for this game

Thomas, Zito help A's solve Santana, Twins

Oct 3, 2006 - 7:51 PM MINNEAPOLIS (Ticker) -- Frank Thomas and Barry Zito combined to end Johan Santana's Metrodome magic.

Thomas hit a pair of solo homers and Zito pitched eight superb innings as the Oakland Athletics got a surprising jump on the Minnesota Twins with a 3-2 victory in the opener of their American League Division Series.

Marco Scutaro added an RBI double for the Athletics, who also survived some Metrodome mayhem in the ninth inning and placed the pressure squarely on the Twins, who have untested rookie Boof Bonser starting Game Two here Wednesday.

"The guys feel good about themselves and they should," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "We've been as hot as any team in the league since the All-Star break."

"(Bonser) knows what he has to do," Santana said. "He knows what it takes to win games. Especially in the situation where we are right now where we need to win, he'll come out (Wednesday) and hopefully pick us up and win the game."

A year ago, Thomas was left off the postseason roster as the Chicago White Sox stormed to the World Series title. The 38-year-old designated hitter signed with Oakland as a free agent in the offseason and continued his renaissance by becoming the oldest player in postseason history with a multi-homer game, connecting in the second and ninth innings.

"I'm just happy to be on a new team with a new spirit," said Thomas, who hit 10 homers in September to help the A's win the AL West. "It feels good to be back. I'm just happy to be 100 percent healthy and playing."

"All 30 teams could have had him. We signed him for a minimum contract," Macha said. "He has been immense for us. If you are going to win something, you better have an impact bat in the lineup, and that guy has definitely provided it for us."

Zito improved to 4-2 all-time in the postseason, including 2-0 in the Metrodome. The lefthander had a no-hitter for 4 2/3 innings and allowed just one run, four hits and three walks, striking out one and using the aggression of the Twins' hitters against them.

"One mistake could make all the difference here, and the way the game played out showed that," he said.

"You look at the film during the season, everyone's swinging at the pitch up," Twins outfielder Torii Hunter said. "That's what makes (Zito) good. I've been facing this guy for years and know what he does. You just have to lay off the pitch up because it looks so good, he gets you to chase."

Together, Thomas and Zito were just enough to overcome Santana, the overwhelming Cy Young Award favorite who lost here for the first time in 24 starts since August 6, 2005. The lefthander was 16-0 during that stretch and Minnesota had won all of his starts.

"It hasn't happened very often - if at all - over the last year and a half or so in this building," Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer said. "It's different. But he's human, we're human."

"It takes more than one guy to win a game. That's for sure," Santana said. "It doesn't matter how good you pitch. If you're not going to hit, you're not going to win."

Santana's Metrodome magic is a bit of a misnomer as all three of his postseason losses have come at home.

"All you heard all week was Santana this and Santana that," Oakland's Nick Swisher said. "We feel like we've got a Santana in our locker room (in Zito) and he proved it today."

Zito made big pitches when he needed them through the first six innings but appeared to tire a bit in the seventh, when he gave up long flyouts to Justin Morneau and Hunter and surrendered Rondell White's homer into the left field seats that halved the deficit.

Jason Bartlett opened the eighth with a double, but Luis Castillo - who had two walks and a hit in his first three trips - grounded out to third after failing to get down a bunt, and Zito got Nick Punto on a grounder and Morneau on a liner.

"We have had that situation a few times, and when it's a bunt situation like that, we give (Castillo) the option if they are (charging) all over to shoot the ball," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "But it just didn't work out."

Thomas provided some breathing room when he led off the ninth with another homer off reliever Jesse Crain. The Comeback Player of the Year candidate came into this series with just one career postseason homer.

"He hasn't won the MVP two times for no reason," White said. "He was big today, on fire."

The A's ended up needing that run when Michael Cuddyer opened the ninth against closer Huston Street with a fly ball that right fielder Milton Bradley lost in the roof. It fell safely on the warning track for a gift triple, setting up the Twins.

"The dome helps," Gardenhire said. "One ball, a fly ball, where you lose it in the roof - it gave us a chance."

However, Morneau lined out and Hunter bounced out as Cuddyer scored. White flied out to end it.

The teams combined to go 0-for-14 with one RBI with runners in scoring position as both Zito and Santana worked out of jams.

Walks to Castillo in the first and fourth innings did not bother Zito. He did not allow a hit until White doubled with two out in the fifth and got Cuddyer to bounce into a force play with runners at first and second to end the sixth.

"(Zito) had a great curveball, made some great pitches," White said. "Great curveball, he located his fastball. He did a great job today."

Santana was nearly as sharp as Zito as he had just one rough inning. That was the second, which Thomas opened with a homer just inside the foul pole in left off a 3-1 changeup.

"It's always a battle with him, but I knew he was going to challenge me," Thomas said. "He's that good."

"I was throwing my fastballs on the corners, everything was fine," Santana said. "Unfortunately, you make one mistake and you have to pay for it. ... When you fall behind the count, bad things happen to you."

One out later, Jay Payton singled. Swisher flied out, but Scutaro spanked a double into the left field corner and Payton streaked around the bases, scoring without a throw for a 2-0 lead.

"(Santana) has so many weapons," Scutaro said. "He has three pretty much unhittable pitches he can throw any time in the count. So you just try to look for a mistake and don't miss it, because if you miss it, you're done."

"First blood means a lot, especially when you're on the road," Zito said. "It was a good cushion."

Thomas hit a foul homer to open the fourth before flying out. He singled to lead off the seventh but was stranded at third as Santana got Scutaro to line out and Mark Ellis to foul out.

Santana gave up five hits and a walk while striking out eight, a career postseason high. However, he fell to 1-3 all-time in the playoffs.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!