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A couple of survivors

TWINS 5, A'S 4: Minnesota gets superb starting pitching, survives scary ninth to reach ALCS.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 7, 2002


OAKLAND, Calif. -- These Twins are having too much fun to be done.

Surviving Bud Selig's offseason contraction plan, it turns out, was only their first act. Determined to show they are as much a good baseball team as a feel-good story, the Twins kept the story line, and their season, alive Sunday with a thrilling 5-4 win over Oakland in Game 5 of the division series.

That means the Twins and the Angels, and not the A's or the Yankees, will be in the American League Championship Series starting Tuesday night.

"You can't get rid of the Twins," leftfielder Jacque Jones said. "Selig tried it. The A's were up (two games to one). We just never quit. And now we're one step away from the World Series."

So what if it came down to a fifth and final first-round game against the more experienced A's? So what if Mark Mulder was matching their Brad Radke nearly pitch for pitch? So what if they had to live through one of the wildest ninth innings in a playoff finale you might ever see?

"It's a special story," first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said, "and hopefully we keep it going."

They did it Sunday by playing their kind of game, from the scrappy offense to Radke's sterling effort to the productive ninth to the edge-of-their-seats ending. "We nagged those guys to death," centerfielder Torii Hunter said.

For the A's, it was another bitter ending, the third straight year their season ended with a loss in Game 5 of the division series.

"This is harder to take than the last two years," Mulder said. "We really expected a lot more out of ourselves."

Radke, the quiet kid from Tampa's Jesuit High, had a huge right hand in it. Radke's decision to re-sign with the Twins during the 2000 season validated the organization's commitment to field a competitive team, and it seemed only appropriate that he pitched the game that got them to the championship series.

"I was a little emotional, a little composed, nervous, the whole works," Radke said. "This is why you play the game, to get to this point right here, and hopefully on to better things."

He was dominant into the seventh, spotting his pitches, changing speeds and location and allowing six hits and one run. Besides the two-out homer he gave up to Ray Durham in the third, he allowed one other runner to get as far as second base.

"Just Brad being as good as Brad can be," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.

Manager Ron Gardenhire couldn't have been more pleased: "When we offered him a contract, he could have left. He wanted to stay here and, man, I'm glad he did. This was a big day for Radke."

Mulder, pitching on three days' rest for the first time as a pro, was nearly as good. The Twins hit him hard, but he allowed one run, and only one, when they loaded the bases in the second and Denny Hocking singled, and another in the third when Matthew LeCroy singled in Cristian Guzman.

It stayed 2-1 until the ninth, a game sprinkled with good defense and better pitching. Guzman made a dazzling play on a ball that deflected off reliever J.C. Romero's glove. LaTroy Hawkins came out of the bullpen to strike out MVP candidate Miguel Tejada with the tying run on in the eighth.

"I would say that's the way the game is supposed to be played in the fifth game of a series," Gardenhire said.

And then it really got exciting.

The A's brought in their closer, Billy Koch, to keep it close in the ninth.

Didn't work.

Koch gave up a leadoff walk and a homer to Pierzynski, his first since July 7, then a couple more hits that led to another run and made it 5-1.

Then the Twins brought in their closer, Eddie Guardado, to finish it off.

That nearly didn't work, either.

Guardado, who has suffered with the Twins since 1993, gave up two quick hits, then allowed a three-run home run to former Florida Gator Mark Ellis, making it a one-run game all over again.

As tough as it was, Gardenhire stuck with him. Terrence Long flied out and Randy Velarde singled to bring the winning run to the plate, but Durham's foul popout ended the game and started the celebration.

"Nerve-racking is putting it mildly," Gardenhire said. "That was very tense. Eddie's done it for us all year long, he just always makes it a little tough.

"But when he got that last out, that's what it was all about. Watching the players jump around and hug each other; that's as good as it gets for me."

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