The Oakland Athletics are ecstatic to be one victory away from advancing to the AL championship series.
It’s a position they know all too well.
The Athletics try to put previous misfortune in series-clinching games behind them and complete a sweep of the Minnesota Twins when their division series shifts to Oakland for Game 3 on Friday.
The Athletics missed the playoffs the last two seasons after making four straight trips from 2000-03, losing 3-2 in the division series each year. After beating Minnesota 5-2 on Wednesday, Oakland has a 2-0 lead in the ALDS for the third time.
In 2001, the Athletics won the first two games in New York before the Yankees rallied for three straight victories. Oakland also was up 2-0 on Boston in 2003, but collapsed again.
In games when they could clinch a playoff series, the A’s are a staggering 0-9 since 2000. They haven’t won a postseason series since 1990.
“We’re up 2-0, and that’s it,” Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. “That means nothing Friday. We’ve been here before.”
So while they might be happy taking the first two games in Minnesota, the A’s are well aware of a potential comeback.
The Twins were one of those teams that denied Oakland a chance to advance. Trailing 2-1 in the 2002 ALDS, Minnesota won the final two games, including a 5-4 victory in Game 5 at McAfee Coliseum.
“We’re in a good position and feel comfortable about what we’ve done,” said A’s third baseman Eric Chavez, mired in a 1-for-30 postseason slump. “I can’t really speak for Game 3, Game 4 or Game 5. All I can say is we came in here and played two pretty good ballgames in a place where I don’t think anybody gave us a chance to win.”
Minnesota has been in rallying mode nearly the entire season. The Twins trailed Detroit by 10 1/2 games in the AL Central on Aug. 6, but managed to win the division on the final day of the season.
Still, since beating Oakland in Game 5 in 2002 followed by a win in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Angels that year, the Twins have lost 12 of 14 playoff games.
“We’ve been backed up before,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ve been told, ‘you’re done’ before. That’s not something that this team takes too lightly. We’ll come out and battle. We’ll give them everything we have.”
After opening the series by becoming the first team to beat Johan Santana at the Metrodome since Aug. 1, 2005, Oakland benefitted from a mental lapse by Twins center fielder Torii Hunter to win Game 2.
With the game tied at 2 in the seventh inning, Hunter attempted to dive for Mark Kotsay’s liner, missed badly, then watched as the ball rolled all the way to the fence. Jason Kendall scored and Kotsay ended up with an inside-the-park homer, the second in Oakland playoff history.
It was a surprising miscue from Hunter, who has won five straight Gold Gloves, and it came after the Twins tied the game with back-to-back homers from Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau in the bottom of the sixth.
“There’s only one person in this league that can make that catch, and it’s Torii,” said Cuddyer, who watched from right field. “Although it’s as close as you come, he’s not Superman.”
While Santana could end up pitching Game 4 on short rest, the Twins must rely on Brad Radke on Friday. The veteran right-hander has pitched only once since Aug. 25 and is nursing a torn labrum and broken shoulder socket.
Even with those injuries, Radke pitched well for the Twins after a terrible start to the season. He went 4-7 with a 6.42 ERA in his first 12 starts, but since losing to Oakland on June 3, Radke has gone 8-2 with a 2.79 ERA in 16 outings.
His only start in the past month came on Sept. 28, when he allowed an unearned run and three hits in five innings of Minnesota’s 2-1, 10-inning win over Kansas City.
He was 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA in two starts against the A’s this season, and is 8-12 with a 3.81 ERA in 26 career starts against them.
Radke’s only two career postseason victories both came against Oakland in the 2002 ALDS, allowing two earned runs in 11 2-3 innings. He is 0-2 with a 4.19 ERA in his other three playoff starts.
Dan Haren makes his first playoff start for Oakland in Game 3, attempting to put a disappointing end to the regular season behind him.
The right-hander went 8-2 with a 3.33 ERA from July 26-Sept. 13, beating Minnesota to close that stretch as he allowed three hits in eight innings of a 1-0 victory. In his final three starts of the season, however, Haren went 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA, allowing 16 runs in 16 2-3 innings.
He’s thrown 15 consecutive scoreless innings versus the Twins, and is 2-2 with a 2.50 ERA in five career starts against them.
Haren is 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA in five playoff games, all as a reliever for St. Louis in 2004.
The defense behind Haren will not be as strong as the A’s would have hoped after learning Thursday that second baseman Mark Ellis will miss the rest of the postseason with a broken finger. Ellis, who was 2-for-4 on Wednesday before a ball struck his hand while batting, made only two errors in 632 regular-season chances.
“You know when balls are hit there, the guy’s out,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “He gets the big hit every once in a while.”