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A-Team strikes again

Tejada extends majors' longest winning streak since 1953

Posted: Sunday September 01, 2002 6:54 PM
Updated: Monday September 02, 2002 3:06 AM
  Miguel Tejada Miguel Tejada acknowledges the crowd of 37,676 at Network Associates Coliseum after his game-winning homer. AP

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Over and over again, the ball left Miguel Tejada's bat and landed in the left-field seats. Each time, the Coliseum crowd cheered wildly as Tejada screamed with joy and pumped his arms while rounding the bases.

The televisions in the Oakland clubhouse played just one program after the Athletics won their 18th consecutive game -- and every time, Tejada was the star.

Tejada hit a dramatic three-run homer as the A's blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning, then rallied to beat the Minnesota Twins 7-5 Sunday to extend baseball's best streak in 49 years.

Everyone in Oakland was in a bit of disbelief -- particularly the A's clubhouse staffers, who played the final at-bat on a continuous loop.

"Every year, I take all my tapes back home (to the Dominican Republic), and I show them to my dad," Tejada said. "This one might break. I'm going to watch it every day."

Refuse to Lose
Baseball's longest winning streaks
26 games
1916 New York Giants*
21 games
1880 Chicago Cubs*
1935 Chicago Cubs
20 games
1884 Providence Grays
19 games
1906 Chicago White Sox*
1947 New York Yankees
18 games
1885 Chicago Cubs
1891 Boston Braves*
1894 Baltimore Orioles
1904 New York Giants
1953 New York Yankees
2002 Oakland Athletics
*includes one tie game

The first game-ending homer of Tejada's career extended the majors' longest winning streak since 1953, when the New York Yankees also won 18 in a row, on a day it seemed certain to continue -- and then seemed certain to end when Oakland allowed three solo homers in the top of the ninth.

"This thing has a life of its own," Oakland manager Art Howe said of the longest streak in franchise history, besting the 17-gamer by the 1931 Philadelphia A's. "I can't say I'm surprised by anything that happens. We sort of blew that game, but Miggy found a way to get it for us anyway."

Matthew LeCroy, Corey Koskie and Mike Cuddyer homered for Minnesota in an improbable rally that ruined the complete-game hopes of Mark Mulder and sent the Coliseum into stunned, empty silence.

But in the ninth, Ramon Hernandez walked and Ray Durham singled against ace closer Eddie Guardado (1-3). Pinch-hitter Olmedo Saenz struck out, setting the stage for Tejada's homer.

"While I was running, I looked up and I saw my dad (in a luxury box)," Tejada said. "He was jumping. It was funny to see him jumping. That's where I pointed."

At Howe's urging, Tejada stepped out of the dugout moments later for a curtain call.

"I threw a fastball low, but it caught too much of the plate, and he reached down and got it," Guardado said. "As soon as he got it in the air, I knew it was gone. What are you going to do? Tejada is an All-Star."

Tejada also hit an early two-run homer, driving in five runs on three hits.

"MVP. Period. Three letters describe that guy," said A's closer Billy Koch (7-2), who gave up Cuddyer's go-ahead homer but got the victory. "I don't think there's any other choice. If he wasn't on this team, where would we be?"

By sweeping AL Central-leading Minnesota, the A's won their ninth straight series. When ace Barry Zito goes for his 20th win Monday against Kansas City, the A's have a shot to tie the AL record of 19 straight victories set by the White Sox in 1906 and tied by the Yankees in 1947.

Nail-biters have been a rarity during the streak for the A's, baseball's best team in one-run games. The A's hadn't even trailed in any ninth inning during their streak until Sunday, and they've outscored their opponents 122-48.

"You touch them, you burn yourself," said Torii Hunter, who broke up Mulder's shutout bid with a game-tying, two-run homer in the sixth. "You can't play those guys. They're so unbelievable. You can't take those guys light, even with a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth. When they have something going, they finish it."

Minnesota lost its fourth straight, but with a magic number of 13, the Twins' division title is all but assured.

The A's jumped ahead early in another good start by Mulder, who struck out seven and opened the ninth with a chance for a three-hitter.

Mulder got a raucous standing ovation when he emerged to pitch the ninth -- but LeCroy and Koskie blasted homers to left, putting Mulder on the bench with his head in his hands.

After Koch got two outs, Cuddyer -- hitting .196 entering the game -- hit his third major league homer. The Twins' unlikely trio had 22 homers among them before the game.

When the A's visit the Metrodome next weekend, it might be another playoff preview for two teams that probably would meet in the first round if Oakland holds off Anaheim and Seattle for the AL West crown.

Notes: John Mabry homered in the sixth for Oakland. ... Tejada is second in the AL behind Alex Rodriguez with 115 RBIs. ... The Twins are expected to activate LHP Eric Milton in time to start against Seattle on Monday. Milton, who leads the Twins with 13 victories, has been out since Aug. 7 after minor knee surgery to repair a small tear in his meniscus. ... With thousands of fans waving his bobblehead doll, Jermaine Dye went 1-for-4, grounding into a double play and striking out with the bases loaded in the first inning.

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