The Minnesota Twins, who have lost only one post-season game in the Metrodome, return home Friday for game three of the division playoff with the Oakland A's. The challenge will be great: Twins batters will face one of baseball's best pitchers in Barry Zito. The young lefty hopes to keep the momentum going for the A's, who scorched the Twins by the score of 9-1 yesterday.
David Justice's bases-loaded triple highlighted Oakland's 14-hit attack, while Mark Mulder pitched six strong innings as the A's evened the best-of-five series at one game apiece. Eric Chavez had a three-run homer, and rookie Mark Ellis got three hits while turning in some showy plays at second base.
Twins starting pitcher Joe Mays gave up six earned runs in three and a third innings. But after the game, Manager Ron Gardenhire refused to single Mays out for blame.
"Joe Mays has been one of our best pitchers," Gardenhire said. "He just had a bad day today. Our baseball team had a bad day. I had a bad day today."
The handful of Twins fans at the Oakland Coliseum had little to cheer about. Cristian Guzman's solo home run was about it. And they had to endure the gentle but persistent ribbing of A's fans who felt burned by their team's game one loss.
Ken Sturtz and Scott Bang attended St. Olaf College in Northfield together in the 1980s. They both live in the San Francisco Bay area. Their Twins hats made them targets for harrassment in the upper deck behind home plate.
"It's good natured," Sturtz said. "I don't think anybody meant anything serious by it. It was great. Hey, they're getting behind their team. So be it."
"I got ragged on quite a bit because I was pretty vocal cheering for the guys," Bang said. "One thing I noticed though, it didn't quite seem like a playoff game here. I don't know why, the fans were a little bit on the dead side. But I know back in Minnesota it's going to be way different. We're going to be loud and crazy back there."
During the Twins' 1987 and 1991 World Series runs, fans raised the decibels to levels usually associated with rock concerts or jet engines. Oakland coaches and players have been asked repeatedly how they will handle the pandemonium in the Dome. Zito is clearly tired of the noise question.
"It's probably pretty loud, but you know Yankee Stadium was pretty loud too," Zito said. "Blocking out the crowd is blocking out the crowd. If it's 10 or 15 decibels more than Seattle or Yankee Stadium when it's a packed house, I don't think it makes a difference. You're either susceptible to it or not."
Zito won 23 games this year, and is a top candidate for the American League Cy Young award. He throws perhaps the nastiest curveball in the game. But he knows any pitcher can have a bad outing.
"I mean, a lot of time you like at a guy that might be having a good year and you go wow, this guy must be locked in," said Zito. "But to actually be inside a pitcher's head like I am, you know, it's fleeting. The thoughts are volatile. You're not going out there everyday like, oh I'm the man."
With Jason Giambi gone from the A's locker room, Zito has taken over the young and hip mantle. He's a surfer, and plays, or tries to play, the guitar. He says word's like "dude" a lot. An interesting guy, with an interesting family. His dad was quite the musician -- just ask Barry.
"He composed for Nat Cole for about 15 years. Did a lot of musical work. Entertainment manager. You know, worked with a lot of the greats. Stuff like that. He was a big chief."
Zito the Younger will be the "big chief" for the A's Friday. Rick Reed, who had a good second half of the season, throws for the Twins.