A's Retro: A Twelve-Pack Worth of Wins

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s have won 12 post-season series. We review them all. At length.

I was going to do an intro, but this thing is long enough.

I was going to do links and pics but I have a tailgate party to get to.

1972 ALCS: A’s (3) vs. Detroit (2)

Goodness, there are so many to choose from here. This series had everything. And then it had some more. The A’s won Game 1 on an errant throw from the same Hall-of-Fame outfielder that had homered in the top of the 11th inning to give the Tigers a lead that was short-lived. In the next two contests, the teams traded complete-game masterpieces. Then, in a role reversal from last year’s Game 4, the Tigers scored three runs in the bottom of the tenth – thanks in part to an error by a catcher playing second base – to stun the A’s and tie the series at two games apiece. In the finale, the A’s scored the tying run on a steal of home from their Hall-of-Fame outfielder, who tore his hamstring on the way to the plate and would miss the remainder of the playoffs. Oakland took the lead for good on a base hit by the aforementioned catcher-turned-second-baseman – who was 0-for-16 up to that point in the ALCS, and would go on to put up World Series numbers that challenged the likes of Ruth and Gehrig. A’s players spent the next five innings dodging anything Tiger fans could get their hands on – ah, the 70’s! – before nailing down a 2-1 thriller. In the winning locker room, the starting pitcher and the man who relieved him nearly came to blows after the latter accused the former of choking under pressure.

Breathe.

After all that, we need to go back to Game 2 – a 5-0 complete-game shutout by the same pitcher that "choked" in the clincher – to find the defining moment of this series.

Or perhaps August. The first thing you need to do know is that the Detroit manager was Billy Martin. Everything from here will make sense if you hold on to that thought. In August, the A’s and Tigers engaged in a bench-emptying brawl, and not the stand-around-and-do-nothing type. This one got so ugly, one of Oakland’s coaches ended up with stitches. Again, the 70’s.

So basically, these two teams had already generated a fair amount of disdain for each other by the time the playoffs rolled around. After seeing his Tigers lose a wild, walk-off affair in Game 1, Martin’s mood did not improve when the A’s jumped out to an early 5-0 lead the following day.

Shortstop Campy Campaneris led off Oakland’s half of the seventh, having hit safely in his previous three at-bats and adding a pair of stolen bases and two runs scored. Reliever Lerrin LaGrow struck Campaneris in the ankle with a pitch, and, upon rising to his feet, the shortstop flung his bat towards LaGrow, who was fortunate to keep his head in the process.

The benches emptied, with Martin challenging any and all A’s to a fight. The A’s, to their credit, refused the bait. But Martin had succeeded in firing up the troops, and the Tigers ultimately pushed Oakland – minus a suspended Campaneris – to the limit.

In the end, the A’s had the last laugh to advance to their first World Series since 1931.

1972 World Series: A’s (4) vs. Cincinnati (3)

Most people would say the heroics of Gene Tenace (homeruns in his first two-ever World Series at-bats, and four for the Series) or Joe Rudi’s catch in Game 2 most defines the 1972 Fall Classic between Oakland’s Hairs and Cincinnati’s Squares. There may even be a vote or two for Rollie Fingers fake intentional walk of Johnny Bench, where he reared back at the last moment to fire a strike three past the bewildered catcher.

But this is my story, so there. And when I’ve finished, you might even agree.

The A’s, fresh off surviving a tooth-and-nail battle with Detroit, waltzed into Cincinnati and took the first two games over the heavily-favored Reds. Without Reggie Jackson, no less.

But the Reds struck back in Game 3, and held a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the ninth of Game 4, three outs away of a tied Series and reclaimed momentum. The teams set a Series record by playing six one-run games. This would be another.

Mike Hegan grounded out harmlessly to third base for the first out. A’s manager Dick Williams sent up Gonzalo Marquez, a late-season call-up, to pinch-hit for George Hendrick. Marquez singled to center field. Allen Lewis pinch-ran for Marquez. I like typing "Marquez" in A’s stories. Marquez. Closer Clay Carroll was brought in to face Gene Tenace, who had earlier hit his third homerun of the Series. Tenace would not be asked to play second base this evening. But he would be called on to extend the inning, which he did with a base hit, moving Lewis ninety feet closer to a tie game.

The wheels in Williams’ head were spinning. He motioned for Don Mincher to pinch-hit for Dick Green. Mincher singled home Lewis, with Tenace taking third. Tied. With the pitcher’s spot due up, Williams once again asked for a fresh hitter. This time it was Angel Mangual, who had spent a portion of the regular season moping around his manager’s doghouse.

