OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- What looked like the easiest win for the
Oakland Athletics turned out to be the most improbable.
The Athletics set an AL record by winning their 20th straight game -- barely. They somehow blew an 11-run lead before pinch-hitter Scott Hatteberg homered in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat
Kansas City 12-11 Wednesday night.
A streak filled with dramatic finishes grew even longer thanks to Hatteberg's one-out theatrics.
"It's some kind of magic right now,'' Hatteberg said.
With the largest regular-season crowd in Coliseum history cheering the final game of a historic homestand, the A's took an 11-0 lead after three innings.
Then, after the Royals tied it on a two-out, RBI single by Luis Alicea in the top of the ninth, the Athletics won in the bottom half for the third straight game.
Oakland broke a three-way tie for the longest winning streak in AL history with the 1906 Chicago White Sox and the 1947 New York Yankees.
"I know it was a record-breaker, but I don't want to watch this one on film too much,'' A's manager Art Howe said.
The major league record of 26 consecutive victories was set by
the New York Giants in 1916.
As Hatteberg leaped and jogged around the bases, the A's
unfurled a huge banner high above center field reading ''20.''
Hatteberg's teammates mobbed him at home plate in a scene that
was nearly identical to the A's previous two victories -- and Miguel Tejada, the hero in Oakland's last two wins, was one of the first to greet Hatteberg.
Only a handful of fans had left the Coliseum before the late
innings, and almost nobody left immediately. They stood and
cheered, with the fans closest to the A's tunnel giving high-fives
to the players as they raced to the locker room.
It was Oakland's fifth game-ending homer of the season -- the third by a pinch-hitter.
"We really got lucky to come out of this one on top, but we've
been getting a lot of luck. We don't question it,'' Hatteberg said.
After an off-day Thursday, the Athletics will try to extend baseball's longest winning streak in 67 years when they play at Minnesota on Friday night in a matchup of division leaders.
"I'm glad we had an off-day yesterday. If they were back-to-back-to-back, they would have had to cart me out on something,'' Howe said.
A victory at the Metrodome would put Oakland in a tie with the
Chicago Cubs of 1880 and 1935 for the second-longest streak ever.
The A's raked Kansas City ace Paul Byrd for six runs in the first inning, then added five more in the next two innings -- but
they spent the rest of the night trying to hold off the Royals.
Kansas City scored five runs in the fourth and five more in the
eighth, capped by Mike Sweeney's three-run homer.
The biggest comeback in major league history is 12 runs, most
recently by Cleveland against Seattle on Aug. 5, 2001.
The last team to blow an 11-run lead at home and lose was the
Chicago Cubs on April 17, 1976, against Philadelphia.
A's closer Billy Koch (9-2), pitching in his fifth straight
game, won for the third straight game despite blowing the late
lead. Oakland is 78-0 when leading after eight innings, though that
statistic -- and the streak -- almost got wrecked.
Alicea blooped his single on a 1-2 pitch and moved up on a wild
pitch, but was picked off second base to end the inning.
Hatteberg hit his 13th homer, connecting off Jason Grimsley (3-6).
With 55,528 fans filling every section of the Coliseum for
Oakland's fifth straight home victory following a 10-0 road trip,
the A's matched the 1884 Providence Grays for the fourth-longest
streak in baseball history.
Fans began arriving at the ballpark several hours early, and
they kept on coming. They even packed the high, obstructed-view
seats atop the mountain of luxury boxes in center field.
They displayed signs, did the wave and gave Oakland the kind of home-field advantage it rarely enjoys. More than 20,000 fans bought tickets before the game, selling it out 43 minutes before the first pitch -- unheard-of statistics in Oakland, where the usual crowds are among baseball's smallest.
Only one crowd in A's history was bigger -- the crowd at Game 3
of last season's division series against the Yankees.
The game was delayed several times in the eighth when fans threw objects on the field. ... A's LHP Ted Lilly pitched his first simulated game since going on the disabled list with an inflamed
left shoulder. Lilly hopes to return to Oakland's rotation as early as next Tuesday. ... Byrd fell short of his 16th victory, which would have been a career high.
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