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ATHLETICS 5, TWINS 2

Twins left with sinking feeling

A's uplifted after Hunter's gaffe

MINNEAPOLIS -- Right after two Minnesota teammates hit back-to-back home runs, Torii Hunter tried to be the hero.

Instead, the Gold Glove center fielder made an ill-advised dive for a sinking line drive. Sprawled on the turf, he could only watch as Mark Kotsay circled the bases for an inside-the-park home run that lifted the Oakland Athletics over Minnesota, 5-2, yesterday for a 2-0 lead in their AL playoff series.

"It was the worst feeling in the world. You can't do anything about it," said Hunter, who blamed himself for this devastating defeat.

A's starter Esteban Loaiza slipped in the sixth inning, surrendering consecutive solo homers to Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau that evened the score at 2-2.

But with Jason Kendall on first base, two outs in the seventh, and reliever Dennys Reyes pitching, Kotsay hit what should have been a single. Hunter, bothered by a sore left foot this season, charged forward.

"There's only one person in this league that can make that catch, and it's Torii," said Cuddyer, who watched from right field. ``Although it's as close as you come, he's not Superman."

The five-time Gold Glover missed -- by a lot -- and the ball rolled to the wall. Kotsay raced all the way around to give Oakland a 4-2 lead.

"Once you commit, you're kind of in no-man's land, and it's best to go," said Kotsay, also a center fielder. ``He went, and for his sake, unfortunately, the ball took off."

Said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire: ``When he goes after a ball, I don't second-guess him. Ever."

The A's handled the Boof -- Bonser, that is -- and here's the truth: These perennial playoff underperformers have arrived at yet another elimination game. They're 0-9 in those since 2000, losing four straight first-round series.

``This team knows what to do," said Eric Chavez, a regular on all four of those clubs. ``We're hard-nosed baseball players that like to play the game. I don't think anybody here, regardless if they've been in this position, is going to take Game 3 lightly."

The series shifts west tomorrow, with Twins righthander Brad Radke taking his broken shoulder socket to the mound for possibly the final time of his 12-year career. Dan Haren, in his first postseason start, will pitch for Oakland.

Bonser struck out three in six innings, giving up two runs and seven hits. Sidearmer Pat Neshek, who took the loss, started the seventh before yielding to Reyes.

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