inning of Game 1 and Tejada had a career .409 average against Hawkins. Good move. Hawkins struck out Tejada.

The toughest move was one Gardenhire didn't make. He stuck with closer Eddie Guardado, even after the left-hander, who gave up two walk-off home runs in Oakland this season, to Tejada and Olmedo Saenz, was tagged for four hits, including Mark Ellis' three-run homer, in the ninth. Guardado retired Ray Durham to end the game.

"That was the hardest decision I've had all year, it was very tough," Gardenhire said. "Eddie's given us heart attacks all year, but he's been our man."

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The Twins' postgame celebration could cost them utility player Denny Hocking. Hocking, who started at second base Sunday and had a double and single in four at-bats, had the middle finger of his right hand stepped on in the pile of players near the mound.

"Obviously, we haven't figured out this celebration thing," Hocking said. "It's bittersweet. It's not broken, but it will probably need stitches. The trainer said I might be out for the year. It looks bleak."

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Gardenhire didn't announce his AL championship series rotation, but right-hander Joe Mays, who was rocked for six runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings in Game 2 of the division series, probably will start Game 1 on Tuesday night.

Right-hander Rick Reed probably will start in Game 2, left-hander Eric Milton in Game 3 and Radke in Game 4.

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