- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. Rarely in the last three or four months had the Oakland Athletics faced a must-win situation like this. When a team goes an astounding 83-33 since May23 a run that included an AL-record 20-game winning streak it doesn't often find itself with its back to the wall.

So when the A's blew a four-run lead to the Minnesota Twins in Game1 of the Division Series, it seemed apropos to wonder whether a team that has been on cruise control for months and has a recent history of playoff failure had what it takes to rebound from a demoralizing loss.

The answer to that would be yes. A resounding yes.

Behind a standout pitching performance from Mark Mulder and an offensive onslaught led by Eric Chavez and David Justice, the A's ran away with a 9-1 victory over the Twins yesterday in Game2.

"We needed to win today," said Mulder, who allowed one run and five hits in six innings. "We couldn't afford to lose this game."

The series now shifts to Minneapolis, where sellout crowds of 55,000 at the raucous Metrodome await the A's, a stark contrast to the unimposing gathering of 31,953 that witnessed yesterday's proceedings at Oakland Coliseum.

"They have no idea what it's going to be like there," said Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz.

The Twins went 54-27 this season at their quirky, Teflon-roofed home and have an 11-1 all-time record there during the playoffs. With all that in mind, the A's arrived at their ballpark yesterday morning knowing what had to be done after a potentially devastating loss 24 hours earlier.

"I had no concern about it," Oakland manager Art Howe said. "I know their makeup, what they are all about, and that's why I didn't have to sit around and talk to anybody. I just checked out the scene when I came in. Everybody seemed to be pretty relaxed and confident. And they went out and played that way."

With Mulder in top form, it wasn't hard for the A's to do so. The 25-year-old left-hander and sometimes-overlooked third member of Oakland's three-headed pitching monster never gave the Twins a chance to mount a significant rally.

He allowed one runner to reach base in each of his first five innings, but didn't put a second man on until the sixth when Cristian Guzman led off with a homer and Matthew LeCroy later singled.

More than anything, Mulder displayed the poise and gamesmanship of a 10-year veteran, not a young pitcher making his third career postseason start.

"I knew it was a big game," he said. "I didn't try to do anything extra, I didn't try to do anything special. I didn't want to try to do too much and try to strike everybody out. I was just trying to get quick outs."

The Twins have faced Mulder on numerous occasions nine times in three seasons, counting yesterday's game but he's managed to have the upper hand in those head-to-head-meetings. Mulder's career numbers against Minnesota: 5-2 with a 2.10 ERA.

"That's what makes him so good; he makes adjustments to you," Mientkiewicz said. "He's always one step ahead of you."

And thanks to his team's nine-run explosion against Twins right-handers Joe Mays and Tony Fiore, Howe had the liberty to pull Mulder after six innings, leaving him on target to pitch a potential Game5 here on Sunday.

That's not a scenario in which the Twins would like to find themselves. "In a perfect world, no," Mientkiewicz said. "I'd like to see him next year."

Mulder's job yesterday was made all the easier by an A's lineup that took control of the game from the start. With two on and one out in the first inning, Chavez belted a 1-1 slider from Mays over the right-field fence, putting Oakland up 3-0.

The onslaught continued in the fourth, when the A's batted around, knocked Mays out of the game and turned this one into a blowout when Justice ripped a bases-loaded triple off Fiore.

Perhaps some players in the Oakland clubhouse had butterflies coming into this must-win game, but not Justice. The 36-year-old outfielder played his record 109th postseason game yesterday (for his fourth team), even though his regular-season numbers have tailed off somewhat in recent years.

"I'm able to focus those three weeks probably better," he said. "It's easier than trying to focus for five-to-six months. You're looking at 25 at-bats. Sometimes it's hard to focus for 500-some at-bats."

One day after dealing the A's a disheartening loss, the Twins now find themselves dealing with some adversity. Then again, given their happy-go-lucky nature (not to mention the confidence of returning home), the AL Central champs might not dislike this position at all.

"We're going back home," Mays said. "Our main goal coming out here was to come away with a split. We did that."

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