A's streak to AL-tying 19th on more Tejada heroics

His winning hit in ninth stops K.C., 7-6, extends longest run in 55 years

September 03, 2002|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

OAKLAND, Calif. - Owners of baseball's longest winning streak in 55 years, the Oakland Athletics have not only won 19 consecutive games, they also seem to have developed a keen awareness of their senses.

"We can smell it," said first baseman Scott Hatteberg.

What they're smelling could be the smoke rising from their caps, because at this point in their season, you would have to say that the A's are playing like they're on fire.

They spotted the Kansas City Royals five runs yesterday, then came back and won, 7-6, in the bottom of the ninth on Miguel Tejada's sharply struck, bases-loaded single into center field to tie the American League record for consecutive victories.

For Tejada, the superstar act is becoming routine. His three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth defeated the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, and the next day he beat a Royals infield of five players positioned nearly on the infield grass with one out.

Said Tejada: "Right now, the big thing, we have a team that nobody wants to win by themselves. We are a team right now."

So it was Tejada against five infielders, but better forget those odds. After all, what's one against five when you're playing like the A's?

"I don't think we know what pressure is," said second baseman Mark Ellis. "We're just going out there and having fun."

All right, if winning is the standard, then no team has had as much fun since the 1947 New York Yankees, who won 19 in a row. The 1906 Chicago White Sox also won 19 straight. Now the A's can have the American League record for themselves if they can knock off the Royals again tomorrow night.

After that, there would be only two other post-1900 teams in front of the A's - the 1935 Chicago Cubs, who won 21 in a row, and the 1916 New York Giants, who won 26 straight.

The A's latest victory was historic enough that Cooperstown noticed. Manager Art Howe's lineup card has been requested for display in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"When Cooperstown calls you, you know you're doing something special," Howe said.

"It's something we'll probably realize is more phenomenal when it's over. We don't want it to end. I wouldn't put anything past these guys. The atmosphere is fantastic."

Currently, the A's atmosphere is in the stratosphere. Their lockers are decorated with bobblehead dolls of each other. They like to race toy cars across the carpet in the clubhouse. They are so laid-back, they are in danger of falling over backward.

But as starting pitcher Barry Zito cautioned, it's all about business on the field, and streak or no streak, the real deal is coming down later.

"Making history is nice, but if we play .500 ball the rest of the way and don't make the playoffs, nobody cares about the season," he said.

It's a valid point, especially when you consider how surprisingly little a 19-game winning streak can get you. When the A's started their run Aug. 13, they were 4 1/2 games behind the Seattle Mariners. And 20 days and 18 more victories later, they are only four games ahead of the Anaheim Angels.

That seems to be far from an insurmountable margin, given the difficult schedule the A's have in front of them - eight games against the Angels and six against the Mariners.

The A's are 36 games over .500 at 87-51, but there is pressure to win every day, and they're not having any part of it.

When Kansas City built a 5-0 lead against Zito after four innings, the announced crowd of 26,325 at Network Associates Coliseum fell silent.

"It looked gloomy," Hatteberg said. "We could have rolled over, and we didn't."

Suddenly, the Oakland hitters began to make some noise. David Justice began it with a two-run home run that just barely cleared the fence at the 330-foot marker in right field. Four more runs in the fifth chased Royals starter Runelvys Hernandez, and the A's held a 6-5 lead.

The Royals tied the score in the eighth against reliever Jeff Tam and could have done even more damage if not for a double play started by Tejada. The Royals threatened again in the ninth against Billy Koch when they loaded the bases with one out, but Tejada began another double play to end the inning.

Terrence Long's triple to open the ninth, and two intentional walks by Jason Grimsley and Tejada's stinging line drive later, the A's were running off the field, slapping hands, tipping their caps and celebrating another victory.

"I wouldn't know how to explain it or put it in perspective," Zito said. "We're the Oakland A's. We're young. We have fun. Some other teams might be talking about how incredible this is, and it is - but we do a lot of incredible things."

Thomas Bonk is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

The longest winning streaks in major-league history: 26 -- N.Y. Giants (1916)*

21 -- Chicago Cubs (880)*

Chicago Cubs (1935)

20 -- Providence (1884)

19 -- Chicago W. Sox (1906)*

N.Y. Yankees (1947)

Athletics (2002)

* Streak includes one tie

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