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Moneyball comes up to bat in playoffs

Globe and Mail Update

DETROIT — The Boston Red Sox ended their curse in 2004, in case you hadn't heard about it. The Curse of the Bambino et cetra, and the New England whine industry took a big hit.

The Chicago White Sox ended their curse last year, so that is another one out of the way, as they finally erased the World Series ignominy of the 1919 Black Sox scandal, the Say It Ain't So Joe Series. That's all right, Chicago will always have the Cubs.

Two World Series, two old curses terminated.

This year, we have a good young curse to deal with.

Billy Beane is the general manager of the Oakland Athletics and his genius was chronicled in a book titled Moneyball. We'll find out which is better, a good young curse or a good old curse.

The betting here is that the good young curse, the Curse of the Beaner, sticks around for another year against the Minnesota Twins.

Beane, for all the success his teams have had in Oakland on a small budget, has never had one of his teams win a first-round playoff series.

And you know what that means — they haven't won a second-round series, either. No pennants and no World Series appearances. All that success and nothing to show for it.

The Athletics have had other teams by the throat, notably the New York Yankees on a couple of occasions, but could never finish them off. (Slide, Jeremy Giambi, slide.)

Beane can always correctly mention that winning over a 162-game series is a better indication of a team's worth than winning a short series that can become something of a crapshoot. But people remember the teams that win in postseason, so you have to win a series in October once in a while.

Now they continue their quest in the Metrodome din, which creates one of the biggest home advantages in the game.

It appeared for quite some time that Oakland would be going to Motown to open against the Detroit Tigers.

That changed when the Tigers lost the final five games of the regular season and the Twins, who play all out all the time, came from 12 games behind in June to win the American League Central on the season's final day.

Come on down, Terry Ryan.

You think Beane gets the most out of a greenback? Well, Ryan, who is the type of guy who would be embarrassed if someone suggested he be the subject of a book, can tickle a buck so well he can make George Washington break into a toothy smile.

Ryan is another general manager who doesn't have a lot of money to spend, despite the wealth of Twins owner Carl Pohlad. And, sure, he is the guy who let go of David Ortiz. But then Ryan goes out and makes a trade such as the one he did with the San Francisco Giants in November of 2003.

He traded a good catcher in A.J. Pierzynski, baseball's designated pain in the butt, for three pitchers: Joe Nathan, who might now be the game's dominant closer; left-hander Francisco Liriano, whose brilliance before his elbow injury helped bring the Twins back into contention; and right-hander Boof Bonser, who was worth taking on name alone, but also has pitched well enough to earn a spot in the playoff rotation, where the Twins have needed help.

The Twins, with their improbable first-place finish this year, have won the American League Central pennant four of the past five seasons. This is a team major-league baseball wanted to contract?

You're going to hear a lot about a possible subway series in New York, where there is always big noise and big bucks being spent, between the Mets and Yankees. The Twins and the Athletics are putting on a subway series of their own. They share a kinship, even if geographically they are miles apart. They are subway riders, public transit teams, while the Yankees and Mets are limousine riders, Cadillac teams.

Throw in some Canadian content — first baseman and candidate for most valuable player Justin Morneau of the Twins and hard-throwing pitcher Rich Harden of the Athletics — and you have a blue-collar person's delight.

And since they are not prime-time teams by network television standards, you have to play hooky to watch them. That makes it even more fun.

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