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Dive comes up short, Minnesota lands in a hole

Despondent Hunter blames missed catch on ball doing 'something funny' in mid air

Oakland Athletics batter Frank Thomas, right, is congratulated by third base coach Ron Washington after hitting his second home run against the Minnes...
Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter dives but fails to catch a ball in Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series playoff baseball game i...
Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe reacts as New York Mets Cliff Floyd, left, rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in their National Lea...

Oakland Athletics batter Frank Thomas, right, is congratulated by third base coach Ron Washington after hitting his second home run against the Minnes...

Minnesota Twins center fielder Torii Hunter dives but fails to catch a ball in Game 2 of the American League Divisional Series playoff baseball game i...

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Derek Lowe reacts as New York Mets Cliff Floyd, left, rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in their National Lea...

As he sprinted toward right-center field in the seventh inning, Minnesota's Torii Hunter said, he had no doubt that Mark Kotsay's sinking liner was bound for his glove. Even as he dived, Hunter never wavered.
"I'm telling you, I had the ball," he said. "My eyes, my instincts, told me I had the ball."
But in that split second, Hunter said, the ball did something funny. "It cut, like a two-seam fastball," he said. "I moved my glove, but I couldn't get it."
The ball bounced to the wall as Hunter lay sprawled on the field, and Kotsay chugged around for a two-run inside-the-park homer. That proved to be the deciding hit Wednesday in Oakland's 5-2 victory as the Athletics took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five division series.
Coming back could be tough for Minnesota, which heads to Oakland having to win the next three games, but the Twins may be better off playing on the road. This was their seventh consecutive postseason loss in the hanky-waving din of the Metrodome since 2002, all with Ron Gardenhire as manager.
"It's crazy, because we played so well at home during the course of the year," said Gardenhire, whose team had the best home record in the majors, 54-27. "Right now, we're just not making enough contact and driving in enough runs."
Three times in the first five innings, the Twins got back-to-back singles with two outs and did not put a run across. They finally broke through in the sixth with back-to-back homers by Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau to tie the score at 2-2 against the veteran Esteban Loaiza.
In the first two games of the series, the Twins have scored four runs, three on solo homers, and gone 0 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
That lack of offense made Hunter's play pivotal. The Twins had failed to turn an inning-ending double play on Jason Kendall's grounder to short when Kotsay, facing the left-handed reliever Dennys Reyes, lined a 3-1 pitch to Hunter's left.
Hunter had only recently begun running well after battling left foot and ankle problems for most of the season. Had he played Kotsay's ball on a hop, the A's probably would have had runners at first and second with Milton Bradley up.
"If I lay off that ball," Hunter said, "people would go crazy. I'd go crazy. I can't play it safe. That's not me."
Loaiza pitched effectively even after finding himself in the midst of two dugout disturbances. Bradley flung his batting gloves carelessly in the fourth inning and spilled coffee on Loaiza. Loaiza retreated to the clubhouse for a new uniform top.
An inning later, Bradley and the hitting coach, Gerald Perry, got into a shouting match and had to be separated by Loaiza.
"Gerald said something about my mom, and I said something about his mom," Bradley said. "He said, 'I'm sorry.' I said, 'I'm sorry, too,' and it's all good. It worked out."
A despondent Hunter could only wish his day had finished that well. "Maybe I'll go read my Bible," he said.
Mets hold off Dodgers
Willie Randolph had waited his entire professional life to finally stand beneath October's anvil. It's not a manager-friendly environment, where every tactical decision becomes food for the army of second-guessers who swarm the postseason.
Here was Randolph, fresh off a 6-5 win over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the Division Series, walking everyone through the two critical moments in the Mets' dugout. This was his first playoff game, and even though it wasn't perfect for Randolph, he still earned an A-minus.
If nothing else, Randolph smoked Grady Little, who sabotaged the Dodgers by summoning Brad Penny with the score tied in the seventh. Somehow Little must think Penny is the same pitcher who struck out the side in first inning of the All-Star Game - oblivious to the identify theft that claimed his pitcher's fastball and, seemingly, his confidence.
As soon as Penny issued a leadoff walk to Jose Reyes, the engines of a Met rally were screaming. Two runs later, Game 1 was delivered to Randolph, and you could now argue the Division Series is almost his, too.
That went a long way in explaining Randolph's mood in the clubhouse. He was upbeat, riding a postgame adrenaline surge, talking about the electricity in the ballpark, the crowd noise, the way a manager's senses become overwhelmed by the end-of-the-world importance attached to his every decision.
It's moments like these that separate leaders from mere decision-makers. The Mets gave away a 4-1 lead in the seventh as Guillermo Mota faltered - and yes, Randolph took responsibility for that - but no one in the dugout panicked. For that, the Mets can thank Randolph, who's been an island of confidence all summer.
It sure took guts, after all, to remove John Maine in the fifth inning, just two outs away from his first playoff victory. The Mets had a 2-1 lead, Shea was like some open-air asylum and Maine was mostly in control of the Dodgers. But when they rallied, putting runners on first and second with one out, Randolph was on his way to the mound.
I hear voices
It wasn't an easy decision for a manager with a conscience. Randolph smiled and described the "conversation" he had with the voices in head.
"On one shoulder I've got a little man saying, 'Hey, there's only two more outs to go (for Maine to get the win),'" Randolph said. "On the other shoulder I've got the little knucklehead saying, 'Go with what you see and what you feel.'"
Randolph knew better than to take a chance in a short series, especially in a decisive Game 1. The Mets were asking a lot of Maine - specifically, not to crumble as a last-minute replacement for Pedro Martinez and Orlando Hernandez - and he never hyper-ventilated, pitching Derek Lowe to a dead heat.
But Randolph knew Maine was losing some velocity in the fifth, missing the lower half of the strike zone. The Mets wanted six innings out of their rookie, but after 4 innings, it was time for Plan B. And that went precisely as Randolph planned.
Pedro Feliciano struck out Kenny Lofton, after which Plan C was hatched, getting Chad Bradford to face Nomar Garciaparra. That worked, too, as the Dodgers' first baseman bounced to short to end the inning. Mota was next, and he was so overpowering in getting a 1-2-3 inning, Randolph admitted he was seduced into letting the reliever bat in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded and two outs. The Mets were up by three runs at the time, and one more base hit would've put the game out of reach. Think Randolph was listening to the little men now? One of them was suggesting going nuclear, stretching the lead to 5-1 or 6-1 and letting Roberto Hernandez handle the Dodgers in the seventh and beyond.
But Randolph eased off, giving Mota the at-bat and an extra inning of work, despite the fact that he'd gone beyond three outs only once in 18 appearances with the Mets this year. Randolph knew the risk, but said, "I felt with our bullpen and everyone rested, we could hold a (4-1) lead."
The gamble failed when the Dodgers tied the score. If you want to blame anyone, though, start with Jose Valentin for throwing away what should've been an easy 4-3 putout into a error that sailed past Jose Reyes at short.
The Dodgers eventually tied the score and on any other day, who knows, maybe they would've made the Mets pay for their tactical errors. But it was Little who stumbled, insisting that Penny take the ball in the bottom of the seventh.
Penny had made just one relief appearance in 2006, so maybe it was no surprise that the Mets ambushed him and that when the game was on the line it was Carlos Delgado who beat the Dodgers one more time. An A-minus gets the Mets one step closer to the pennant.


Updated : 2021-04-22 01:47 GMT+08:00