Twins' 'Piranhas' swimming upstream
A's have taken initiative by playing better brand of baseball
MINNEAPOLIS -- Frank Thomas had to smile when he was asked how the surprising Oakland A's could come to one of the toughest road venues in baseball for a playoff series and get out of town with back-to-back wins.
"That's just the way this team plays the game," the Oakland slugger said. "We surprise people. We win a lot of games 3-2 [or] 4-3 and they say 'How the [heck] did they win that ballgame?' We don't blow people away, what we do is get the job done. We play solid team baseball and we make the other team make mistakes."
Thomas and the surprising A's have all but bagged Minnesota's Piranhas with an attack that is more ballpeen hammer than sledgehammer.
The A's methodical, efficient attack and errorless play again Wednesday in a 5-2 victory over the Twins in Game 2 have given the American League West champs a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five AL Division Series with the series moving on to Oakland.
"No one has given us a chance since day one," Oakland first baseman Nick Swisher said. "We came in here and did the unthinkable in peoples' eyes."
The A's have certainly opened some eyes with their play. Oakland's bullpen outpitched Minnesota's. The A's have outhit the Twins and made fewer mistakes.
This is no fluke, the A's have simply played better baseball. The Twins have yet to have the lead in this series and are 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position. The Twins are hitting .212 in the series.
In Game 2, the A's once again played superb defense, and while the Twins weren't charged with any game errors, at least one mental mistake -- Torii Hunter's decision to try and make a diving stop on Mark Kotsay's sinking liner -- was the ill-advised attempt that led to Kotsay's inside-the-park homer in the seventh and sent the A's on their way to victory.
"Normally, when Torii lays out like that he makes the catch," Thomas said. "This time he didn't."
The stunned A's couldn't believe their good fortune.
"I looked up and all of a sudden the ball was at the wall," Swisher said. "All of us were yelling. I think half the team met [Kotsay] at home plate, it was like a college game."
The A's beat the Twins despite no RBIs from the Nos. 3-4-5-6-7 hitters in the Oakland lineup, while the Twins got back-to-back homers from middle-of-the-order batters Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau in the sixth.
As it turned out, it didn't matter because Minnesota's pesky "Piranhas" Luis Castillo, Nick Punto, Jason Tyner and Jason Bartlett were a combined 3-for-16 with no runs or RBIs, while their counterparts on the A's -- Jason Kendall, Kotsay, Marco Scutaro and Mark Ellis -- were 6-for-18 with three runs and four RBIs.
There's a lesson in this. As former Major Leaguer Dante Bichette once said, statistics are like bikinis. They show a lot, but not everything. These A's are far more than the sum of their statistics.
"Stats are overrated," Swisher said. "We won today with Oakland A's style baseball; we get the big hit at the right time. The guys [in the bullpen] have been doing it all year. It's almost like they expect to go 1-2-3. I'm really proud of these guys. We came in here and played two tough ballgames. Now we get to relax and look forward to Game 3."
The A's defense was airtight, especially shortstop Scutaro, whose eight assists were one shy of the single-game record in the ALDS, and third baseman Eric Chavez, who staved off a couple of potential Twins rallies with fine defensive stops.
"Our shortstop probably was the key to the whole game," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "This guy gets under the radar all the time. To me he was the key to the whole game today."
Thomas thought so too.
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The Oakland bullpen turned in four scoreless innings in support of starter Esteban Loaiza, although things did get a bit exciting in the ninth when closer Huston Street gave up a hit and walk after there were two outs.
"I told Street 'Why did you have to make it so exciting?' " Swisher said. "He told me he likes it when the crowd gets loud."
Street eventually quieted the crowd by nailing down his second save of the series to send the surprising A's on their way.
And make no mistake, Thomas and the A's appear to be on their way to more than just home sweet home.
"We haven't won anything yet," Thomas cautioned, then smiled again, "but this is a good start."
Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.