The torrid bat of Miguel Tejada has fueled Oakland's red-hot streak
Bud Selig and Donald Fehr had barely finished patting themselves on the back last week before Miguel Tejada began wondering what the new labor deal meant for him. Would increased revenue sharing enable the small-market A's to re-sign their All-Star shortstop when his contract expires after next season? "I'd be really happy if it does," Tejada says, "because I want to stay here"
The price hell command is rising faster than Martha Stewart's legal bills. When the season began, Tejada was known as a flighty, free-swinging power hitter who was just as likely to make a superhuman play in the field as he was to botch a routine one. He hit at least 21 homers and drove in at least 84 runs in each of the last three years; he also struck out 285 times and made 62 errors. It was a decent r�sum�, but it still left him looking up at the American League's mighty triumvirate of shortstops, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter. On Sunday, however, when he extended Oakland's winning streak to 18 games with a ninth-inning, walk-off three-run homer against the Twins, Tejada, 26, just about banged down the door to that elite club.
He's also putting up MVP numbers: Through Monday—when he added a game-winning RBI single in the ninth as the A's beat the Royals 7-6 to win their 19th consecutive game, tying the AL record held by the 1906 White Sox and the 1947 Yankees—Tejada was among the AL's top 10 in average (.311), home runs (30), RBIs (116), runs (97), total bases (296) and average with runners in scoring position (.373). On May 19 Oakland manager Art Howe moved Tejada into the third spot in the order, where Jason Giambi had been a fixture until he bolted for the Yankees after last season. Tejada had spent the off-season at his home in the Dominican Republic studying video; staring at clip after clip of himself flailing at breaking balls out of the zone convinced him that he needed to be more selective. As a result he has cut down significantly on his strikeouts; he had just 69 in 573 at bats this year. He has also developed into the run producer the A's desperately needed: In 95 games in the third slot Tejada had driven in 93 runs. Before Tejada was moved, the As were 19-23; since then they were a scorching 67-28.
During the A's recent streak Tejada hit .372 with 18 RBIs. "He's taken a huge step forward this year," says Oakland first baseman Scott Hatteberg. "He's absolutely carried us."
Next Up in the Week Ahead
HOW THE WEST WILL BE WON. Down the stretch the four AL West teams will play only one another in the season's final three weeks. The madness begins on Monday when the first-place A's start a four-game series against the Angels. The Mariners do the same in Texas that night.
GIANT KILLERS? Playing for their postseason lives, the Giants—the only NL team with a winning record (8-7) against the Diamondbacks this year—wrap up the season series against Arizona this weekend with four games at Pac Bell Park.