Scrapbook Memories celebrates the 20th anniversary of Oakland's last World Series triumph. We pick things up in April where the A's have begun defense of their American League title sans the services of Jose Canseco, who injured his left wrist during Spring Training.
Despite their shocking defeat to the Dodgers in the previous World Series, most baseball people with an opinion felt that Tony La Russa had another juggernaut on his hands. Not that he disagreed:
"I really believe we're capable of being better."
This from a manager whose team won 104 games, plus four more in an ALCS sweep of Boston. But it was that unfinished piece that Oakland would use as its rally cry. Carney Lansford:
"After what happened in the World Series, we came in with a very businesslike attitude. We're also sick and tired of hearing how the Dodgers figured out what we couldn't hit. Give us a break. We just didn't hit for a week against good pitching. I think all that stuff has motivated us."
I was three weeks short of my 22nd birthday when the 1989 season began. Sigh. Feels like six lifetimes ago. This was an exciting time to be an A's fan, and I abandoned my beloved bleachers for a closer look at Tony La Russa's colossal lineup. My sister Rose and I purchased a package of nights-only games in Section 127, Row 7. Not exactly suite seats, but pretty sweet just the same. I'd use the weekends to go slumming; there was absolutely no substitute for the party atmosphere of the bleachers in the late 80's. Back then they had partitions to keep the cheap seat partisans from sneaking over to the other side of the tracks, which was probably a good thing for all. More than anything my season-ticket plan afforded me the luxury of bumping into A's wives, such as Esther Canseco. Hey, I was 22.
The A's opened the season at home against the Seattle Mariners, and used a 1988-ish formula to kick off the campaign in style: solid starting pitching courtesy of workhorse Dave Stewart and a long homerun by that "other" Bash Brother Mark McGwire. When came time to close out the 3-2 win, the call went out to a guy named Eckersley, which loosely translated means "Grab your coat; it's time to go."
If Canseco's presence was missed, you wouldn't know it to watch the A's mash the Mariners in three straight. Walt Weiss, Oakland's third consecutive Rookie-of-the-Year in 1988, but known more for his leather than his lumber, homered twice in an 11-1 romp. McGwire and Dave Parker also went deep to back Bob Welch who received nine more runs than was needed in tossing four-hit ball over eight innings.
The A's completed the sweep with another blowout: 11-3. This time it was Glen Hubbard playing bashful with a three-run homer in a six-run third. Think about it. We're still waiting for Matt Holliday to loft his first big fly in an Oakland uniform, but guys like Weiss and Hubbard were on the homer board after just one series in '89.
After dropping two straight to the White Sox, La Russa put his trust in Stew to stop the bleeding, and the Oakland-born right-hander didn't disappoint. He scattered eight hits over 8.1 innings before leaving to a standing ovation from 45,110 sun-soaked fans (remember that kind of crowd, gANg?). Eckersley, a Fremont High alum, came on to close out the 4-2 win.
That was such a beautiful aspect of those A's; local boys finding new life with the Home Nine. Such was the case of San Jose-bred Carney Lansford who reached base in all but four games in April. The steady third baseman's average jumped from .200 on April 13 to .318 in the matter of two games (thanks to seven hits in nine at-bats), and he dipped under .300 only once (May 2) the rest of the season.
The champs took to the road for the first time for four games in Anaheim, three in Chicago, and three more in Seattle, and returned having completed a 6-4 trip. They received stirring shutout performances by Welch and newcomer Mike Moore in splitting their series with the Angels, and gave Stewart fourteen runs of support in a pair of victories to help him improve to 4-0 on the year.
It was during the first game of the trip that Oakland lost McGwire to injury, as the slugger joined Canseco on the disabled list. He would not return until April 26. In most clubhouses there would be cause for concern, but the A's proved to be more than just a couple of Bashers, as they went into La Russa's old stomping grounds and took two fo three from the White Sox. Walt Weiss' single in the ninth broke a 2-2 tie in the series finale, and Eck did the rest.
The patchwork A's rolled on, winning twice in Seattle; in both games they got two hits apiece from an unlikely 1-2 punch at the top of the order: Tony Phillips and Billy Beane. Mike Gallego added a pair of hits in one win, and drove in two runs in the other as the little guys continued to come up big for Oakland.
Upon returning home, the A's stretched their streak to seven with five straight victories in front of friendly faces, including a 10-6 thumping of the Angels, in which yet another of La Russa's lesser known players- Lance Blankenship- made his presence felt with a homerun. In the team's seventh win in succession, Billy Beane, taking Canseco's spot in right field, went 1-for-3 with a run scored and- gasp!- two stolen bases. After dropping a 2-1 decision to Baltimore in McGwire's first game back, Big Mac led a 13-hit attack the next day with a pair of bombs in a 9-4 win.
The A's managed only five runs in their next two contests, but rode the arms of Moore and Stewart in taming the Tigers 2-1 and 3-2. While Stew was the beneficiary of 24 runs in running his record to 5-0 for April, Moore had to make do with just nine scores in his three victories. In all the staff allowed three runs or less in 14 of the club's first 26 games, including three shutouts.
The month ended with a thud, a 7-2 defeat at the hands of Detroit's Frank Tanana, but it was a wildly successful April for a team that was missing some key parts. Having gone 18-8, the A's closed the books just a game behind the torrid Texas Rangers (17-5) and served notice to the rest of the league that even without their big guns, they were still the team to beat.