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Wild ninth caps game for the ages
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Division Series
10/06/2002 11:11 pm ET 
Wild ninth caps game for the ages
Closers falter, but Guardado got it done in the end
By Kent Schacht /

Billy Koch couldn't hold the Twins scoreless in the ninth. (Ben Margot/AP)
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When the Twins sent eight batters to the plate and scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning to take a 5-1 lead Sunday, the life drained out of the 32,146 fans at Network Associates Coliseum as if they were eighth-graders told it was time for a pop quiz.

The A's and Twins had put on an epic battle in Game 5, riding the emotional rollercoaster of a one-run game from Ray Durham's solo home run in the bottom of the third until the ninth.

The Twins abused A's closer Billy Koch -- known for his cardiac-style saves -- in the top of the inning, drawing two walks, hitting a homer and two doubles to take the four-run lead.

As the attendants iced the champagne and put up the plastic in the Minnesota clubhouse, Twins closer Eddie Guardado strode to the mound.

Unfortunately, he pitched just like Koch.

Fortunately for the Twins, he had one more run to work with, and as the ice melted in the Twins clubhouse, Oakland rallied for three runs before Guardado got out of it. He induced a popup out of Ray Durham to second baseman Denny Hocking that assured Minnesota of their first ALCS appearance since 1991.

We should've known

With Sunday's Game 5 loss to the Twins, the Oakland A's have now lost six straight ALDS clinchers, including four at home, and became the first team in Major League history to lose a deciding Game 5 or Game 7 three years in a row. Mark Mulder, the loser in last year's ALDS Game 5, was the loser again this year. Perhaps we should have seen this coming.
2000 ALDS vs. NY,
series tied 2-2

Game 5 (at Oak): NY 7, A's 5
2001 ALDS vs. NY,
A's up 2-0

Game 3 (at Oak): NY 1, A's 0
Game 4 (at Oak): NY 9, A's 2
Game 5 (at NY): NY 5, A's 3
2002 ALDS vs. Twins,
A's up 2-1

Game 4 (at Minn): Twins 11, A's 2
Game 5 (at Oak.): Twins 5, A's 4
With a win in Game 5 of the ALDS in Oakland on Sunday, the Twins have now won six consecutive games when facing elimination. The previous five all had been played at the Metrodome, so today we learned they could take their show on the road.
1987 World Series vs. Cards,
Twins down 3-2
Game 6 (in Minn.): Twins 11, Cards 5
Game 7 (in Minn.): Twins 4, Cards 2
1991 World Series vs. Braves,
Twins down 3-2

Game 6 (in Minn.): Twins 4, Braves 3 (11)
Game 7 (in Minn.): Twins 1, Braves 0
2002 ALDS vs. A's,
Twins down 2-1

Game 4 (at Minn.): Twins 11, A's 2
Game 5 (at Oak.): Twins 5, A's 4

But not before taking a year off the life of just about everyone on his team -- and the state of Minnesota.

Eric Chavez started it off with an infield single to second base. Guardado next retired Chavez with a fielder's choice that put Jermaine Dye on first with one out.

Veteran David Justice turned up the intensity with a double to left, putting A's on second and third with still just one out.

Rookie second baseman Mark Ellis then took a 2-1 offering from Guardado over the right-field fence, pulling Oakland to within one run.

"It felt pretty good up four," said Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. "I said it before the series started, I said Mark Ellis is going to kill us. It seems like the guy you don't expect it from does well in the playoffs."

But Mientkiewicz said the homer didn't feel like a death blow. After all, the Twins were back to where they had been most of the game -- up one.

"When he hit that homer," Mientkiewicz said, "I said, 'All right, let's start over.'"

Manager Ron Gardenhire tried to look at it the same way, but it wasn't easy. "I'm telling you, that was an emotional last inning," he said. "I was torn whether I should go get him."

But Guardado appeared to be taking Mientkiewicz's advice. Starting from scratch, with one out and nobody on, he induced a fly out to center fielder Torii Hunter.

But the next batter, veteran Randy Velarde, in what will likely be his last Major League at-bat, wasn't ready to go back to his Texas ranch quite yet. He singled to right field to bring Durham, the tying run, to the plate.

"I left him out there, and I said 'He has got to get Durham out.' And it was the hardest decision I had all year," Gardenhire said. "It was very tough, but I wanted that young man out there."

It took seven excruciating pitches, but it was the right call. When Durham's pop fly landed in second baseman Denny Hocking's glove, the upset was complete.

Guardado, who grew up in nearby Stockton, Calif., said the moment -- forgetting about control problems he was having that caused the drama -- was a dream come true.

"It's like a story tale. I watched Oakland play when I was a kid. My family and friends were here. They supported me throughout my career. My wife, my kids -- I'll celebrate with them."

Back to

For Twins fans, watching Guardado take the mound is often a stress-inducing activity. Although he saved a team-record 45 games in his first season as the team's closer, he made quite a few of them interesting.

But then again, there's a reason they call him "Everyday Eddie," and not "Easy Eddie."

"It's never easy," laughed Guardado. "I always do it the hard way."

Afterward, just as every closer aspires to do, Guardado appeared to have already forgotten close call.

"When you fall behind and give up a couple of hits, that's what's going to happen," he said. "I'm fortunate we scored a couple of runs, and now I'm here celebrating."

"I didn't want to let them down. And I didn't."

Kent Schacht is an editorial producer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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