- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 2, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. — Barry Zito got plenty of rest and no relaxation on the night before he dominated the Boston Red Sox.

While his Oakland teammates worked late for a 12-inning victory in the division series opener, Zito was wide awake in bed. He turned the radio on and off, called his parents — anything to stay occupied until the Athletics were finished.

Yesterday, Zito had a spring in his step and a nasty dip in his curveball — and he put the A’s in command of the best-of-5 series by striking out nine over seven impressive innings. Oakland sent bleary-eyed Boston to the brink of playoff elimination with a 5-1 victory in Game 2.

The teams took the field for batting practice slightly more than 10 hours after Eric Chavez scored the winning run in Game 1 on Ramon Hernandez’s daring bases-loaded bunt.

“I think I pictured it pretty well,” Zito said. “But I still came in the clubhouse and watched the tape of the last couple of guys, just to make it real and get me fired up for the game today.”

Mission accomplished: The Cy Young winner’s looping curve was in top form, and Boston’s record-setting offense spent the afternoon flailing at his best stuff. The A’s didn’t score again after an impressive second-inning rally, but Zito and relievers Chad Bradford and Keith Foulke easily made it stand up.

“Everybody was here early, even though it was a really tough night,” said Hernandez, who had an RBI single in Game 2. “It’s the time of year when you don’t have to worry about getting tired. We’re a young team, and we love it.”

Zito allowed five hits and two walks for the A’s, who have lost in the first round in each of the past three postseasons. Oakland finally can advance to its first league championship series since 1992 with one more victory.

“I think we definitely have something to prove,” Zito said. “We realize our guys are not going to be coming back every year. We lost Jason [Giambi], and the whole [Miguel] Tejada thing, we don’t know what’s going to happen with that.

“We don’t have a lot more years to say, ‘Oh, we’ll get them next year.’ We have to really bear down and get this series as soon as we can.”

Game 3 is tomorrow at Fenway Park. Derek Lowe, the losing pitcher in the opener, will start against Ted Lilly.

“Zito pitched a great game,” said Nomar Garciaparra, who went 1-for-3. “He put us against the wall, but we’ve been there before.”

Eric Byrnes’ first playoff hit was a two-run double during Oakland’s rally against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. Todd Walker, who hit two homers for Boston in the opener, made a comical throwing error that also allowed two runs to score.

Bradford pitched the eighth for Oakland — and one night after throwing 51 pitches over three relief innings, Foulke finished off the Red Sox in the ninth with 20 more.

After the complicated dramatics of the opener, Game 2 was fairly straightforward: The A’s relied on the dominant starting pitching and big innings that have carried them to four straight postseasons.

Oakland has been in this situation before, however: The A’s won the first two games of their 2001 division series against the New York Yankees, only to lose the final three.

“Anyone who was around in 2001 knows we can’t take anything for granted,” Byrnes said. “I guarantee that nobody in here has thought beyond today’s game.”

A few of the Red Sox have been here before, too: Boston trailed Cleveland 0-2 in the 1999 division series before rallying to win it in five games.

“We’re down 2-0, but we’re going home,” said Wakefield, one of Boston’s longtime veterans. “We just need to execute better, and we can get it done. … It’s a huge difference being at home. There’s that comfort zone with our fans, our rules, our game.”

Zito went 14-12 with a 3.30 ERA this season but was continually frustrated by bad luck and occasional lapses in the concentration that made him the AL’s best pitcher last year.

Boston got its run on back-to-back doubles by Doug Mirabelli and Johnny Damon in the second, but Zito retired seven straight while striking out the side in the fourth.

Zito struck out two more in the fifth, falling just short of the division series record of six straight Ks tied by Atlanta’s Mike Hampton on Wednesday night. The strikeouts raised Zito’s pitch count: He threw 93 pitches in the first five innings, relying mostly on tenacity to finish the final two with 113 pitches.

“We had Zito. That was the key today,” said Tejada, who’s 1-for-10 in the series.

Except for the disastrous second, Wakefield was nearly as effective. He allowed four hits and three walks in six innings, striking out seven.

But the A’s batted around in the second, scoring five runs on two hits.

Byrnes cleared the bases with a drive over Manny Ramirez’s head in left. With two runners on and two out, Chavez hit a slow roller to Walker’s left — but the second baseman muffed it, fell to the outfield grass and made a throw that sailed far past Kevin Millar, scoring both runners.

Wakefield retired his final seven hitters, striking out the side in the sixth.

Notes — Boston manager Grady Little stuck with the lineup shuffle he made in Game 1, batting Garciaparra second and Walker third. Walker was 0-for-4. … A’s starter Tim Hudson got dehydrated during the series opener, causing tightness in his right forearm and thumb. Oakland’s trainers eventually forced Hudson to drink plenty of fluids. “He’s perfect today,” trainer Larry Davis said.

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