The Oakland Athletics opened the AL division series by pulling off a feat no other team had done all season at the Metrodome. Now they can leave the stadium with what may be an even more impressive accomplishment.
One day after beating Johan Santana, the A’s have an opportunity to steal another game in a ballpark which was baseball’s toughest on visitors this season and sink the Minnesota Twins into an 0-2 hole on Wednesday.
During the regular season, Oakland went 1-5 at the Metrodome, where the Twins boasted the best home record in the majors at 54-27.
Besides having the home-field advantage as well as Santana slated to pitch in Game 1 and Game 5 if necessary, Minnesota was a popular pick to win this series after closing the regular season by winning 16 of 23 to win the AL Central.
The Twins had won all 23 of Santana’s starts at home since Aug. 6, 2005, and he went 16-0 with a 1.96 ERA at the Metrodome this year. Oakland, however, beat the AL Cy Young Award favorite on Tuesday, winning 3-2 in Minnesota to take the series opener.
“First blood, I think, means a lot especially when you’re playing on the road,” said Game 1 winner Barry Zito, who allowed one run and four hits in eight innings to outduel Santana.
Frank Thomas went 3-for-4 and homered twice, becoming the oldest player in postseason history to have a multihomer game. The 38-year-old designated hitter, whose has homered more times (50) against the Twins than any other opponent, appeared in only the 10th playoff game of his 17-year career and first since 2000.
“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.”
Minnesota, however, has lost six straight playoff games at home since beating the Anaheim Angels in Game 1 of the 2002 AL championship series.
Joe Mauer, who hit .347 in the regular season to become the first catcher to win the AL batting title, went 0-for-3 with a walk and left two runners in scoring position, including the tying run on third in the eighth inning.
Justin Morneau, who had team highs of 34 homers and 130 RBIs, was 0-for-4.
“Everybody’s going to say we’re done again, but we don’t believe that,” Morneau said.
White is 9-for-28 (.321) with a home run against Loaiza, while teammate Torii Hunter is batting .477 (21-for-44) with five homers, four doubles and 10 RBIs off the right-hander.
Loaiza looks to continue the success he had over the final two months of the regular season, and shake his struggles at the Metrodome.
Loaiza is 7-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 11 starts since Aug. 7, and was named AL pitcher of the month for September after going 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA.
“I’m getting ahead of the hitters and getting a lot of people out,” Loaiza said. “I am strong, using my fastball, using my (cut fastball), using my changeup and sinker, working both locations on both sides of the plate with righties and lefties.”
He has gone 10-9 with a 4.00 ERA in 24 career games against the Twins, but is 3-7 with a 5.66 ERA in 12 games at the Metrodome. He allowed six runs in four innings in his only start at Minnesota this season, a 6-5 loss on April 12.
Loaiza is 4-6 with a 6.08 ERA in 14 starts on the road this season, and went 0-2 with a 10.05 ERA in his final three road starts of the regular season.
Minnesota counters with rookie Boof Bonser (7-6, 4.22), who is being thrown into the postseason just over two months after being in the minors.
Bonser started the season with Triple-A Rochester, and had two stints in the minors this season. He was called up again on Aug. 2, and put together a string of solid outings to close the regular season.
The 24-year-old right-hander allowed three runs or fewer in each of his final 10 outings, going 5-3 with a 3.26 ERA.
“I think one thing I have seen Boof do since he has come back (is) attack the strike zone, use all the pitches,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Even though he has got a name like Boof, he is still a bulldog, he attacks pretty good.”
Bonser was named the AL rookie of the month for September, winning four straight decisions before losing his final start of the season.
In three playoff series since beating Oakland in the 2002 AL division series, Minnesota won the first game each time but went on to lose every other game. The only two times the Twins did not win the opener of a postseason series came in the AL championship series in 1969 and 1970, and they were swept both times.
Oakland has been in the playoffs five times since 2000, going 4-1 in Game 1s and 3-1 in Game 2s, but has not won a postseason series since sweeping Boston in the 1990 ALCS.