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Oakland 'pen helps save ALDS Game 2

Oakland bullpen helps save Game 2

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau had just hit back-to-back home runs, the second game of the American League Division Series was tied, 55,710 Minnesota Twins fans were screaming and Oakland Athletics starter Esteban Loaiza was done for the afternoon.

Kiko Calero, a 31-year-old right-hander who once spent over four seasons pitching at Double-A Wichita before finally getting a catch to pitch in the Majors, came jogging in from the bullpen.

"This is the playoffs," Calero said later. "You come into the game; it's 2-0 or 2-2. You pretty much have to get it together; you pretty much have to go out and do your job."

He did. Torii Hunter went after the first pitch and flied out to right field. Rondell White swung at the second pitch he saw and flied out to center field. In just three pitches, Calero had calmed everything down.

"It was a big crowd, and it was exciting," Calero said. "But once Hunter swung at the first pitch, White at the third pitch and there were two outs, I really starting feeling comfortable."

That's how the afternoon started for the Athletics bullpen, and Calero, Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street combined for four scoreless innings in a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday afternoon.

"Our bullpen has been outstanding all year," Loaiza said. "As starters we know we just have to go six or seven innings and just turn it over to them. They do a great job."

Calero earned the victory after Mark Kotsay put the Athletics ahead with a two-run, inside-the-park home run in the seventh, and Street nailed down his second save in two games, his first two appearances in postseason play.

"It means more to me that the team is up 2-0," Street said. "Right now that's the biggest thing. Really, Calero and Duke did the tough part. I had a three-run lead when I came in. They did the job in the biggest part of the game."

Street had come into this Series having blown three of his past four during the regular season, but general manager Billy Beane said there were no concerns about how he would handle this.

"Remember, this guy is just a couple years out of college," Beane said. "When it comes time, he's been there for us. He's been great for us."

Relief pitching figured to be big in this series because both teams relied heavily on their bullpen during the regular season. The Twins' bullpen had the lowest relief ERA and, having been successful on 40 of 50 save opportunities, the highest success rate (80 percent) in the American League.

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The Athletics had the third-lowest relief ERA, and they also had 54 saves, the most in the American League.

"We don't give in," Duchscherer said. "We give everything we have, and we're all very confident in what we do."

Relief pitching decided Game 2. The A's relievers went four scoreless while the Twins relievers, who had a combined 2.91 ERA during the regular season, gave up three runs in three innings after starter Boof Bonser was done. Two came across when Torii Hunter missed a diving catch on Kotsay's line drive, turning it into a home run.

"If Torii gets in front of that, no runs score there," losing pitcher Pat Neshek said. "It's a different ballgame from there. You can't judge it after that. I don't think anybody is looking at our bullpen. If someone is going to make something out of that, they can look back at the regular season."


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Said Twins closer Joe Nathan, "It's not like we went out there and got hit around today. I think the numbers aren't going to show how well we've thrown. We've thrown better than our ERA is going to show, today especially. They had some breaks go their way, and a couple of runs came across. That's baseball."

The Athletics always have been known for their starting pitching. But during their four-year playoff run in 2000-2003, their relievers were a combined 1-3 with three blown saves in four Division Series and they were unable to advance to the American League Championship Series in any of those years. They hope the bullpen is up to helping reverse their recent struggles in the playoffs.

"One thing we have is a deep bullpen," Beane said. "I'm not sure we have maybe the same electricity of the Twins' bullpen, but there's a lot of versatility down there. Guys can go more than one inning and they can be used early in the game in a lot of different roles."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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