10/02/2002 9:36 pm ET
Twins try to get it right vs. lefties
By Jim Molony / MLB.com
OAKLAND -- Something about lefties just doesn't sit right with Minnesota hitters. Or at least a number of them, anyway.
The Twins have struggled against southpaws more often than not this year, and on Wednesday, another port-sider put it on the Twins lineup. Oakland's Mark Mulder held the Twins to five hits -- five singles and a home run -- and gave up just one run in six innings, as the A's evened the American League Division Series at a game apiece with a 9-1 victory at Network Associates Coliseum.
Corey Koskie, Torii Hunter, Doug Mientkiewicz, Michael Cuddyer and A.J. Pierzynski combined to go 9-for-21 in Monday's opener, including 6-for-12 against right-handed starter Tim Hudson. On Tuesday they were hitless in 12 at-bats against Mulder.
This struggling against southpaws is nothing sudden for the Twins. They hit .282 as a team this season, but 30 points lower against lefties than right-handers. Several starters hit significantly lower against lefties, including left fielder Jacque Jones (.213 against lefties, .333 against right-handers), shortstop Cristian Guzman (.256, .281), designated hitter David Ortiz (.203, .299), catcher Pierzynski (.270, .308), second baseman Luis Rivas (.234, .268) and third baseman Koskie (.253, .274).
Since they had so much trouble with Mulder, it stands to reason the Twins will have difficulty against Oakland ace Barry Zito, arguably the best left-hander in the league, on Friday in Game 3. The Twins know they have to adapt to Zito better than they did to Mulder.
"He's a fastball, curveball guy for lefties," Mientkiewicz said. "Granted, it's one of the best curveballs in the game. It's hard to say anything is easier against a guy who has 23 wins. We're not going to bunch a lot of things together off him either. Hopefully, the curse of the Metrodome will get him again."
The Twins are hoping the lefty lulls they have experienced this year will be offset by other factors, including being more patient at the plate and the home field advantage the raucous Metrodome should give Minnesota hitters. More baserunners would force Zito to pitch out of the stretch more often, which also would help.
"With a guy like [Zito] you have to take what he gives you, and he usually doesn't give you much," Hunter said. "You have to take advantage of any opportunity you might have. You want to make him work on every pitch, don't give him any easy outs, because he certainly doesn't need any help from us."
The Twins had hoped to use that approach against Mulder, but the A's blew the game open early and changed the whole focus of Minnesota's attack. Playing small ball is fine in a close game but not much help in a blowout.
"It kind of got out of whack because we got behind early, and we were maybe trying to do a little bit too much," Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It takes away from being able to do [that]. But this guy is very tough. We hit some balls pretty decent, put some good swings out there, but we were not able to do a lot as far as trying to hit and run and things like that because we got behind. That changed the game a little bit.
"I thought that we were out playing defense too much. When you are playing defense, standing out there for long periods of time, it's tough to come out there and regroup as a hitter when you are standing out there. And we talk about that all the time, get the boys off the field. Today it didn't work out."
Clearly. And the Twins were left to ponder another defeat to a lefty and the knowledge that they don't have a lot of time left to get their lefty-hitting act right. Not with Zito up next.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This report was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or is clubs.