10/01/2002 10:00 pm ET
MLBeat: Saenz lost for playoffs
Oakland's Ellis was unphased by playoff hoopla
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The A's bench suffered a big blow Tuesday in Game 1 of their American League Division Series loss to the Twins when Olmedo Saenz suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon while running to first base during an eighth-inning at-bat.
Saenz, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the sixth and stayed in to play first base, was busting down the line on a swinging bunt that eventually rolled foul, and before he got to the bag he pulled up and fell in obvious pain.
Trainer Larry Davis confirmed the injury and said Saenz will undergo surgery Wednesday at The Surgery Center in San Ramon.
"Could this drag into Spring Training? If he's lucky," Davis said.
The injury leaves the A's without one of their three right-handed bats off the bench. Randy Velarde stepped in for Saenz after the injury and singled to center, and Adam Piatt flew out as a pinch-hitter to end the game.
"It obviously limits our right-handed bats," said A's manager Art Howe. "It's a shame, too, a foul ball on top of it. But you know, he was hustling down the line."
The A's will be unable to replace Saenz on the roster until after the ALDS. Catcher Jason Grabowski and relievers Mike Venafro and Jeff Tam are not on the playoff roster and still with the team, but only an injury to a catcher allows a team to replace a player in the middle of a series.
Ellis unphased: Rookie second baseman Mark Ellis was one of two A's regulars making his postseason debut against the Twins, but he's quick to point out that he's no stranger to spotlight games.
While at the University of Florida, for instance, he played in the College World Series.
"I've been fortunate to have played in the biggest games at every level I've played," Ellis said Tuesday before Game 1. "So it's not totally unfamiliar to me, being in pressure situations."
That said, he's not about to downplay the different vibe brought by a big-league playoff game. He's heard all about it from his housemates and two-time playoff veterans Mark Mulder and Eric Chavez.
"They said it's awesome," Ellis said. "It's something really special, and I know it's going to be a lot bigger than anything I've experienced, but I really don't think it's going to affect me that much."
Neither does Howe, who watched Ellis perform under pressure for most of August and September. Ellis started the season as the starting shortstop at Triple-A Sacramento but finished the year starting at second base for the A's -- despite the presence of former All-Star second baseman Ray Durham, who has served primarily as a designated hitter.
Ellis played in 98 games for Oakland and finished ranked second in among AL rookies in runs (58), fourth in batting (.272), on-base percentage (.359) and walks (44), tied for fourth in triples (4), tied for fifth in multiple-hit games (23), sixth in hits (94) and seventh in doubles (16).
"For some guys, maybe [they'd be nervous], but not him," Howe said. "His makeup is special."
Ellis, who was born and lives in Rapid City, South Dakota, said his family will attend the ALDS games in Minneapolis. He wasn't sure if they'd be able to see the games from Oakland.
"They have the satellite package, but I don't know if that includes the playoffs, and I don't know if we get the Family Channel," he said. "They might have to pack up and go to a bar."
Ellis went 1-for-4 with a double Tuesday.
Debut II: Closer Billy Koch is the other A's regular making his playoff debut, and he's hoping it's a lot like his big-league debut with Toronto in 1999.
"Oh, man. I remember everything about it, mainly because I was all over the place in the bullpen," he said. "Balls were flying everywhere. I was kind of freaked out. But the second I took the mound in the game, all the nerves went away and I did great. It was amazing."
Howe knows the feeling. He remembers his playoff debut with the Astros well.
"You're excited. The adrenaline's pumping. You just can't wait to get out there and get your feet wet," he said. "I mean, this is what you play for. But once you get involved, [the nerves] kind of go away. I'm sure that's what these guys will experience, too."
Koch certainly hopes so.
"If this works out just like my big-league debut, great," he said, laughing. "But that means that when I'm warming up, they'll probably have to stop the game five times because I'll be firing balls into the outfield."
Koch did indeed force the game to be stopped once while warming up before the ninth inning Tuesday, but he never went into the game.
The Durham factor: Much has been made of the Twins' speed advantage over the A's, but Oakland's fleetness afoot got a big boost when Durham was acquired from the Chicago White Sox just before the trading deadline.
Durham, who was installed as the leadoff man after serving primarily as Chicago's No. 2 hitter, scored 43 runs and stole six bases -- second on the A's behind Miguel Tejada's seven -- in 54 games. He also hit 14 doubles, four triples and six homers with 22 RBIs while hitting .274.
"Yeah, I can run a little, but you've got to get on base first to do much running," Durham said. "And that's really my main job on this team, to get on base. If I can do that, maybe I can get some things going for the guys behind me."
Howe suggested that Durham, who played in the 2000 playoffs with the White Sox, might be one of the keys to the series.
"When he's getting on base, we score runs," Howe said. "He makes things happen."
Durham went 2-for-5 with two doubles and scored a run Tuesday.
Favorites?: Howe is one of several A's who doesn't put much stock in the notion that the A's are considered the favorite in this series. The consensus is that Oakland's 6-3 season-series advantage over the Twins is overrated.
"You basically throw the regular season out," Howe said. "This is a new season. Whether you're the favorite or the so-called underdog, I don't think it matter in a short series like this. You still have to play good baseball."
Added veteran outfielder David Justice: "If we'd have won every game against them in the regular season, maybe that'd be an advantage. But they won some games, and a lot of the games were close. So to say we're the favorite? I don't know about that."
Besides, Howe said after Tuesday's game, "I think ESPN picked the Twins, so I don't know if [we're the favorites] or not."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This report was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.