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Element of surprise
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- It was the last thing anyone at the Coliseum expected: a bases-loaded, two-out bunt by slow-footed catcher Ramon Hernandez.

And it was just crazy enough to give the Oakland Athletics a marathon victory.

Hernandez pulled off the surprise with a perfect bunt in the 12th inning, scoring Eric Chavez with the winning run to lift the A's over the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in their playoff opener Wednesday night.

At 4 hours, 37 minutes, the game was the longest in Oakland's postseason history, and it ended in the most improbable way: with the hard-hitting A's executing a small-ball play to eke out a run.

"It was the biggest hit in my career," said Hernandez, Oakland's All-Star catcher. "When you're playing a team like the Red Sox that's got good pitching and good hitting, you've got to try whatever you can to win."

By the time Chavez crossed the plate shortly after 11:45 p.m. PDT, the teams were less than 14 hours away from the start of Game 2 on Thursday.

After Boston reliever Byung-Hyun Kim's troubles set up a tying single by Erubiel Durazo with two outs in the ninth, Chavez did his part.

Chavez helped prevent Boston from taking the lead in the top of the 12th, making a tremendous play at third base. On the basepaths moments later, he alertly stole third, and Derek Lowe later intentionally walked Terrence Long to load the bases.

"Freaky, just freaky," Chavez said. "It was probably the best game I've ever been involved in."

Hernandez and Chavez both acted on their own, according to manager Ken Macha.

"What an ending. Who would have thought that? A's win with a bunt," Macha said. "Shame on anybody who missed it."

Todd Walker homered twice and had four hits, putting Boston ace Pedro Martinez in position to pull off a win in the AL's toughest road ballpark. Then came the latest postseason misadventure for Kim, whose struggles nearly cost Arizona its World Series title two years ago.

In the ninth, Kim walked a batter and hit another before Durazo drove home pinch-runner Eric Byrnes with a tying two-out single off Alan Embree.

"Both teams were battling, and the game has got to end somehow," Boston manager Grady Little said. "We've had losses like that during the season. We've rebounded well before, and hopefully we can do that tomorrow."

Little said Lowe will be fine to start on Saturday in Game 3.

In the 11th, Little showed just how much he trusts his bullpen by calling on Lowe.

Lowe got into trouble in the 12th, walking three batters and allowing Chavez's steal with his deliberate motion.

After seeing Bill Mueller playing deep at third, Hernandez dropped an exceptional bunt down the third-base line, and Chavez scored without a throw. The A's mobbed Hernandez at first base.

"I looked over at third when I took the first pitch and watched what's over there," Hernandez said. "I thought he was very deep, and the first thing that comes through my mind is if I get it down the third-base line, I've got a good chance to be safe."

After Keith Foulke pitched three innings of scoreless relief for the A's, they went to rookie Rich Harden. He walked two batters and threw a wild pitch in the 12th, but Chavez saved the inning by fielding Gabe Kapler's sharp grounder and diving to tag third base before Manny Ramirez got there.

Harden, called up to the majors after the All-Star break, got the win.

Longest Game 1s, by innings, postseason history
Year Round Inn. Winner Loser Score
1995 ALDS 13 Indians Red Sox 5-4
1907 WS 12 Cubs Detroit 3-3
1924 WS 12 Giants Senators 4-3
1969 ALCS 12 Orioles Twins 4-3
1977 WS 12 Yankees Dodgers 4-3
2000 WS 12 Yankees Mets 4-3
2001 WS 12 Yankees D'backs 3-2
2003 ALDS 12 Athletics Red Sox 5-4
Note: Teams in bold won series

Durazo, who had an early two-run double against Martinez, tied it with a clean single to center that delighted most of the 50,606 fans in the packed ballpark.

The Red Sox, who added another heartbreaking playoff defeat to the star-crossed franchise's overflowing collection. Boston has lost seven of its last eight playoff openers.

Martinez and Walker were the stars of the first seven innings. Martinez remained unbeaten in his playoff career by narrowly outpitching Tim Hudson, but he didn't get the win.

Martinez yielded six hits and four walks in seven innings, throwing a season-high 130 pitches. But Boston's imposing ace was never far from trouble: He allowed three runs in the third, threw out a runner at home in the fifth and barely escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh.

Until Kim and Embree blew it, Boston's heavy-hitting lineup appeared headed to a win thanks to two big blows from one of its lightest bats.

Walker, a well-traveled second baseman in his first year with the Red Sox, hit a solo homer in his first career playoff at-bat. After two singles in the middle innings, he hit a two-run homer off reliever Ricardo Rincon in the seventh, giving Boston a 4-3 lead.

Walker had the eighth multihomer game in the long postseason history of the Red Sox, who are in their 85th season since their last World Series championship.

Jason Varitek also homered and reached base four times for the Red Sox, who tagged Hudson for 10 hits and three runs. The damage could have been worse, but Ramirez stranded five runners while going 0-for-5.

Though he also escaped several jams, Hudson's postseason struggles continued: He has just one victory in six career playoff starts. The right-hander appeared to be pitching through pain in his final two innings, drawing the concern of Oakland's medical staff.

Durazo got the biggest hit in Oakland's third-inning rally, driving home Chris Singleton and Ellis with a hit into the right-center gap. Miguel Tejada, who batted .143 in the division series last season, followed with a single

Notes: A's owner Steve Schott said there's nothing to the rumors of the Seattle Mariners coveting Oakland general manager Billy Beane to replace Pat Gillick. ... The game was played 100 years to the day after the Boston Americans faced the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first World Series game ever.

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