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Noise? They ain't heard nuthin' yet

By Rick Hurd

Knight Ridder Newspapers

MINNEAPOLIS -- "They won't believe the noise."

These words come from a Minnesota Twins legend. Kirby Puckett patrolled center field for 12 seasons in the baggy-clad facility known as the Metrodome. Played in two postseasons. Won two World Series.

He has heard the noise. So certainly he can explain it.

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"Nope, not really," he said.

Is it like a rock concert?

"Louder," he said.

Standing next to an airplane?

"Louder," he said.

Really?

"Really," he said. "You have to hear it to believe it."

The A's will hear it for the first time today in Minneapolis. They venture into the unknown when they face the Twins in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. Their mission is to win at least once in the two games they'll play there, if not today then in Game 4 on Saturday. That would ensure a return trip to Oakland with their season still kicking.

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But this challenge figures to be a uniquely difficult one. The Twins have played 12 postseason games in the Dome since moving there in 1982. They have lost only one of them.

That said, no player on this Twins team was with Minnesota the last time it played a postseason game at home. But(these Twins were 54-27 there this season, the best home mark in the majors.

"We have a baseball team that fits the Dome," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "The surface is fast, we've got some speed, we run around. We're a doubles-hitting team. You can bang it around off that baggy ... and we use that to our advantage."

Still, the A's have conquered those factors. They went into Minnesota in September and won two of three against the Twins.

But that was the regular season. True, an average of 30,000-plus turned for the three-game set, and granted, the Twins handed out Homer Hankies for the first time since the '91 World Series. But, Puckett said, that was nothing compared with what the A's will see this weekend, when 55,000-plus are expected to pack the place.

To which the A's said, "Bring it on."

"It's loud, very loud," said A's left fielder David Justice, who as a member of the Atlanta Braves played against the Twins in the '91 World Series. "But I don't remember noise being much of a factor. I can't remember a play the whole series where noise was a problem. We were able to handle it."

Justice said the experience was educational. He said the first thing he was going to do during the team's workout Thursday was talk with his fellow outfielders and the A's infielders about claiming certain "space" on the field as their own.

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"It's just the importance of going on the field and saying, 'Hey fellas, anything hit there, I got it,' so that there's a little familiarity," he said. "Because I tell you, that ball goes up in the air, you ain't gonna hear anybody."

That should suit A's Game 3 starter Barry Zito. He said earlier this season that he doesn't hear anybody when he pitches, anyway, because he's too lost in concentration. Zito has said his concentration and preparation levels were the biggest reasons for his 23-5 season, one that has made him a leading candidate to win the AL Cy Young Award.

Besides, Zito said, he's plenty used to loud stadiums in the postseason. He helped the A's stave off elimination in the 2000 ALDS by beating the New York Yankees in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium.

"It's probably pretty loud (in the Metrodome), but Yankee Stadium was pretty loud, too," he said. "And blocking out the crowd is blocking out the crowd. If it's 10, 15 decibels more than at Yankee Stadium, I don't think it makes a difference. You're either susceptible to it or you're not."

Zito said what's more important to him is that he won in the Metrodome earlier this season. He blanked the Twins on three hits for seven innings in the A's 6-0 win Sept. 8. That victory was his first in Minnesota; he had been 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in two previous starts there.

"It was nice," he said. "I think I had what I call ghosts there."

So do the Twins. Loud ones.

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