|Wednesday, September 4
A's storybook run continues vs. Royals
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Although no manager in 55 years has led a team on such an epic winning streak, Art Howe's historical perspective on the Oakland Athletics' 19 straight victories doesn't stretch beyond last week.
"I'm just happy people are talking baseball again,'' Howe said. "We spent a long time talking about the strike. We're doing something really unexpected and special, and it's great to focus on what's happening on the field.''
What's happening on the field has been somewhat magical. The Amazing A's just might be the perfect antidote to weeks of labor strife in America's pastime.
With peerless pitching, Miguel Tejada's emerging superstardom and an uncanny knack for late-game heroics, the A's have turned the dated, half-empty Coliseum into the most happening building in sports.
Oakland extended its streak to 19 on Monday when Miguel Tejada's ninth-inning single beat the Kansas City Royals. The A's tied the 1906 Chicago White Sox and 1947 New York Yankees for the longest winning streak in AL history. The major league record is 26, set by the 1916 New York Giants.
After resting on Tuesday, the A's will go for their record-breaking 20th straight victory Wednesday night, with Tim Hudson pitching against Royals ace Paul Byrd.
"We realize this is something for the record books,'' A's pitcher Barry Zito said. "It's so big that it's not going to set in for a while. Maybe when we're in the playoffs, we'll look back and say, 'Man, we were hitting on all cylinders for a long time there.'''
Each time Tejada raps a game-winning hit or one of Oakland's powerful starting pitchers beats an overmatched opponent, the A's remind the baseball world that it doesn't take a big budget to do big things.
Their payroll and fan support are among baseball's smallest, and their success -- along with the startling run of the Minnesota Twins -- contradicts commissioner Bud Selig's assertion that low-budget teams can't compete.
The issue was at the center of labor negotiations that ended Friday with a tentative agreement, averting a strike.
The A's draft well, and they sign their young players to long-term contracts as often as possible -- but after making their second straight playoff appearance last season as baseball's winningest team after the All-Star break, they were big losers in the annual migration of talent to deep-pocketed teams.
Oakland lost Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, but the A's dearly missed Jason Giambi -- their unquestioned team leader and top run-producer last season. He signed with the Yankees, whose Opening Day payroll of $126 million was more than three times Oakland's.
"We had to learn that one guy couldn't do it all by himself,'' outfielder Terrence Long said. "There were times in the past when we would look to Jason to put us on his back. Now that he's not here, we're learning to carry each other.''
Oakland has moved from third place in the AL West to the top of the league during the streak. The A's have outscored opponents 129-54 -- and they've only trailed in a handful of innings.
"It's really like a playoff climate now,'' Howe said. "I think the energy in the air is outstanding.''
Tejada, the undersized Dominican shortstop, has assumed Giambi's role as the big bat and most reliable clutch slugger, and new acquisition Ray Durham has become a strong leadoff hitter. Meanwhile, it's no surprise that Oakland's starting rotation of Mark Mulder, Cory Lidle, Zito and Hudson has been the best in baseball.
"There's not one guy carrying the team,'' Hudson said. "Guys are just doing their jobs. It's a lot of fun, though. Except for the playoffs, it's the most fun I've ever had in baseball.''
Oakland's streak is the third longest since 1900. The Giants' record 26-game streak actually included a tie; the only team with a longer streak and no ties was the 1935 Chicago Cubs, who won 21 in a row.
Even with one of the greatest runs in major league history, the A's are far from sewing up a playoff spot. The Anaheim Angels have remained only a handful of games behind Oakland in the division race, and the Seattle Mariners are well within striking distance as a wild-card contender.
After a weekend series in Minnesota, the A's finish the regular season with 20 straight games against division foes, including eight against the Angels and six against the Mariners. The winning streak will almost certainly be over by then, but the A's hope to take these good feelings all the way to October.
"It's going to end one of these days, but we're doing things that are amazing,'' first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. "We're going to enjoy this forever.''