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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have plenty of impact players, but one that may have been overlooked this season is Luis Castillo.
Castillo's presence in the Twins lineup has made a huge difference. When Castillo missed two key series this year due to lingering injuries, one at Chicago in April and another at New York in September, the Twins went a combined 1-5. His absence was once again felt in the Twins' final regular-season series with the White Sox.
After picking up losses in the first two games of the series, Castillo returned for the final game on Sunday, and an immediate change was felt. Castillo provides not only a presence in the middle of the infield, but on the basepaths with his speed.
"He's a tone setter for our baseball team," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "This is what we've been missing, a tablesetter like him. He's just such a good player. If he doesn't get it done, it's hard to believe."
That's why it came as a bit of a shock to the Twins in Game 1 that Castillo was part of two momentum-changing plays, both of which went the way of Oakland.
One of those came in the first inning, when Castillo drew a leadoff walk but was caught stealing during Nick Punto's at-bat. In an inning where A's starter Barry Zito was having problems with command, the play seemed to get Zito out of a tough spot.
Another play came during the eighth inning, when Castillo was given the "get him over" command after Jason Bartlett had led off the inning with a double. An unsuccessful bunt attempt on the first pitch seemed to throw Castillo off, as he saw first baseman Nick Swisher running in toward home plate. Gardenhire tried to tell Castillo to bunt it to the third-base side, but instead Castillo grounded out to third and Bartlett was unable to advance.
"I knew there was confusion with him on the play," Gardenhire said. "When I said to Luis, 'Just bunt it to third,' I could see the confusion in his face.
But Gardenhire said that Castillo will continue to get the green light, because he knows the difference that Castillo can make in a ballgame -- even if that difference didn't lead to a win on Tuesday.
"He knows how to make things happen," Gardenhire said. "I know people say that [first-inning play] really ran us out of the game, and I understand that. The guy was up in the zone, but I also know that the guy behind the plate hasn't thrown anybody out. And this time he got the perfect pitch to throw.
"Luis has just meant so much to this team that he'll continue to get chances to do those types of things."
Back to the lefty: The Twins lineup had only one change on Wednesday, with left-handed hitter Jason Tyner slotted into the eighth spot as the designated hitter.
With a right-hander on the mound, Gardenhire went back to using more lefties. Tyner hit eighth, followed by Bartlett in the nine spot. Then, the top of the order has Castillo followed by Punto in the two hole. That lineup gives Gardenhire the speed at the top and bottom of the lineup that he prefers.
"That's probably our best lineup," Gardenhire said. "Those guys -- Tyner, Bartlett, Castillo, Punto -- make things happen. They run around the bases with speed and force the issue."
No more Hurt:
Frank Thomas certainly gave the Twins a reason on Tuesday to think that they might have missed out by not signing him this past offseason.
Thomas' 3-for-4 day at the plate with two home runs was something that the Twins can't afford to see a repeat of in Game 2, if Minnesota hopes to head to Oakland with the series tied.
"He's been heating up," Gardenhire said of Thomas. "We knew that yesterday, but with Santana, are you going to tell him to pitch around people? No way."
That may not have been the case in Game 1, but with Boof Bonser, the plan for pitching to Thomas changes. Gardenhire said that the club can't afford to pitch around Thomas because the hitter behind him, third baseman Eric Chavez, can be just as dangerous.
"Bonser is going to have to attack smart," Gardenhire said. "We saw where the ball went when you attack. The big thing here is to keep Frank in the ballpark, because putting him on the bases is not that bad. But you still have to make pitches to the next guy, because he's a two-run homer waiting to happen."
Still the one:
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The home run that Jesse Crain gave up to Thomas in the ninth inning of Tuesday's game proved to be costly, but it hasn't changed Gardenhire's view on who he will use in those late-inning situations.
"Matchups will play a factor, but Crain has been our guy," Gardenhire said.
Like a rookie:
Phil Nevin has been in the Major Leagues for 12 years, but Tuesday marked his first playoff game.
Nevin had said in previous weeks that despite all of his experience in the Majors, he felt somewhat like a rookie when it came to the postseason. And when Nevin stepped out on the field, he experienced the difference in the atmosphere that everyone had told him about.
"The noise level was loud, the intensity was definitely raised a bit, too," Nevin said. "Once the game got going, everything felt the same. But obviously, beforehand, you felt it wasn't just another game."
There is one thing that Nevin hopes will change for Game 2 of the series.
"Everyone said it's a lot of fun, but yesterday wasn't so much fun," Nevin said. "Hopefully we change all that today."