“It's great because first blood means a lot, especially when you are playing on the road, and the fact that we could get it off that guy, second Cy Young this year, and he is unbeaten here, and you can just keep going down the line [with the plaudits for Santana],” said Barry Zito after the A’s Game One win over the Minnesota Twins.
A 2-0 lead against Santana and the Twins might have been more then the A’s could have expected coming into the game, but Zito still had to make that lead hold up against a tough Minnesota office that was tops in the American League with a .287 team batting average.
Zito answered the challenge, shaking off a first-batter-of-the-game walk and working an efficient eight innings, allowing only a Rondell White solo homerun in the seventh inning.
“It was a good cushion, but I couldn't rely on anything. Those guys are jumping back in the game basically as soon as they can, and they showed that with the homer by Rondell,” Zito said.
It wasn’t a typical dominant performance for the A’s former Cy Young lefty. Throughout Zito’s career, he has generally collected a lot of strikeouts, a lot of deep counts and amassed some high pitch totals. However, on Tuesday, Zito didn’t rely on the strikeout, instead mixing in all of his pitches to get the Twins to swing early in the count. The result: eight innings with only one strikeout and only 92 pitches.
On the offensive-side of the ball, the A’s turned to a familiar hero for the bulk of their offense. Leading off the second inning, A’s DH Frank Thomas worked Santana to a 3-1 count and then turned on a change-up and pounded it into the left-field seats, just right of the foul pole.
One out later, Jay Payton followed with a single and, with two outs, another familiar hero for the A’s stepped to the plate. Marco Scutaro has made a habit of collecting big hits in the late innings of ballgames. This time, Scutaro didn’t wait for the late innings to make an impact. He turned on a Santana change-up in the second inning and laced a double down the left-field line, scoring Payton all the way from first.
Oakland’s 2-0 lead held until the seventh, when White homered to cut the lead in half. After Minnesota squandered a lead-off double in the bottom of the eighth, the A’s added some insurance in the top of the ninth when Thomas homered for the second time, this time off reliever Jesse Crain. That run proved to be huge, as the Twins scored a run in the bottom of the ninth off A’s closer Huston Street, thanks to a Metrodome-special triple that Milton Bradley lost in the Dome roof.
Thomas became the oldest player in Major League history to homer twice in a playoff game at age 38. After a rebound season with Oakland that saw Thomas hit 39 homers, Thomas started the post-season where he left-off in the regular season.
“I just came to play. I have been locked in all year long, happy to be back, that hunger and drive is back,” Thomas said after the game.
“I am just happy being on a new team with a new spirit and a chance to do some big things here.”
After the game, A’s manager Ken Macha pointed to the preparation of his team and his coaching staff as a key to the A’s win.
“You know what, my coaches did a good job of preparing these guys, Gerald had a meeting with all the hitters, go over what all the pitchers were going to do but really, our guys coming into this series, they felt good, but what they are going to do, they should, because we won the division,” Macha said.
“We played well all year. We are just as hot as any other team in the league since the All-Star break. But the guys feel good about themselves, and going up against Santana, we had Barry, and we knew he was going to give us a good effort, so it was going to be a tight game, and that's exactly what we wound up with.”
The A’s will try to up their series lead to 2-0 on Wednesday. Oakland will send righty Esteban Loaiza to the hill to face Minnesota rookie right-hander Boof Bonser. Loaiza, who along with Thomas was the A’s big off-season signing, made only one start against the Twins this season, losing back in early April. Bonser lost his only start against the A’s, at the Coliseum on June 1.