© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
MINNEAPOLIS -- There was no question who the Twins wanted as their Game 1 starter in the playoffs. Even with a potential division title on the line in the regular-season finale, the Twins rested Johan Santana for the opener at the Metrodome, a place where the pitcher had strung together 15 consecutive wins and the club had not lost 23 starts with him on the mound.
It all seemed to set up perfectly for a Twins win. But things don't always turn out as planned.
Santana delivered what was expected with a stellar outing, but A's starter Barry Zito was able to one-up the Twins ace in Minnesota's 3-2 loss to Oakland in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
It marked the first loss for Santana at home since Aug. 1, 2005, against these very same A's.
"That hasn't happened very often, if at all, in the past year and a half or so in this building," Michael Cuddyer said. "It's different for us, but he's human."
Santana (0-1) cruised through the A's lineup in the first inning, but the ease wouldn't last long. Frank Thomas led off the second inning with a 358-foot shot just inside the left-field foul pole to give Oakland a 1-0 lead. The A's were able to tag Santana for two more hits in the inning, leading to another run as Marco Scutaro hit a line-drive double to left that scored Jay Payton from first for a 2-0 A's advantage.
It was after Scutaro's double that Santana found his groove, retiring the next 11 batters he faced. After throwing 50 pitches through three innings, Santana needed just 18 over his next three.
"Everything was working pretty good," Santana said. "I was throwing my fastball in the corners and everything was fine. Unfortunately, you make one mistake, you have to pay for it. And we weren't able to come back."
The Twins offense couldn't find a way to take advantage of Santana's hot streak, having plenty of trouble against Zito.
Zito lacked command in the first inning but once he settled in, he never really gave the Twins much to hit. And when he did have struggles, the Twins offense couldn't take advantage.
"Early in the game, we chased some high pitches," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It looked like we could have made him work, and we probably chased out of the zone a bit. But he made it tough on us."
Twice, the Twins wasted leadoff walks as they were unable to score a run in either the first or third innings. In the sixth inning, Joe Mauer drew a two-out walk from Zito to put runners at first and second, but Cuddyer hit into a fielder's choice and the Twins came away without scoring a run once again.
Santana cruised until the seventh, when he found himself in his first real jam of the game. Thomas led off the inning with a single to right. On the next play, it looked like the Twins would have a double play to clear the bases, but shortstop Jason Bartlett missed the ball, allowing runners on first and second with no outs. Santana would load the bases before getting help from his defense to get out of the inning, but the error cost Santana at least 14 extra pitches.
It was those costly extra pitches in the seventh that likely kept Santana from being able to pitch a complete game. Having thrown 107 pitches through eight innings, Santana did not come back for the ninth after having allowed just two runs on five hits with eight strikeouts.
And Santana's absence proved to be costly when things started to turn around for the Twins offense.
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Zito (1-0) started to fade a bit near the end of his outing. Two hard-hit flyouts were just missed by Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter to start the seventh inning, before Rondell White blasted a solo homer on the first pitch. The 373-foot shot to left field put the Twins behind by just one run, 2-1.
After missed opportunities in the eighth, the Twins remained down by just one run going into the ninth inning. But without Santana, the Twins turned to reliever Jesse Crain, who in the leadoff at-bat missed with a sinker that Thomas pounded for his second home run of the night, a 393-foot shot that made it 3-1.
That run would haunt Crain when the Twins scored one in the ninth after a leadoff triple by Cuddyer, eventually ending up one run short of tying the game.
"It's something I thought about," Bartlett said about the effect of his error. "Santana probably could have pitched the ninth and gone from there and held them to two runs. You definitely think about what it meant."
The loss put the Twins at a big disadvantage in the series, considering they will be starting a rookie pitcher in Game 2.
But the club isn't trying to make too much of the Game 1 loss
"Everybody is going to say we're done again, and we don't believe that," Morneau said. "We battled and no one expected us to lose, but I mean, it happens. We didn't come out swinging the bats well early. We showed a little late, and now we just have to battle back and prove everybody wrong again."