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ATHLETICS 3, TWINS 2

A's find a way to beat Santana

MINNEAPOLIS -- Barry Zito, Frank Thomas, and the Oakland Athletics proved it was possible to beat Johan Santana -- even at the Metrodome.

Zito kept Minnesota off balance with his big curveball, Thomas hit two huge home runs, and the Athletics defeated the Twins and their ace, 3-2, yesterday in the opener of their first-round AL playoff series.

"First blood, I think, means a lot -- especially when you're playing on the road," Zito said.

Zito quieted the Twins and their fans at the noisy, quirky ballpark for eight innings. He gave up four hits, three walks, and one run and struck out one.

Oakland emerged in excellent shape after beating Santana, who was 16-0 over a span of 23 regular-season starts at home. Santana led the league in ERA, strikeouts, and innings, and tied for the AL high in wins.

"Santana's probably going to win another Cy Young," A's first baseman Nick Swisher said. "For us to overcome the noise and all that stuff and win against him is something special."

Minnesota rookie Boof Bonser will start against Esteban Loaiza in Game 2 this afternoon. A season-ending elbow injury to All-Star Francisco Liriano and righthander Brad Radke's shaky shoulder have left the rotation looking a little thin.

But this is a team that was a whopping 10 1/2 games behind Detroit Aug. 7 before overtaking the Tigers to win the AL Central on the final day of the season. They know comebacks.

``Same as we've been doing all year," said first baseman Justin Morneau, who went 0 for 4. ``Everybody's going to say we're done again, but we don't believe that."

Thomas went 3 for 4, homering in the ninth off Jesse Crain. The 38-year-old became the oldest player to have a multihomer game in postseason history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

``It was a big day," Thomas said. ``I'm just happy to win this first game, because this is a tough place to win ballgames."

Closer Huston Street gave one run back after a leadoff triple by Michael Cuddyer was lost in the ceiling by right fielder Milton Bradley. Torii Hunter drove in Cuddyer with a groundout, but Rondell White -- who doubled in the fifth and homered in the seventh -- flied to center to end the game.

``This team's pretty resilient," catcher Joe Mauer said, the major league batting leader who went 0 for 3 with a walk. ``We've dealt with coming from behind before. We're not going to quit until it's done."

The stadium was filled, of course, with 55,542 fans wiggling those white Homer Hankies and roaring every time Santana so much as made a move on the field in the minutes before the game.

But one out after Thomas homered in the second, Jay Payton singled and Marco Scutaro smacked a two-out double down the left-field line to give Oakland an early 2-0 edge.

Thomas is 8 for 19 with three homers in his career vs. Santana.

Zito ran with the lead, no-hitting Minnesota through 4 2/3 innings and only twice letting a runner get past second base.

``Everybody's aware of it, but Zito's in the same category as Santana," Street said.

Santana went eight innings and finished with a career playoff-best eight strikeouts.

``Everything was working out pretty good," said Santana, who allowed five hits and walked one. ``I was throwing my fastballs in the corners. Everything was fine. Unfortunately you make one mistake, and you pay for it. Today we weren't able to come back."

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