While his Oakland teammates worked late for a 12-inning victory
in the division series opener, Zito was wide awake in bed. He
turned the radio on and off, called his parents -- anything to stay
occupied until the Athletics were finished.
On Thursday, Zito had a spring in his step and a nasty dip in
his curveball when he put the A's in command of the best-of-five
series by striking out nine over seven impressive innings. Oakland
sent bleary-eyed Boston to the brink of playoff elimination with a
5-1 victory in Game 2.
"I think I pictured it pretty well," Zito said. "But I still
came in the clubhouse and watched the tape of the last couple of
guys, just to make it real and get me fired up for the game
Mission accomplished: The Cy Young winner's looping curve 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 it 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
finally can advance to its first league championship series since
1992 with one more victory.
"I think we definitely have something to prove," Zito said.
"We realize our guys are not going to be coming back every year.
We lost Jason (Giambi), and the whole (Miguel) Tejada thing, we
don't know what's going to happen with that.
"We don't have a lot more years to say, 'Oh, we'll get them
next year.' We have to really bear down and get this series as soon
as we can."
"Zito pitched a great game," said Nomar Garciaparra, who went
1-for-3. "He put us against the wall, but we've been there
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 comical
throwing error that also allowed two runs to score.
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 with 20 more.
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
Oakland has been in this situation before, however: 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."
A few of the Red Sox have been here before, too: Boston trailed
Cleveland 0-2 in the 1999 division series before rallying to win it
in five games.
"We're down 2-0, but we're going home," said Wakefield, one of
Boston's longtime veterans. "We just need to execute better, and
we can get it done. ... It's a huge difference being at home.
There's that comfort zone with our fans, our rules, our game."
Zito went 14-12 with a 3.30 ERA this season, but was continually
frustrated by bad luck and occasional lapses in the concentration
that made him the AL's best pitcher last year.
Zito struck out two more in the fifth, falling just short of the
division series record of six straight Ks tied by Atlanta's Mike
Hampton on Wednesday night. 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 with 113 pitches.
"We had Zito. That was the key today," said Tejada, who's
1-for-10 in the series.
Except for the disastrous second, Wakefield was nearly as
effective. He allowed four hits and three walks in six innings,
striking out seven.
But the A's batted around in the second, scoring five runs on
just two hits.
Byrnes cleared the bases with a drive over Manny Ramirez's head
in left. With two runners on and two out, Chavez hit a slow roller
to Walker's left, but the second baseman muffed it, fell to the
outfield grass and made a throw that sailed far past Kevin Millar,
scoring both runners.
Wakefield retired his final seven hitters, striking out the side
in the sixth.
Boston manager Grady Little stuck with the lineup shuffle
he made in Game 1, batting Garciaparra second and Walker third.
Walker was 0-for-4. ... A's starter Tim Hudson got dehydrated
during the series opener, causing tightness in his right forearm
and thumb. Oakland's trainers eventually forced Hudson to drink
plenty of fluids. "He's perfect today," trainer Larry Davis said.