Battle-tested A's survive raucus Metrodome crowdPosted: Friday October 04, 2002 10:08 PM
Updated: Friday October 04, 2002 10:23 PM
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
MINNEAPOLIS -- Baseball comes in three varieties. There’s regular-season baseball, when the games generally are quiet, and Twins fans can identify outfielders by the fly ball calls that echo around the antiseptic Metrodome. There’s postseason baseball, a more raucous, more nail-biting version of the regular-season animal.
Then there’s Metrodome playoff baseball. The crowd noise (an ESPN graphic placed the Game 3 din third on a list of eardrum-rattling events, barely quieter than the sounds of a chainsaw and a rocket launch) drowns out all but a player’s most private thoughts. The ball bounces around like a BB. And visiting teams generally wilt like untended houseplants. "The Cardinals didn’t want to play here [in the 1987 World Series]," former Twins star Kirby Puckett said the other day. "All the A’s have to do is miss one ball and the place will go crazy and start leaning on them."
The Dome leaned on Friday, but the A’s pushed back. They marched into the Metrodome, endured the noise and two of the most bizarre innings in postseason history, and came out with a 6-3 win. The A’s didn’t beat Minnesota so much as they survived the Dome. As a result they have a 2-1 lead in this Division Series, and they’ve torpedoed the one huge advantage the Twins held in this matchup. "There’s no place like this," Oakland first baseman Scott Hatteberg said after Game 3.
Consider what happened in the first two innings of Game 3. On the third pitch of the game, Minnesota’s Torii Hunter, a Gold Glove center fielder, misplayed a routine line drive off the bat of Ray Durham into an inside-the-park home run. Two pitches later Hatteberg launched a homer over the baggie in right field; it was the first time ever that a postseason game began with back-back home runs.
The A’s got Domed in the bottom of the first. Jacques Jones popped up starter Barry Zito’s first pitch of the day into foul ground near first base. Hatteberg drifted over and appeared to camp underneath the ball midway between the first-base line and the stands. The ball hurtled down out of the cream-colored roof and landed 30 feet behind him, about a foot into foul ground. "Right off the bat I lost it," Hatteberg said. "Everywhere else, when you look up at the sky you see the ball."
Jones went on to strike out, so that mistake didn’t hurt the A’s. Neither did a popup mishap in the bottom of the second, when second baseman Mark Ellis, oblivious to Hatteberg’s I-got-it call, crashed into the first baseman and the ball squirted onto the turf. And neither did Zito’s gaffe on his next pitch, when the ball slipped out of his hand and landed near the first-base line. "We were just hoping that some sanity would start to prevail and some normalcy would take place," said Oakland manager Art Howe.
It did. Zito, who walked two in that second inning, settled down and allowed three runs in six innings. The A’s, who had made the Dome more peaceful by jumping to a first-inning lead for the third straight game, eliminated the crowd for good when they took a 4-3 lead on Jermaine Dye’s home run in the sixth. Oakland, which lost Game 5 of last year’s Division Series at a crazed Yankee Stadium, passed their Dome test. In the days leading up to Game 3, the A’s fielded as many questions about the Metrodome as their actual opponents. They answered all of them, and are now on the verge of a trip to the ALCS.
Before Friday, the Twins had won 11 of the 12 postseason games played at the Metrodome. After the first inning , the plate umpire wandered over to Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire and said he had never seen a play like Hatteberg’s popup adventure. "That’s the Metrodome buddy," Gardenhire said, "get used to it."
Unfortunately for the Twins, the A’s did.