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Notes: A's playoff rookies were awed

Notes: A's playoff rookies were awed

MINNEAPOLIS -- For Oakland's playoff rookies, youngsters and veterans alike, Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday was everything they expected it to be.

And more. Lots more.

For catcher Jason Kendall, who turned in one of the plays of the game by halting a potential first-inning Twins rally when he caught Luis Castillo trying to steal second base, the magnitude of the moment hit home with a scene he'd witnessed more than 1,500 times in the regular season over his 11 years in the big leagues.

Sitting in the dugout next to center fielder Mark Kotsay a few minutes before the first pitch, Kendall noticed the umpires take the field and knew immediately that he'd entered a different world.

Kotsay said the sight of the umps gave him goose bumps. Kendall said it sent a similar jolt through his already-amped body.

"It was amazing," Kendall said before Game 2 at the Metrodome on Wednesday. "I mean, how many times have I seen the umpires take the field in my career? But this was totally different. Usually they come out -- I know all of 'em, I've been around so long -- and mess around with you a little. You know, 'Hey, what's going on? How've you been?' But yesterday they were so serious. It was, 'Congratulations, Jason,' shake your hand, and that's it."

"Kots and I were like, 'Whoa. This is a big [darn] deal.' Not like we didn't already know that, but when the umps are that locked in, it tells you something."

For shortstop Marco Scutaro, whose two-out RBI double off Twins ace Johan Santana gave the A's a 2-0 lead in the second inning, the enormity struck when Santana's first pitch of the game zoomed past Kendall and hit catcher Joe Mauer's mitt.

"Strike one, and the crowd just went crazy: 'Ahhhhhhhhhh!'" Scutaro said. "That's when you know you're in the playoffs. That doesn't happen anywhere but the playoffs. That was exciting."

Closer Huston Street, who picked up the save Tuesday, said every pitch was exciting.

"What's so cool about the playoffs is that it's not about outs, or innings, or hits, or runs. It's about every single pitch. You never know what pitch is going to be the one that decides the game, and every game is so big," he said. "I think for me, the moment where it really hit me, like, 'Wow, I'm really in the playoffs,' was in the sixth inning. It was a 2-0 or 2-1 game at that point, and I just kind of looked around and soaked it all in. The 55,000 fans going nuts, the energy.

"The energy is just totally different in the playoffs. Until you feel it, you really have no idea what it's about, and that was when I felt it."

First baseman Nick Swisher, who doubled and walked Tuesday, started feeling it much earlier.

"[Monday] night at the hotel, I didn't sleep a wink," Swisher said. "It was almost like I was excited and nervous about it at the same time. You're excited about the opportunity you're given, and you're nervous because you don't want to screw it up. And then when I got here, it was the same feeling, all day long. In my lifetime, I don't think I've ever been in a place as loud as this place was. The way this place echoes, man, 55,000 people can crank it up. And the way the emotions were running on both sides was just so powerful to feel.

"It probably hit me the hardest in my first at-bat. I got up there, and the crowd is just going crazy, and I almost started to step out of the box to just soak it up. Obviously I can't do that, but I wanted to. It was that cool."

Added Kendall: "To be here for the first time, and to have the game go the way it went, with such a tense, great ballgame, it was more than you could hope for. Just incredible."

The right calls: A's manager Ken Macha had two tough decisions to make Tuesday. One before the game, and one at the end of it.

Both worked out.

The first was to start Kotsay, a left-handed hitter, in the outfield over switch-hitter Bobby Kielty. Kotsay had been in what he called a platoon with Kielty -- Macha insisted otherwise -- late in the year, with Kotsay starting against righties and Kielty, a former Twin who hits better from the right side, getting the nod against southpaws.

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Yet despite the presence of Santana, the probable AL Cy Young and the most dominant lefty in the game, and despite the risk of Kotsay aggravating his balky back with consecutive starts on the Metrodome turf, Macha went with Kotsay.

The reward? Kotsay turned in one of the defensive highlights of the game by robbing MVP candidate Justin Morneau of extra bases to open the bottom of the seventh, running down Morneau's drive into the left-center gap just before slamming into the wall.

Two batters later, Rondell White homered off A's starter Barry Zito to cut Oakland's lead to 2-1.

"If Mark's not out there, it's a tie game with the homer," Macha said. "And after Frank's homer and their run in the ninth, we're going to extra innings. That was a game-saver."

The other tough call came in the ninth. Zito cruised through the first eight innings on 92 pitches, allowing four hits, but Macha didn't hesitate to hand the game over to Street, who struggled down the stretch, blowing two saves in the final week.

Street allowed a fluke run after Milton Bradley lost a fly ball to right in the roof, leaving Michael Cuddyer with a leadoff triple, but Street, whose 11 blown saves were the second-most in the AL this year and second-most in Oakland history, quickly retired the next three batters.


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"If we're going to go anywhere in the postseason, we've got to have our closer," Macha said. "And he needs to know the manager has confidence in that closer. So to me, it should be a confidence boost for him. He should feel good about himself, knowing that he is going to be put in this position ... so it was big to get positive results from him yesterday."

Dugout drama Right fielder Milton Bradley was involved in two strange episodes that got considerable attention on the telecast of Game 2.

First, he accidentally spilled a cup of coffee on starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza when he tossed his batting gloves, forcing Loaiza to get a new jersey and glove.

"It's too bad," Bradley said. "He had a good mix of cream and sugar in there."

Later, cameras picked him up in the middle of a shouting match with hitting coach Gerald Perry.

Asked about the incident, Bradley smiled and said, "I said something about his mama, he said something about my mama. I apologized, he apologized. We're cool."

Designated hitter Frank Thomas, who was seen stepping between Bradley and Perry, was quoted by a Fox field reporter as saying, "It's like 'Days of our Lives' down here."

Dribblers: A's third baseman Eric Chavez went 0-for-4 in Game 1, lowering his career postseason batting average to .213 (19-for-89), but Macha didn't seem concerned. "He's coming around," the skipper said of his five-time Gold Glover, whose power was sapped by tendinitis in his forearms for much of the season. "The last time we were here [in mid-September] he hit a home run to the opposite field, and I think he's a lot better since we were here. Santana's tough on lefties, so I wouldn't read anything into yesterday." ... Macha said he didn't plan to sit down with righty Dan Haren to assess his mindset prior to his first postseason start in Game 3. "This is not a time to be coaching," Macha said. "[The players all] should already be trained and ready to play." ... Macha admitted to being a bit superstitious here, saying he and bullpen coach Brad Fischer met at a local coffee house at 7:30 a.m. for the second consecutive day. Macha also said he spent nearly an hour in the dugout chatting with Major League Baseball's vice president of on-field operations, Bob Watson, for the second day in a row. ... Righty relievers Justin Duchscherer and Kiko Calero both were enthused with not having to work in Game 1 because they'll be fresh for Game 2 and Game 3, which comes Friday after a day off in Oakland.

Coming up: Haren (14-13, 4.12 ERA in the regular season) will take on Twins righty Brad Radke (12-9, 4.32) on Friday at Oakland's McAfee Coliseum. The first pitch is set for 1:05 p.m. PT.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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