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Pitchers Holding All the Aces

October 01, 2003|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — He may have a retro haircut with that mullet sticking out from under the back of his Boston Red Sox cap, but Kevin Millar is clearly a forward thinker, especially when he is forced to think about Tim Hudson, the ace pitcher of the Oakland Athletics.

Millar hasn't forgotten the last time Hudson faced Boston and its ace, Pedro Martinez, on Aug. 11. Hudson needed only 92 pitches to dust off the Red Sox, 4-0, allowing only two hits.

So when Hudson and Martinez square off again tonight at the Coliseum in Game 1 of an American League division series, Millar figures Hudson will be unable to come up with anything like that again.

"Thank God he can't do that every time or he'd be 32-0," Millar said.

Both the A's, who won the West, and the Red Sox, who won the wild-card race, showed up Tuesday morning on the Coliseum field to loosen up and flex their respective muscles.

There were Hudson and Game 2 starter Barry Zito looking relaxed and ready. For the Red Sox, it's Martinez in Game 1, probably Martinez again in Game 4, and the most powerful offensive machine in the major leagues this season.

The handicappers have spoken about the A's-Red Sox, and the line they have established is a classic matchup of great pitching (A's) versus great hitting (Red Sox). Players from both sides aren't going to take issue with that story line.

"From top to bottom, there are no holes," Hudson said of the Red Sox lineup. "They have guys that can slug you, guys who are good situational hitters and guys that can run. They have a lot of weapons."

The Red Sox wore out more bats and more pitching staffs than any team in baseball this year.

Red Sox batters led the league in runs, batting average, home runs, slugging percentage, total bases, hits and doubles. Bill Mueller, their eighth-place hitter, led the league with a .326 average. The ninth-place hitter, Jason Varitek, hit 25 homers and drove in 85 runs.

"We're not out of any game," Varitek said.

While the Red Sox scored 193 more runs than the A's this season, Hudson topped a pitching staff that led the AL with a 3.63 earned-run average and gave up the fewest runs.

As far as Game 1 goes, if the Martinez-Hudson saga unfolds as expected, runs may be hard to come by.

Martinez was 14-4, led the major leagues with a 2.22 ERA and the AL with 206 strikeouts even though he pitched only 186 2/3 innings. With his fastball-curveball-changeup style, Martinez's average of 9.9 strikeouts every nine innings was the best among AL starters.

"You know you're not going to get much against him," Hudson said. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that. We just have to try to get him out of there early and get to their bullpen."

Hudson (16-7), a sinkerball specialist, had an ERA of 2.70 that was second in the league to Martinez. He was also third in innings pitched, behind Toronto's Roy Halladay and Chicago's Bartolo Colon.

Red Sox Manager Grady Little said he thinks his team learned something from that 4-0 shutout Hudson threw six weeks ago.

"We hope he peaked right there and there's no way to go but down," Little said.

In addition to the Hudson-Martinez showdown, there are enough subplots for a full-length feature film.

The general managers: Billy Beane of the A's almost went to the Red Sox last fall but changed his mind and the job instead went to Theo Epstein.

The managers: Ken Macha of the A's managed in the Boston minor league system and was a Red Sox bench coach in 1998-99 when they faced Cleveland in the playoffs, and Little was the bench coach for the Indians.

The payrolls: The Red Sox have players who are paid $104 million, near the top of the major league salary structure, and the A's have players who are paid $56 million, near the bottom.

The history: The Red Sox haven't won a World Series since 1918, and the A's have been bounced from the playoffs in the first round the last three years.

Hudson says everyone knows what's at stake tonight.

"Game 1 is always huge," he said. "If their best pitcher is going in Game 1 and you can beat him, you're obviously in a pretty good position."

And if not? Millar walked out of the room but not before delivering one last message.

"Go Sox," he said.

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