MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – In the place where Johan Santana usually can’t be beaten, Barry Zito and Frank Thomas slowed Minnesota’s momentum and gave Oakland a big boost to start this AL division series.

Zito threw eight innings, besting Santana behind two big home runs by Thomas and sending the Athletics to a 3-2 victory over the Twins on Tuesday afternoon.

“First blood, I think, means a lot especially when you’re playing on the road,” Zito said.

Minnesota rookie Boof Bonser will start against Oakland’s Esteban Loaiza in Game 2 Wednesday afternoon.

Thomas went 3-for-4, with his last homer coming in the ninth inning off Jesse Crain. Zito gave up four hits, one run and three walks while striking out one.

The 38-year-old Thomas became the oldest player to have a multihomer game in postseason history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“It was a big day,” Thomas said. “I’m just happy to win this first game, because it is a tough place to win ballgames.”

Closer Huston Street gave one back to the Twins after a leadoff triple by Michael Cuddyer was lost in the ceiling by right fielder Milton Bradley. Torii Hunter drove in Cuddyer with a groundout before Rondell White flew out to center to end the game.

The favorite to win his second AL Cy Young, Santana was 16-0 at the noisy Metrodome since Aug. 1, 2005, a span of 23 regular-season starts in which the Twins won every time.

The place was packed, of course, with 55,542 fans wiggling those white Homer Hankies and roaring every time Santana so much as made a move on the field in the minutes before the game.

But Zito and Thomas quieted the crowd early and set the tone for the series.

“Everybody’s aware of it, but Zito’s in the same category as Santana,” Street said.

One out after the home run by Thomas in the second, Jay Payton singled and Marco Scutaro smacked a two-out double down the left-field line to give Oakland an early 2-0 edge.

“Everything was working out pretty good,” Santana said. “I was throwing my fastballs in the corners. Everything was fine. Unfortunately you make one mistake, and you pay for it. Today we weren’t able to come back.”

The seventh was also a struggle, though Santana should’ve been out of the inning earlier because Jason Bartlett muffed a sure double-play grounder to shortstop. A two-out walk to Nick Swisher loaded the bases, but after a visit to the mound by pitching coach Rick Anderson, Santana retired Scutaro and Mark Ellis on consecutive short fly balls to escape.

Santana went eight innings and finished with a career playoff-best eight strikeouts. He allowed five hits and walked one.

But Zito didn’t have nearly as many scares, silencing a Twins lineup that helped lead the surge back from 12 games back in the AL Central this summer to overtake the Detroit Tigers on the final day of the regular season.

The left-hander with the big leg kick and even bigger curveball consistently kept the Twins from hitting their sweet spots, no-hitting them through 4 2-3 innings and only twice letting a runner get past second base.

White’s homer with two outs in the seventh cut the lead to 2-1, and Bartlett started the eighth with a double. But Luis Castillo missed a bunt attempt, eventually grounded out and Nick Punto grounded out, too. With Bartlett on third, batting champ Joe Mauer was retired on a lazy fly to left.

After his 16-year career with the Chicago White Sox ended badly, injured ankle, attitude and all, Thomas has enjoyed a resurgence in his first season with the A’s – racking up 39 homers and 114 RBIs.

He talked with the Twins, ironically, about joining them to serve as the designated hitter, but they were concerned about his health on the artificial turf and Thomas signed with Oakland instead for $500,000 plus incentives.

When Santana fell behind on a 3-1 count to his first batter of the second inning, he left a breaking ball out over the plate that Thomas put one of his long, powerful swings on – sending it high, deep and just inside the left-field foul pole.

Thomas is 8-for-19 with three homers and five RBIs in his career against Santana. The Big Hurt now has 50 homers and 132 RBIs in 171 career games against Minnesota, his most against any opponent and the second-most hit by one player against the Twins behind Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson (51).

“It seems like he always gets hot when he comes to play us,” said Mauer, who went 0-for-3 with a walk.

Zito and third baseman Eric Chavez are the only players who were a part of each of Oakland’s first-round losers from 2000 to 2003, teams that failed a total of nine times to win games with a chance to eliminate the opponent.

In fact, Ellis, the second baseman, is the only other guy left from 2002, when the A’s were beaten in five by the Twins. Zito won Game 3 that year at the Metrodome, Oakland’s most recent playoff victory.

It’s Minnesota that’s in a hole now, though comebacks are nothing new to this team.

“Same as we’ve been doing all year,” first baseman Justin Morneau said. “Everybody’s going to say we’re done again, but we don’t believe that.”

Notes: Thomas took his time getting to first on the single to right field in the seventh inning, and Cuddyer nearly threw him out. Thomas cracked a slight smile after barely reaching base. … The teenage children of late Twins great Kirby Puckett, who died in March following a stroke, threw out the ceremonial first pitches. … Minnesota’s last loss in a postseason Game 1 was in the 1970 AL championship series to Baltimore. There were eight series between that one and this one. … Punto made the defensive play of the game, jumping against the railing to catch a foul pop hit by Mark Kotsay. The third baseman caught his leg against a screen near the bullpen, knocking over a water bottle on a nearby ledge.



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