A's win 20th consecutive game after blowing 11-0 leadPosted: Thursday September 05, 2002 1:58 AM
Updated: Thursday September 05, 2002 10:28 AM
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 consecutive 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 in front of 55,528 fans who fully expected something every bit as incredible as the finish to another exhausting win.
"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 used that collective energy to take 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. For the third straight time, they gathered at home plate for a huge celebration.
"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.
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. The major league record of 26 consecutive victories was set by the New York Giants in 1916.
Howe thought there were more negative aspects to this victory than positives, given his team's disturbing collapse -- but it was difficult to remember the flaws as Hatteberg leaped and jogged around the bases. As the Coliseum rocked, 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.
"Something like that sends chills up your back, but I don't want four games like this," said A's starter Tim Hudson, who gave up 11 hits and five runs. "With the attention that we've got, and the way we've been playing, this is obviously playoff-type baseball."
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. The grounds crew pulled the bases from the field, got Hatteberg's autograph on them and shipped them to Cooperstown.
The young fan who caught the winning home-run ball traded the souvenir back to Hatteberg for a bat and a handshake.
"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," said Hatteberg, who's picked up his offensive game late in his first season with the A's.
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), who also gave up Tejada's game-ending single on Monday.
Kansas City manager Tony Pena was pleased by his team's resilience, if not the final score.
"We showed a lot of people what this team is made of out there," Pena said. "Sometimes when you lose, you actually win out there, and this was one of those situations."
With 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.
Only one crowd in A's history was bigger -- the crowd at Game 3 of last season's division series against the Yankees.
Notes: 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.