- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. "Home field advantage" is a term not typically associated with baseball. The Minnesota-Oakland American League Division Series, however, is being played in two of the most home-friendly ballparks in America, and for that reason, both teams believe they have a distinct advantage.

Network Associates Coliseum, home of the A's, can wreak havoc with opposing players who are forced to battle the high California sky and blaring sun. The Twins found that out the hard way yesterday on a botched pop fly in the second inning that led to an Oakland run. Center fielder Torii Hunter nearly took a fly ball off his face in the eighth but managed to make the catch.

Balls hit in the air aren't the only problem. The grass surface at the Coliseum is pocked with brown patches and divots the result of Sunday's Raiders NFL game.

"Thank goodness it didn't rain; I think we dodged a bullet there," said A's manager Art Howe, whose team went 54-27 at home. "It's not in great shape, but both teams are going to have to deal with it."

The ground and sky are equally as troubling at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The spongy artificial turf can turn routine grounders into doubles and triples, while the white Teflon roof can make fly balls disappear.

The Twins relish playing 81 games a year there. Just like the A's, they were 54-27 at home, tied for the best record in the AL.

Said Minnesota pitcher Joe Mays: "I wish we could pack the dome up and take it with us wherever we go."

Saenz injured

As if their blown victory against the Twins wasn't tough enough, the A's suffered another loss yesterday when top bench player Olmedo Saenz ruptured his right Achilles' tendon in the eighth inning.

Saenz, who had entered in the seventh to replace first baseman Scott Hatteberg, was barreling down the first-base line on a slow grounder (it eventually rolled foul) when he pulled up lame. He fell in a heap to the ground, clutching his right ankle and had to be carried off the field by two trainers.

He'll be lost for the rest of the postseason. "It obviously limits our right-handed bats, so it's a shame," Howe said. "A foul ball on top of it. But he was hustling down the line, he said he felt something pop, and it was his Achilles'."

Words of wisdom

This postseason thing is uncharted territory for the Twins, who have just two players pitchers Rick Reed and Mike Jackson with a combined 32 games of October experience. By comparison, A's left fielder David Justice played in his record 108th playoff game yesterday.

Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire's plan to combat his team's youthfulness was to invite club legends Kirby Puckett and Dan Gladden to speak before the game.

"They said we don't have any experience in the playoffs, so I thought I would bring some in," said Gardenhire. "Just a little uplifting type thing. It was pretty good. I can't tell what they said; it was unrepeatable."

Dye hard

A's trainer Larry Davis has a simple explanation why right fielder Jermaine Dye seems to be hitting his peak: He's finally healthy.

Dye broke his left leg during the fourth game of the 2001 Division Series and spent much of the offseason on crutches. He even slept in a reclining chair during the offseason because he wore a cast up to his hip.

He came into the playoffs hitting .252 with 24 home runs and 86 RBI.

"The last three or four weeks, he has really started to look like he did last year," Davis said. "But the type of injury he suffered last year takes just about a year to heal. I think he played about 80 percent during the season. Right now he's very close to 100 percent. He has no aches or pains; everything seems to be going right for him."

Randolph seeks Tigers' job

New York Yankees third-base coach Willie Randolph will interview for the Detroit Tigers' manager vacancy. Randolph, who said he has unsuccessfully interviewed for six or seven jobs, will meet with Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski in New York.

The Yankees play Anaheim in Game 2 of the playoffs tonight night.

Randolph has not heard yet from the New York Mets, who fired manager Bobby Valentine yesterday. The Tigers dismissed manager Luis Pujols on Monday.

Yankees first-base Lee Mazzilli, who is also a former Met, hasn't been contacted by any team but would be interested.

"I'm wearing a Yankees uniform and my focus is on the playoffs and trying to win the World Series," he said.

Appier's shot

When Kevin Appier was traded by the Mets to the Angels for first baseman Mo Vaughn last winter, it appeared he was going from contender to also-ran.

It turned out to be the opposite, and Appier will start Game2 of the Angels' AL division series against the Yankees tonight while the Mets, who finished last in the NL East, are home for the winter.

"I was surprised to be traded," Appier said. "I definitely didn't think the Mets were a non-contender, I thought we had a good team. I really liked playing in New York, I was bummed from that standpoint."

Make up your mind

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox was still pondering the makeup of his roster a day before Game1 of the NL playoff series against the San Francisco Giants.

Cox was considering whether to keep 11 pitchers or go with three catchers as a precaution in case of injury.

Atlanta starter Javy Lopez has been bothered by a sore shoulder. His backup is Henry Blanco.

"Our catchers are pretty healthy," Cox said. "But carrying a third catcher is on my mind right now instead of an 11th pitcher. We'll definitely go with 11 pitchers in the second round."

If the Braves go with three catchers, little-used Steve Torrealba will be on the 25-man roster. Cox would then have to cut from his deep pitching staff.

The teams have to submit their rosters by 10 a.m. today, three hours before the first pitch.

Cards' pitcher out

Right-hander Woody Williams, bothered by a sore muscle in his side, was left off the St. Louis roster for the playoff series against Arizona.

Williams tentatively was scheduled to start Game3 Saturday in St. Louis, but he experienced soreness after throwing a dozen pitches in a workout at Bank One Ballpark.

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