10/04/2002 3:56 pm ET
MLBeat: Velarde happy to help
Communication is key in high-volume Metrodome
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- Randy Velarde was a non-factor as the A's stormed to the American League West title with another huge second half, and he admits to feeling more than a little left out. That's what made his big pinch-hit double in the seventh inning Friday so special.
"It's been a long, long time since I made something happen for this team," said the veteran utilityman. "So yeah, it's something kinda nice for me."
The double, which scored Ray Durham from first base, was the key blow in a two-run rally that gave the A's some insurance on the way to their 6-3 win over the Twins in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
"That was a huge, huge knock," said A's manager Art Howe. "That's exactly why Randy was up in that situation."
Truth be told, Velarde probably would not have been up in that situation had Olmedo Saenz not torn his Achilles tendon in Game 1. Saenz is Oakland's top right-handed hitter off the bench, but with him gone for the year, Velarde is next in line.
"Yeah, that's probably Olmedo's at-bat," Velarde said, "but I'll take it."
Velarde was the team's starting second baseman on Opening Night, but he was hit by a pitch in that game and never really got the job back. The only grudge he held is against himself.
"I was down on myself more than anything," he said. "I wasn't taking advantage of the opportunities I got, so I was making it easy for them not to put me out there."
But this is a new season, and moments like Friday's make him feel a part of it all again.
"You don't go anywhere in the playoffs unless everybody's contributing," he said. "Now it looks like I'm going to get some chances to put my two cents in."
Communication is the key: With noise levels expected to be brain-rattling high for Game 3 of the American League Division Series here at what locals call "The Thunderdome," the A's took every step possible to combat communication problems.
The most important thing for his players to remember, Howe said before the game, is that hearing one another on the field will be impossible. That puts a premium on using their hands to talk on plays, particularly ball in the air.
"The noise level is obviously going to be pretty high," he said, "and to be able to hear each other is going to be a little difficult, so we have already discussed methods of trying to alleviate any mistakes out there.
"You try to use your hands as much as you can," Howe added. "The problem is, if you take your eyes off the ball when you're doing that, you might look up and not be able to find it again [against the roof]."
Case in point, the popup that Jacque Jones hit in the first inning. First baseman Scott Hatteberg camped under it in foul ground, completely lost it, and was shocked to find that it landed 20 feet away from him in fair play.
"I had no clue," he admitted.
The ball bounced back into foul ground, and Jones eventually struck out, but the A's weren't so lucky when Hatteberg and second baseman Mark Ellis collided on a second-inning popup by Torii Hunter. It fell fair.
"Scott called it, but I didn't hear him," Ellis said. "I'm just glad it didn't come back to haunt us."
Popups and fly balls aren't the only trouble makers in the dome. In some cases, such as relays, cutoffs and balls hit between the pitcher and first baseman, the players are on their own.
"Sometimes they're going to have to made some big decision out there by themselves," said bullpen coach Brad Fischer. "Like on a throw from the outfield, the cutoff man isn't going to have the luxury of hearing the catcher make that call to cut it or not. And those are usually big plays, so you just have to hope they've been trained to make the right call themselves."
Fischer said communication is a problem off the field, too. "Once the game's going, you have to lean over and get right in a guy's ear to have a conversation with him."
Thus, Fischer isn't wearing any of the earplugs he bought for Oakland's trip to the Midwest. Those are for the players.
"I love the noise," said Howe. "That's what you expect. That's what you grow up seeing. That's the excitement of being here."
Friends and family: Ellis grew up in Rapid City, S.D., and he was a big Twins fan as a youngster. Though he only made one trip to the Metrodome, he remembers watching the playoff games in 1987 and '91.
"Kirby Puckett was awesome," Ellis said. "I loved that guy. Everything about him. He just played so hard and worked so hard. That's what a baseball player is supposed to be."
Now Puckett is among the former Twins trying to pump up the 2002 edition as it tries to upset the A's.
"That's OK," Ellis said. "I still like him."
Ellis' parents made the trip from Rapid City to watch their son in person Friday, and his grandparents came in from Emery, S.D.
"It's pretty cool to have them here," he said. "To have my grandparents here is really special. I'm sure they're gonna have a great time."
Fischer, who lives in Madison, Wis., said his wife and three of his four kids made the four-hour drive to Minneapolis for the games here.
"Right now we're all holed up in the same hotel room," Fischer said, "but my oldest is coming in today, so we're going to have to get another room and break it up."
Around the horn: Howe hinted in his postgame press conference that he might make a slight tweak to the lineup in Game 4, and Adam Piatt figures to be the addition. The Twins will start left-hander Eric Milton, against whom Piatt has tripled twice and homered in eight career at-bats. "You never know," said Piatt. "I know Skip (Howe) likes to go with good matchups, and I've got good numbers against Milton, so there's a pretty good chance I'll at least pinch hit." ... Catcher Ramon Hernandez's eighth-inning single was his first hit of the series and ended a string of 22 postseason at-bats without a hit. "I got my hit," he said. "Hopefully more will come. I'm tired of watching everybody hit but me." Hernandez was the only starter without a hit in Game 2. In Game 3, Miguel Tejada and David Justice wore the collars.
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.