Advertisement

Pinch Them: A's Win Record 20th in a Row

Baseball: Hatteberg hits pinch homer in the ninth for 12-11 decision after Royals rally from 11-0 deficit.

September 05, 2002|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND — It wasn't pretty, but the Oakland Athletics clubbed their way into history Wednesday night, and Billy Beane, the general manager who makes a mockery of baseball's so-called competitive and revenue disparities, suggested there's no way to know where this will end.

"The great thing about being young and talented is that there's no ceiling to what you can accomplish," Beane said. "I mean, these guys have proved it the last two years."

Well, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen may be long gone from the team that roared through the second half to win 102 games last year, but the A's continued to extend the ceiling by outlasting the Kansas City Royals, 12-11, to stretch their improbable win streak to an American League record 20 games.

A pinch-hit homer by Scott Hatteberg in the ninth inning after the A's had blown an 11-0 lead enabled Oakland to register the longest win streak in 67 years.

The home run was Hatteberg's 13th of the season, a career high and his first pinch-hit homer in the major leagues.

"My first hit in the big leagues was pretty emotional, but this was as big as they come," he said. "This whole 'streak' has been like a fairy tale, and this was just one more chapter."

Oakland's feat should be savored, if the A's had more than today's off day to do it.

"I don't think we can really appreciate it right now because of the race we're in," Beane said. "Even last year, when we also had a historic second half [going 65-17], it didn't really hit you how well we played because we were fighting for a playoff spot.

"The situation now is that we have the media and television to remind you of what we've accomplished historically, but we don't have the time to enjoy it because we're looking over our shoulder at the Angels and [Seattle] Mariners."

For a sellout crowd of 55,528 at the Network Associates Coliseum, the largest ever for a regular-season game, history overshadowed the race in the AL West--temporarily, at least.

Many in a walkup crowd of 20,514 were still at the ticket windows when the A's seemed to remove much of the suspense from their bid, attacking 15-game winner Paul Byrd for six runs in the first inning on two triples, two doubles, two singles and an array of Kansas City pratfalls.

The lead was 11-0 after three innings, at which point A's starter Tim Hudson, who was 5-0 with a 1.80 earned-run average in August and is a cornerstone of Oakland's vaunted young rotation, started to lose interest, giving up five runs in the fourth before struggling through 5 2/3 innings.

Ultimately, Mike Sweeney hit a three-run homer off Jeff Tam to highlight another five-run Kansas City outburst in the eighth, leaving history hanging by an 11-10 thread before Billy Koch gave up the tying run in the ninth on a pinch single by Luis Alicea.

There was one out in the home ninth when Hatteberg connected to bring his teammates roaring from the dugout to celebrate the pivotal blast and the history that came with it.

Despite Hudson's struggle, A's starters are 20-4 in the last 30 games, which helps explain their amazing streak, or as Manager Art Howe put it, "this is mostly about pitching. When you run the horses that we do out there, you have a chance to win every night."

Only two American League teams--the 1906 Chicago White Sox and 1947 New York Yankees--had won 19 in a row, and there are only two teams who won more than the A's 20 in a row.

The 1916 New York Giants won 26 in a row, and the 1935 Chicago Cubs won 21 in a row.

The A's can match the Cubs' streak Friday night, when they play the first of 14 consecutive games against the Minnesota Twins, Angels and Mariners, a telling stretch in their bid to reach the playoffs for the third year in a row.

They have opened a seven game lead over the Mariners but can't shake the Angels, who have gone 14-6 during Oakland's streak and are only 3 1/2 games back in second place.

"We've needed all 20," said Beane, paying tribute to the Angels' determination. "I'd hate to think where we'd be if we had only split them. However, the big thing to me at this point is that every win is like taking the mortgage on a piece of turf that can't be reclaimed. We want to make every game the last two weeks of the season as meaningless as possible, and every win now diminishes the importance of the games at the end of the year. The streak is a great means to that end."

It is that and more.

In the hours before the harrowing finish of Wednesday's game, the A's talked about their pride in achieving history.

They also talked about retaining their focus, insisting the streak is only a milepost in what Howe called a larger agenda.

"The thing that's good about having players who have tasted the postseason is that they want to get back," Howe said. "This has been a tall accomplishment amid a playoff atmosphere, and the energy and focus have been outstanding.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|