- The Washington Times - Monday, October 7, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. It was only fitting that the wildest of baseball's four division series came down to the wildest of finishes.
And it was only fitting that in the year of the underdog, the Minnesota Twins not the New York Yankees, not the Arizona Diamondbacks, not the Oakland Athletics are still standing.
Oh, the Twins tried their best to turn Game 5 of the ALDS yesterday into one of the worst collapses in playoff history, watching as their four-run, ninth-inning lead nearly evaporated. But with the prospect of a bitter end staring them squarely in the eyes, the Twins just as they have done all year managed to fight off the Grim Reaper one more time, escaping the Oakland Coliseum with a heart-stopping, 5-4 victory over the A's.
"That's what baseball is all about," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's what a fifth game is supposed to be like."
In storming back from a 2-1 series deficit to knock off the 103-win A's, Minnesota advances to what will be one of the unlikeliest AL Championship Series. The small-market, contraction-bound Twins amazingly will play host to Game1 tomorrow night against the no-name, world-beater Anaheim Angels.
Said Minnesota second baseman Denny Hocking, who caught the final out: "It's TV's worst nightmare: Twins and Angels."
The slightly larger-market A's nearly saved the Hollywood executives' necks with a stunning ninth-inning rally that brought the previously silent Coliseum crowd of 32,146 to its feet.
After clinging to a tenuous 2-1 lead for five full innings, the Twins gave themselves what looked like a safe cushion with a three-run ninth, highlighted by A.J. Pierzynski's home run off Oakland closer Billy Koch.
Eddie Guardado, Minnesota's reliable left-handed set-up man through years of failure, entered to close out the game, just as he did on 45 occasions during the regular season. An Eric Chavez single, a David Justice double and a Mark Ellis three-run homer later, and the Twins' comfortable four-run lead was suddenly a 5-4 nail-biter.
"I said something on the airplane last night," Gardenhire said. "I said, 'OK, boys, I am going to bring a bunch of extra barf bags in case anybody needs one for tomorrow's game.' I promise you, on my desk there are barf bags.
"That's what it was like. I know what Eddie was talking about when he said he couldn't spit. I couldn't spit."
But with two outs and a runner on first, Guardado got Oakland's Ray Durham who was nearly leapfrogged in the lineup one spot by a confused Greg Myers to hit a high popup to the right side. Hocking drifted into foul territory, made the catch and joined his teammates in a celebratory dogpile near the pitchers' mound.
In the home dugout, the A's could not help from feeling a sense of deja vu, having lost Game 5s in the division series each of the past three years.
"This is harder than the last two," said Mark Mulder, the losing pitcher both in 2001 at Yankee Stadium and yesterday. "We really expected more out of ourselves."
The ninth-inning dramatics overshadowed what had been a brilliant pitchers' duel between Mulder and Minnesota's Brad Radke.
Radke, who surprised many when he signed a contract extension two years ago with the then-hopeless Twins, held the A's to one run (Durham's third-inning homer) and six hits in 6⅔ innings. Mulder, who was pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his professional career, dodged bullets through the first four of his seven innings, but managed to surrender just two runs.
The game was left in the hands of both bullpens, and in spite of Guardado's shaky ninth-inning moments the Twins' relief corps lived up to its lofty reputation.
Left-hander J.C. Romero entered for Radke with two outs in the seventh and got Terrence Long to ground into a force out, then helped start the game's best defensive play in the eighth. Pinch hitter Randy Velarde smoked a grounder back up the middle that knocked Romero's glove off his hand, but shortstop Cristian Guzman made a running, bare-hand grab and fired to first to beat Velarde by a step.


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