On a Sunday afternoon, Aug. 11, 2002, in front of more than 54,000 fans at Yankee Stadium, the Oakland Athletics lost, 8-5, which didn't make for a pleasant cross-country flight home that night.
Still, the A's had gone 4-2 on the road trip and stood at 18 games over .500. Although in third place in the American League West, they were only four games behind the first-place Seattle Mariners and harbored authentic postseason ambitions.
The next night, Monday, Aug. 12, 2002, before 14,178 fans spread throughout the Oakland Coliseum, the A's suffered a desultory 2-1 loss to the going-nowhere Toronto Blue Jays. Aaron Harang had pitched good enough to win most games, but not this one, in which the Athletics were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position. They dropped 4? games behind Seattle.
The next game, on Tuesday night, Aug. 13, the A's displayed some spitfire. Eric Chavez knocked in two runs with a tiebreaking bases-loaded single in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving the A's a 5-3 lead. In the top of the ninth, Barry Zito, who had given up only one earned run, four hits and a walk and had struck out seven, gave way to Oakland closer Billy Koch, who, as was his custom that season, made things interesting. Koch walked two and yielded a run before striking out pinch hitter Tom Wilson and stranding the tying run on third base.
It was an exciting, dodge-a-bullet win, and A's players and fans were a happy bunch, although they didn't gain on the Mariners.
Naturally, none realized what that victory would become: the first of an amazing, scintillating, extraordinary 20-game winning streak, the longest in American League history.
As the Athletics celebrate the 10th anniversary of the streak this weekend at the Coliseum, with several members of that 2002 team on hand, it seems an appropriate time to dissect that incredible run of consecutive victories.
Of course, any number of remarkable facts stand out from the streak, but here are some that particularly caught the eye of one baseball nerd/researcher/aficionado:
Of the 20 wins, 10 were at home, 10 on the road;
Of the 10 wins at home, paid attendance exceeded 30,000 six times; it exceeded 40,000 three times. And for what would be the final victory in the streak, a night game on Wednesday, Sept.4, the Coliseum was filled with 55,528 paying customers;
Zito and Tim Hudson each won four games in the streak; Mark Mulder and Cory Lidle won three apiece. Koch won three and saved nine;
Terrence Long and David Justice each hit five homers during the streak; Jermaine Dye and John Mabry hit four homers apiece, and Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada hit three each;
Chavez drove in 23 runs in the 20-game win streak; Dye had 18 RBIs, Justice had 16, Maybry 13 and Tejada 11.
There were three one-run games.
There were two shutouts. One came on Aug. 16 in which Lidle, Ricardo Rincon, Chad Bradford and Koch combined on a 1-0 win over the Chicago White Sox, with the only run coming on Dye's homer off Mark Buehrle in the second inning. The other shutout was on Aug. 21 in which Lidle pitched a one-hitter in a 6-0 victory over Cleveland. Ellis Burks' line-drive single in the first inning and Jim Thome's walk, also in the first, were the only baserunners Lidle allowed. He retired the last 25 batters he faced.