A's hopes for sweep lie with Haren
Game 3 provides chance to punch ticket to ALCS
OAKLAND -- The Oakland Athletics maintained at least a three-game lead in the American League West over their final 52 games and at least a four-game lead from Aug. 12 until they clinched the division on Sept. 26.So it wasn't exactly as if they were in an intense playoff race over the final two months of the season. But things might have been a bit uncomfortable after losing two straight games to the Minnesota Twins Sept. 11-12 at the Metrodome, leaving the Athletics with a 4 1/2-game lead with 18 to play. Let's just say the Athletics really needed a win when Dan Haren took the mound for that third game in the Metrodome on Sept. 13, and he delivered exactly what they needed. In maybe his best game of the year, Haren tamed the red-hot Twins by holding them to three singles and a walk over eight innings. Huston Street pitched the ninth for a save, and the Athletics held on for a 1-0 victory, pushing their division lead back up to 5 1/2 games. "I actually took home the DVD of that start yesterday," Haren said. "Anytime I go into a start against a team that I have faced before, I try to watch a little bit of what I've done, especially if I have had success in the past." The Athletics hope there's a happy sequel to that DVD. Haren takes the mound against the Twins on Friday afternoon with a shot to close out the American League Division Series with a victory. If Haren pitches the way he did three weeks ago, the Athletics have a chance to put some playoff ghosts to rest. "I think, that game, my command was really good," Haren said. "I don't know if I walked anybody, maybe one guy, but when I'm going good, I throw a lot of strikes. Watching them in the first two games, they have been pretty aggressive, and they know I'm going to be throwing strikes, so I've got to use that to my advantage and figure out a way to get some early outs." Haren must also control his emotions. If he lets them flow out of control, he gets in trouble. "He has a tendency to fall off a little bit on the mound and get under some balls, and then he has a problem with his location," Oakland manager Ken Macha said. "Then he has a problem with his location, when he doesn't have that timing. He needs to get a good consistent release point, or he gets knocked around a little bit."
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The Athletics will be looking for one of those two guys to ascend to the top of their rotation next season, if they are unable to re-sign Barry Zito. This is a chance for Haren to show he belongs in that class."I think I've shown at times this year that I can have No. 1 stuff," Haren said. "When you look at No. 1 starters like Zito, he has been doing it for six years now -- the quality starts, the innings, the wins. "I don't think I've been able to accomplish those things at this point in my career, but looking at a guy like that and [Johan] Santana, I think at times I've shown I can do that. I definitely wouldn't consider myself a No. 1 starter at this point, but it's something I'm working towards." Clinching the ALDS with a big performance in Game 3 would be a big step toward that.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.