OAKLAND, Calif. – The Oakland Athletics swept away years of first-round futility. Milton Bradley homered and threw out Torii Hunter in a disputed play at the plate as the A's snapped a stretch of nine straight losses in potential playoff clinchers, beating the Minnesota Twins 8-3 Friday to reach the AL championship series for the first time in 14 years.
Marco Scutaro doubled twice and tied an A's postseason record with four RBIs and Eric Chavez homered as the Athletics won a playoff series for the first time since 1990.
"It's been a while," Chavez said. "We've had a lot of chances at it, and we've finally been able to do it."
Dan Haren escaped two early jams to win in his first postseason start and the A's avoided all of the gaffes that led to their previous postseason flops.
And when closer Huston Street got Luis Castillo to fly out to end it, the A's rushed onto the field for a big group hug.
Minnesota, meanwhile, again had problems. Even the usually reliable Hunter, a five-time Gold Glove winner, ran into trouble.
"Oakland played mistake-free baseball," Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer said. "We usually don't make those mistakes."
After his ill-advised dive led to Mark Kotsay's tiebreaking, inside-the-park homer in Game 2, Hunter got thrown out in a key sixth-inning play Friday.
Down 4-1, the Twins were rallying when Rondell White hit an RBI single. The speedy Hunter also tried to score on the play and Bradley made a strong throw home. Hunter attempted to avoid catcher Jason Kendall's tag and reach the plate with his left hand, but plate umpire Mike Everitt called him out.
Hunter and Twins manager Ron Gardenhire argued to no avail, leaving the Twins trailing 4-2.
Through all his injuries this year, Bradley kept trusting his arm.
"It's never let me down," he said. "It has stayed strong and it came through for me today."
Hunter and Justin Morneau homered for the Twins, who surprisingly won the AL Central on the season's final day but couldn't stage the kind of first-round comeback they pulled off against the A's four years ago — when Brad Radke won the opener and then outpitched Mark Mulder in Game 5.
"This isn't what we came here to do," Morneau said. "It's tough. We didn't play the way we played all year. They outplayed us and that's why they're moving on. In a short series, you can't afford to miss those chances."
Oakland took a surprising 2-0 lead in this series by beating Johan Santana and Boof Bonser in the menacing Metrodome, then scored first again against a reeling Radke in what was likely the retiring right-hander's final career outing.
The A's missed two chances to clinch the AL West in their home ballpark, but this time got to enjoy a postgame party in their own clubhouse — which had been alcohol-free since June after pitcher Esteban Loaiza's drunken driving arrest.
Chavez, who played through a variety of injuries this season that affected his swing, had been 1-for-30 in his last two postseasons before connecting off Radke in the second for his first hit of the series. Jay Payton followed with a single and Scutaro doubled him home two batters later.
"I've always been a streaky hitter over my career," Chavez said.
It was nearly a carbon copy of the Athletics' second inning in Game 1, when Frank Thomas hit a solo shot, Payton singled and Scutaro drove him in with a double. Scutaro doubled again in Oakland's four-run seventh inning Friday to drive in three runs.
Bradley, inconsistent and injured for much of his first season in Oakland, hit a two-run homer in the third for his first hit of the series and a 4-0 lead. He was quickly greeted by hitting coach Gerald Perry. The two exchanged words during Game 2 after Bradley tossed his batting gloves onto a dugout shelf and accidentally spilled coffee on Loaiza.
Oakland returned home only five days after the NFL's Oakland Raiders played their last game in the Coliseum, leaving large brown spots in the outfield along with visible yard lines.
Yet that didn't make a difference, and a sellout crowd waved white rally towels — these fans' version of the Metrodome's white Homer Hankies.
The A's kept on the tarps that have covered the stadium's upper deck all season, reducing the capacity to 35,077 that included 1,000 standing-room only tickets. The philosophy: smaller venue, increased demand.
The demand will surely be there now.
Chavez and Game 1 winner Barry Zito are the only players to have experienced all the division series disappointment this decade — and Chavez acknowledged the A's would have to win this time to avoid future questions about all the failures.
"We've experienced this a few too many times here," said Zito, expected to leave as a free agent after this season. "It's good to get over that hump."
Haren gave up a pair of singles in the first but the A's escaped unscathed after Michael Cuddyer grounded into an inning-ending double play. Haren had Morneau on third in the second after a leadoff double and sacrifice bunt by Hunter and got out of that, too.
Haren, a 14-game winner this year who made five relief appearances for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, pitched eight shutout innings against the Twins in Minneapolis on Sept. 13, combining with Street on a three-hitter.
Haren pitched twice in the '04 World Series and earned the nod Friday over Rich Harden, who missed much of the season with two different injuries.
"It feels great," Haren said. "Nobody expected us to do anything here."
Two of Oakland's nine clinching losses were by Mulder, the pitcher Haren replaced in the rotation. Haren allowed nine hits and two runs in six innings, struck out two and walked one.
The 33-year-old Radke, pitching with a torn labrum and stress fracture in his throwing shoulder that caused him to miss more than a month this season, was done after four innings. He allowed five hits and four runs, struck out two and walked one. He plans to call it quits after a 12-year big league career.
Notes: Cuddyer had a seven-game postseason hitting streak snapped. ... Chavez's homer ended an 0-for-12 playoff slump, which included eight at-bats this series. ... The Twins were hitless in 16 chances with runners in scoring position before White's single. ... Former A's great Rickey Henderson threw out the first pitch.