Friday, October 3, 2003

Athletics 5, Red Sox 1

A's ace throws 7 sharp innings, puts Red Sox on verge of elimination

The Associated Press

[IMAGE] Bill Mueller (second from left) and some Red Sox teammates hang their heads in the eighth inning of Thursday's loss to the A's.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
OAKLAND, Calif. - Barry Zito showed the importance of a good night's rest.

Zito struck out nine over seven dominant innings as the Oakland Athletics pushed the bleary-eyed Boston Red Sox to the brink of playoff elimination Thursday with a 5-1 victory in Game 2 of their division series.

The teams took the field for batting practice slightly more than 10 hours after Eric Chavez scored the winning run in the series opener, a 5-4, 12-inning victory for the A's that ended on Ramon Hernandez's daring bases-loaded bunt.

Zito had been sent home to bed well before Hernandez won it, and the relaxed left-hander pitched Oakland to a 2-0 series lead. His looping curveball 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 their lead 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 can advance to its first league championship series since 1992 with one more victory.

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

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 throwing error that also allowed two runs to score.

"Last night was a heartbreaker," Walker said. "We felt we should have won that game. Today, we just got beat."

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.

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.

But Oakland has been in this situation before: 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."

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

Zito struck out two more in the fifth. 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 on 113 pitches.

Except for the disastrous second inning, Wakefield was nearly as effective. He allowed four hits and three walks in six innings, striking out seven, and retired his final seven hitters - striking out the side in the sixth.

"We had Zito. That was the key today," said Miguel Tejada, who's 1-for-10 in the series.

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