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Flashback: I was there for Game 19 in the Oakland A’s 20-game streak

(And here we have the consummation of my 2002 affair with the A’s, in which I skipped out of a business trip to go to the Coliseum… Originally posted on September 3, 2002.)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I’m married to my childhood sweetheart (the Yankees), and live with an annoying roommate (the Red Sox), so sometimes I yearn for something new and exciting. Last summer I had a sweet dalliance with the Seattle Mariners. This year, on Opening Day, I decided to flirt with the A’s.

It’s been quite an interesting long distance relationship. There were thrills in April–the hot start, Carlos Pena equaling former-A Jason Giambi’s home run total, the resurgence of David Justice, and Eric Chavez’ fascinating habit of making every hit an extra base hit. But then the A’s turned cold on me, went into a slide–what, don’t you love me anymore? Next thing you knew, Carlos Pena was gone, the other Giambi as well, and I wondered if my A’s would ever be the same.

Interleague play brought the fun and passion back. Did they lose a single game to the NL Central? Noooo….. And how about them Giants? Hah! Watching Barry Zito facing Barry Bonds I knew I’d made the right choice.

It’s been a torrid affair since then, and finally consummated.

That’s right, consummated. I found myself in San Diego on Labor Day Weekend for a convention: the World Science Fiction Convention, where I was speaking, reading, autographing … that is in-between running back to my room to check ESPN for updates on the baseball labor negotiations and the state of the A’s historic winning streak. The strike was averted, the winning streak continued, and how fortuitous it was that I was not scheduled to appear at the convention on Monday. I checked out of my hotel Sunday night and spent the night in San Francisco with only one thing in mind: be at the Coliseum for Game Nineteen.

It’s not every day one witnesses history. The 1947 Yankees were the last team to win 19 straight. I knew from a quick visit to that tickets were available. So 10:30 am of Labor Day 2002 found me at the walk up window asking for the best ticket available.

A's Ticket StubOne thing I love about the A’s. They’re a cheap date. Twenty-two bucks got me a great seat on the first base side of home plate, just far enough back to be in the shade most of the day. Adjacent to the ticket window was the entrance to a souvenir shop that led into the stadium. I knew what I was going to do. I had been planning it since the night before, but I still felt extremely naughty doing it. I bought an A’s cap, black on black (adjustable, not fitted, that’s how you know it’s not everlasting love…) and brought it to the counter.

"You want the tags off it?" the man at the register asked.

"Yes, please."

He clipped the tags. I took my weather-beaten NY cap from my head, and slipped the A’s cap on. The people behind me in line clapped. Thank you, thank you. The pleasure was all mine. The store clerk put my Yankees hat into a bag and handed it to me. I was ready for "baseball, A’s style."

Out in the Coliseum a rare heat wave had coincided with the hot streak. The sky was cloudless and the temperature climbed toward ninety. To beat the heat, the Athletics had taken early BP and had conceded the field to the Royals. I waited behind the A’s dugout along with some green-clad faithful, but the only A who signed that day was submariner Chad Bradford, and I missed him. That was alright by me–I’d rather see Barry Zito pitch than have his signature. And just my luck, Zito was scheduled to start.

Much to my shock, though, Zito did not perform as expected. He struggled from the very first batter, missing high in the strike zone and going to a full count. He recorded a 1-2-3 inning, but threw 24 pitches in the process. The crowd, and I was right there with them, was geared up to see something amazing today, and expected it from Zito. But when he gave up a single with one out in the second, there was a very audible groan from the crowd. The A’s were going for 19 in a row, to tie the American League record, Barry was going for 20 and a legitimate shot at the Cy Young (Pedro was scratched from a start), and it seemed so possible that a miracle could occur. But "no-hitter" was not the miracle we would witness.

We would instead see Zito give up back to back homers in the third, to two guys who didn’t have ten homers between them coming into the game (Neifi Perez, two, A. J. Hinch, six). And the Royals would slash him up for three more in the fourth, on four singles, a sac fly, and an error. But Barry hung in there. In the fifth he struck out two and retired the side on only 8 pitches. Momentum was beginning to swing. By the end of the sixth, the A’s led the game 6-5, on a David Justice two run shot in the fifth, and another Justice hit, a two-RBI single in the sixth which followed a double steal! If there is one thing you cannot say about the A’s, you cannot say that they are not exciting. This game was all about clutch hitting.

But the Royals would not lie down and die. They scored the tying run in the eighth on a double play. 6-6 score! It was all to set up the drama of the ninth, I guess. The A’s will take you to the edge, but will they take you home?

Terrence Long led off the ninth inning with a triple. Wait, let me try that again. T-long f–ing tripled!!! With no one out, Tony Pena’s hand was forced to desperate measures. Two men were intentionally walked to set up the force out at home plate, an outfielder became a fifth infielder as they stood on the infield grass, while Jason Grimsley tried to get a ground ball. He got one, out of Scott Hatteberg, and there was one out. But that brought Miguel Tejada to the plate.

There are many guys to love on the A’s, but Tejada has to be one of the most lovable. The night before the streak had been in jeopardy, and they lost the lead in the top nine on three consecutive home runs! No problem, said Miggy, who whacked a three-run game winner in the bottom half of the frame. This time, all he had to do was get a ball through five infielders and a sinkerball pitcher.

He did. No, wait, let me try that more like an A’s fan. Did you see that?? He f—ing slashed it right through! Clutch baby, clutch! The Coliseum exploded. There were only 26,325 on hand (9,000 in walk up sales), but we were loud, our throats were already raw from all the screaming and excitement that preceded it, but we kept right on yelling. Right through the A’s mobbing Miggy near second base, right through the interview he did in the dugout, right until the final roar as he came up for a curtain call.

Oh, Yankees loyalists may call me Hester Prynne, but I will wear my A proudly. At least until October.

[Retrosheet play by play of the game:]

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