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BASEBALL EXTRA

Team Comes First With Giambi

Athletics: Hitting streak is great, but getting Oakland back on a winning track is more important.

June 22, 1997|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Jason Giambi's teammate, Matt Stairs, knows more about the particulars of his hitting streak than he does.

"You're hitting .417 during the streak," said Stairs, whose locker is next to Giambi's.

"I am? I didn't even know that," said Giambi, who attended West Covina South Hills High and Long Beach State. "I'm more happy about the at-bats I've been having. The streak is a by-product of those good at-bats. It's no big deal really."

The only thing Giambi considered to be a big deal was the fact he could tie Carney Lansford's Oakland club record by hitting in 24 consecutive games. Hours later, Giambi tied Lansford's mark and kept the longest hitting streak in the majors alive with a first-inning double off the 404-foot marker in center field. In the third, Giambi singled to left-center in the third and scored the A's first run.

"Carney was a coach here my first year with the A's," Giambi said. "He was a great player who was synonymous with a hard-working ball player, so that would mean something."

What means more to Giambi these days is his health and the state of the A's. Friday, he returned from a pulled right quadriceps that kept him out eight games. He still isn't 100% as evidenced by his weak attempt to beat out a bobbled ball in the first inning Friday and his painful hobbles around the bases Saturday night.

Giambi, who was batting .312 with seven homers and 40 runs batted in before Saturday, knows his leg will eventually heal and his streak will eventually end. But he isn't so sure when his team will start winning again, or if his good friend, Mark McGwire, will be in an A's uniform much longer.

The A's are 30-43, last in the American League West and 11 games out of first. They have the league's worst record and the third worst in baseball. McGwire is a free agent and there is speculation that the A's might try to trade him before the July 31 trading deadline.

"It's definitely going to be hard," Giambi said. "McGwire and I are best friends. We'll continue to root for each other wherever he winds up. Whatever makes him happy, I'm all for it."

Though he'd hate to see McGwire leave, Giambi said a trade might help turn around the struggling Oakland franchise.

"We might be able to get three quality players for him, so there could be an upside to it," Giambi said.

Then again, there could be a pretty bad downside.

"He's definitely our draw, along with Jose [Canseco]," Giambi said. "We'd basically be giving up, throwing in the towel for this year, if we traded Mark. We haven't had great crowds. They might not come at all if we trade Mark."

If McGwire is traded, Giambi, 26, probably will wind up replacing McGwire at first base. Oakland Manager Art Howe tried playing Giambi as his every day left fielder, but the experiment was scrapped when Giambi began making Canseco look like a good left fielder. Lately, Giambi has been the A's designated hitter.

If Giambi continues to hit, it might not matter what position he plays and he might even start getting interested in his hitting streak.

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