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A's Thomas singes Twins' ace

He hits two solo home runs, including one against Santana, in Oakland's 3-2 victory in Game 1. Zito gives up one run and four hits in eight innings.

October 04, 2006|From the Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Barry Zito, Frank Thomas and the Oakland Athletics proved it was possible to beat Minnesota ace Johan Santana -- even at the Metrodome.

Zito kept the Twins off balance with his big curveball, Thomas hit two home runs and the Athletics defeated Minnesota, 3-2, Tuesday in the opener of their first-round American League playoff series.

"First blood, I think, means a lot -- especially when you're playing on the road," Zito said.

Zito quieted the Twins and their fans at the noisy, quirky ballpark for eight innings. He gave up four hits, three walks and one run and struck out one.

Santana had been 16-0 over a span of 23 regular-season starts in which the Twins won every time since Aug. 1, 2005. He led the league in earned-run average, strikeouts and innings, and tied for the AL high in wins.

"Santana's probably going to win another Cy Young," A's first baseman Nick Swisher said. "For us to overcome the noise and all that stuff and win against him is something special."

Minnesota rookie Boof Bonser will start against Esteban Loaiza in Game 2 today. A season-ending elbow injury to All-Star Francisco Liriano and right-hander Brad Radke's shaky shoulder have left the Twins' rotation looking a little thin. This is a Twins team that won the AL Central division title despite being 10 1/2 games behind Detroit on Aug. 7, so comebacks are nothing new.

"Same as we've been doing all year," said first baseman Justin Morneau, who was 0 for 4. "Everybody's going to say we're done again, but we don't believe that."

Thomas was three for four, homering in the ninth against Jesse Crain. The 38-year-old became the oldest player to have a multihomer game in postseason history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It was a big day," Thomas said. "I'm just happy to win this first game, because this is a tough place to win ballgames."

Closer Huston Street gave one back after a leadoff triple by Michael Cuddyer was lost in the ceiling by right fielder Milton Bradley. Torii Hunter drove in Cuddyer with a groundout, but Rondell White -- who doubled in the fifth and homered in the seventh -- flied out to center to end the game.

"This team's pretty resilient," said Twins catcher Joe Mauer, the major leagues' batting leader, who was 0 for 3 with a walk. "We've dealt with coming from behind before. We're not going to quit until it's done."

The stadium was filled with 55,542 fans wiggling those white Homer Hankies and roaring every time Santana so much as made a move on the field in the minutes before the game.

But one out after Thomas homered in the second, Jay Payton singled and Marco Scutaro smacked a two-out double down the left-field line to give Oakland an early 2-0 edge.

Zito ran with it, holding Minnesota hitless through 4 2/3 innings and only twice letting a runner past second base. The left-hander with the big leg kick and even bigger curveball consistently kept the Twins from hitting their sweet spots.

"Zito's in the same category as Santana," Street said.

Santana went eight innings and finished with a career playoff-best eight strikeouts.

"Everything was working out pretty good," said Santana, who gave up five hits and walked one. "I was throwing my fastballs in the corners. Everything was fine. Unfortunately you make one mistake, and you pay for it. Today we weren't able to come back."

After his 16-year career with the Chicago White Sox ended badly, injured ankle, attitude and all, Thomas has enjoyed a resurgence in his first season with the A's -- racking up 39 home runs and 114 runs batted in.

He had talked with the Twins about joining them to serve as the designated hitter, but they were concerned about his health on the artificial turf, and Thomas ended up signing with Oakland for $500,000 plus incentives.

"All 30 teams could've had him," A's Manager Ken Macha said.

Thomas is eight for 19 with three homers and five RBIs in his career against Santana. "The Big Hurt" now has 50 homers and 132 RBIs in 171 games against Minnesota, his most against any opponent and the second-most hit by one player against the Twins behind Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson (51).

"It seems like he always gets hot when he comes to play us," Mauer said.

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