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Twins look forward to home stand
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Teacher Rita Christenson and some members of her 5th grade class (she brought 22 in all) from Bryn Mawr Elementary School in Minneapolis. (MPR Photo/Art Hughes )
Playoff baseball returns to Minnesota Friday, when the Twins host the Oakland Athletics in game three of their first-round playoff series. The last post-season baseball game at the Metrodome was the Twins' game seven victory in the 1991 World Series. This year's team hopes to recapture some of the Twins' post-season Metrodome magic as they try to take the lead in their best-of-five series with the A's.

The Twins raised some eyebrows around the country when they took the first game of the series from the heavily favored A's in Oakland. Now, a successful defense of their home field in games three and four would send Minnesota to the American League Championship Series.

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First baseman Doug Mientkiewicz says this time of year the Twins appreciate the difficulties visiting teams face in the Metrodome.

"You don't get too wrapped up in home field advantages in baseball. But when you're talking about the Metrodome, it's a huge key. There's an extra person on the field and that's the screaming fans we have in the stands," says Mientkiewicz.

"It's a tough place to play - all of sudden you can't see the ball. The ball gets stuck in the lights, the ball gets stuck in the roof, and now the ball's going to get stuck in homer hankies. So, you've got to pay attention or else you're going to get hurt."

The Twins expect 53,000 fans to fill the Dome. The noise they make will reverberate off a fiberglass roof that just happens to be the same color as a baseball, providing a challenging backdrop from which to pluck a fly ball.

As challenging as the Metrodome is for visiting teams, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is reminding his team not to depend on the building to deliver a win.

"The Dome's not playing - we are - and we have to go out and play. Our team has to go out and win the baseball game. It's going to be loud, we know that, and the fans are going to be on our side and that's exciting. But we still have to go out there and play," Gardenhire says.

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Most of the Twins are playing in the big league playoffs for the first time. The games in Oakland gave them a taste of the limelight. But third baseman Corey Koskie acknowledges he's hardly an expert on the playoffs.

"The biggest difference is there's a lot more excitement in the crowd, where they kind of hinge on every pitch, and on a strikeout they're screaming. That's one of the things that I've noticed. But I've played -- what? -- two post-season games, so I'm not really a good guy to make a comparison between regular season and post-season," says Koskie.

The Twins hope to see a difference in their play during the early innings. They fell behind the A's in each game in Oakland, thanks to three errors in game one and a rocky pitching performance in game two. Fielding was one of the team's strengths during the regular season, and Gardenhire expects the Twins will be more comfortable catching the ball on their home field.

For pitching, the Twins will turn to Rick Reed. Reed is the only Twin who's pitched in the World Series, having been through the playoffs as a member of the New York Mets in 2000. He's been one of the Twins' most reliable starting pitchers this season, and is one of the few starters who did not spend time on the injured list this year. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski says Reed is a rock.

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"He keeps us in games. He keeps the defense ready. He puts the ball in play, he doesn't walk a lot of guys. He's been great for us," says Pierzynski. "He's put in a lot of innings for us - with all the guys we've had go down, with all the people who've been hurt - to see him step up and give us the innings he has... he and Kyle Lohse were the two guys we had in the rotation all year and they were solid for us."

When they come to bat, the Twins will face Barry Zito, whose 23 wins this season were the most in the American League. Zito throws a wicked curve ball, and does it with his left hand. The Twins have struggled against lefthanded pitching this year. A's manager Art Howe is aware of the Twins' troubles with southpaws. But Howe says Oakland has confiedence in Zito because he's good, not just because he's a lefty.

"We know that Minnesota's had some problems, more so against lefties than righties. But it doesn't really matter. Barry's just a competent pitcher, and we feel good no matter what the numbers are against any team when he's on the mound," says Howe.

Game three gets underway at 3 p.m. Friday. Game four is scheduled for noon on Saturday.

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