I don’t watch as much baseball as I once did. I certainly don’t make the A’s the central part of my life, as I did pretty much for most of it leading into 2002 when my bosses handed me the keys to the dream job.
But Tuesday, I watched the Cleveland Indians. Monday, too. And Sunday.
Selfishly, I rooted for them to lose. Just one time. Just once to keep them from getting to 20.
See that dream job forced me to follow a dream winning streak, one that 15 years later still seems surreal. Twenty remains very meaningful to me, and — I’m willing to bet — anybody who was associated in any way with the 2002 A’s.
That was my first summer on the A’s beat, and they gave baseball (and me) an incredible gift: A three-week affair with history that would be more intoxicating than romance. To watch the A’s, in the words of Hall of Famer announcer Bill King, do “in 103 years of American League Baseball … what no other team has done” was a moving thing. It really was.
Which is why I made that point to sit down and watch the Indians more than once in recent days. Which is why I told a colleague, “They have to lose. People can’t forget.”
I still feel that way, because for my money, the AL’s first 20-game winning streak was more memorable then its current 21-game run. Not to say it was better. It wasn’t, and the proof is on the scoreboard.
The word here is memorable.
As in the names: Miguel Tejada (that year’s AL MVP). Eric Chavez (the six-time Gold Glover). Hudson-Mulder-Zito (all these years later, as general manager Billy Beane always used to say, you still can’t mention one member of the Big Three without the other two).
Scott Hatteberg (“That one is gone! And it’s 20 consecutive victories.”).
The word here is memorable.
As in what they did:
Hatteberg’s blast on Sept. 4, 2002, the one that beat the Royals 12-11 after the A’s blew an 11-0 lead has been relived countless times as a climactic moment in a Hollywood movie, as well as on YouTube and MLB highlight shows.
Tejada’s three-run home run three days before that, the one that walked off the Twins in the bottom of the ninth for consecutive win No. 18 (after Mark Mulder and Billy Koch combined to give up three home runs in the top half to turn a 4-2 lead into what appeared to be a soul-crushing 5-4 loss), vaulted him into the MVP conversation. His walk-off single to cap the A’s rally from a 5-0 fifth-inning deficit against Kansas City the next day, Labor Day, and win No. 19, might’ve won it.
Chavez’ broken-bat single that brought consecutive win No. 17 was a flair that he couldn’t have placed more perfectly had he thrown it.
Every night, it was somebody else.
Terrence Long threw out Cleveland’s Ellis Burks at home plate on a single to center field, after Burks started the play on third base. The late Cory Lidle spun 30 1/3 innings of pitching and allowed only one earned run. Subs John Mabry and Greg Myers led a huge comeback on a Sunday afternoon in Detroit.
Even if they wanted to lose during those three weeks, the A’s couldn’t. That just how it went. The A’s trailed 5-0 in the fifth inning in that Labor Day win against the Royals and looked more interested in catching 40 winks that anything else. Suddenly, Kansas City starter Runelvys Hernandez threw a pitch under Jermaine Dye’s chin. Two pitches later — a Dye single and a David Justice home run — and the A’s were steamrolling toward a comeback.
That victory left me with another streak moment I’ll never forget — that of catcher Ramon Hernandez practically levitating around the clubhouse and yelling over and over, between pauses. “Wow! …. Wow! …Wow! … Wow!”
Heck, the A’s were living so large that baseball’s owner and player avoided a work stoppage — pretty much unheard of at the time — that would’ve curtailed the A’s streak at 15.
That would’ve been a nice little streak. Instead, it grew to take it’s rightful place in Bay Area history, even if it’s one that may not prove to be as lasting as winning a World Series.
Then again, maybe it will be. Those who went along for the ride — myself included — won’t forget what we saw and how it truly was one for the ages.
I just hope hope baseball remembers it.
Rick Hurd covered the A’s for the Contra Costa Times from 2002-04.
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