Two men on, one out, and a drawn-in infield, and the kind of situation every boy dreams of.

Mangual came through, pushing a single past second baseman Joe Morgan and creating a Coco-like scene at first base, while Tenace’s leap onto home plate made for a sweet book cover.

The Series ultimately went the distance – the A’s won Game 7 by 3-2 score – but if not for late-inning magic by a trio of pinch-hitters, things could have gotten hairy for the Mustache Gang.

1973 ALCS: A’s (3) vs. Orioles (2)

The defending champion A’s (another fun thing to type) faced the O’s in a rematch of the 1971 ALCS. This one featured a two-homer game by Sal Bando that helped the A’s tie the series after getting shut out in the opener; a walk-off homerun in Game 3 by Campaneris; and another blown lead in Game 4 to force a winner-take-all affair.

Compared to the previous season, kind of low-key.

I was in first grade during the ‘73 post-season, and I can still remember running home from school to watch the end of Game 5. The A’s – before a sparse crowd of 24,265 – were already in front, 3-0, and a few fans had positioned themselves atop the outfield fence in preparation of rushing the field.

Jim "Catfish" Hunter, who often came up big when the A’s needed him most, was up to the challenge once more, stifling Baltimore on five hits. Hunter retired the side in order only once, but he did not allow more than one batter to reach base in any inning, and not once did a runner reach third.

Just another day at the office for "Catfish" as Oakland reached its second straight World Series.

1973 World Series: A’s (4) vs. NY Mets (3)

In the most recent book about former owner Charlie Finley, the first chapter is called "October 14, 1973." It was a dark day for Oakland, and though they would win this Series and the next, you could also call it the beginning of the end for the dynastic A’s.

It was a day that took all the focus off the field, which is too bad because it was a hell of a Series.

The A’s eked out a win in the opener, only to have the Mets, in their attempt for a ’69 Miracle reprise, knot things up with an extra-inning victory; a game that saw every fly ball turn into an event under an unforgiving sun (worth noting so you kids don’t think it’s just a 2013 thing).

Oakland returned the extra-inning favor, but New York won Games 4 and 5 to put the champs against the ropes.

Reggie Jackson, the MVP of the regular season and a cheerleader the previous October, stood tall in his first World Series. He collected three hits off Tom Seaver in a Game 6 win, and punctuated Oakland’s back-to-back titles with a long home run in the clincher.

But the rain had already come down on the A’s parade a few days before. It was during the Game 2 loss that second baseman Mike Andrews committed two costly errors, paving the way for a Met’s victory.

In the aftermath, a fuming Finley convinced Andrews to "sign a false affidavit claiming he had a shoulder injury." The owner was already plenty miffed at the Commissioner Bowie Kuhn – and the Mets – after he was denied permission to add second baseman Manny Trillo to the roster before the Series began.

Finley also got a signature from the team doctor stating that Andrews was unfit to play.

Once the players caught wind of the boss’ antics, they nearly revolted. Many of them wore a taped #17 (Andrews’ uniform number) on their sleeves.

Kuhn reinstated Andrews, but for manager Dick Williams, this was the final straw. He told the team that the final game of the World Series would be his last with Oakland.

Andrews eventually made an appearance, grounding out to third in the eighth inning of Game 4 and exiting to a thunderous ovation at Shea Stadium while Finley stewed in silence.

It was Mike Andrews’ last at-bat in the Major Leagues.

1974 ALCS: A’s (3) vs. Orioles (1)

The vowels were back at it for a third time in four years.

Baltimore entered the playoffs on a ten-game win streak and punched the champs in the mouth early, hitting three homeruns off the usually reliable Catfish in the series opener, a 6-3 victory.

In the next three games, all losses, the Orioles scored one run. Total.

Leading two games to one, and with a chance to close out the series, the A’s got one hit in Game 4. That’s the bad news. They also walked eleven times, including once with the bases loaded to give them a 1-0 lead. And that one hit was a big one, a double by Reggie Jackson to drive home Sal Bando with the deciding run. Rollie Fingers struck out Don Baylor with a run in, two on, and two outs in the ninth to send the A’s to another World Series.

But it was Vida Blue who turned in the signature moment of the ALCS.

The MVP and Cy Young award winner in 1971, Blue found himself in the middle of an ugly contract dispute and ultimately sat out the first month of the ’72 season. He was not the same Vida when he rejoined the team, not from a pitching sense or a mental state. Gone was the boyish Blue that had won the hearts of baseball fans across the nation, including President Richard Nixon. The business side of baseball hit Blue upside the head, and soon he only pitched for himself and that measly paycheck with the signature of Charles Oscar Finley.

To make matters worse, there was no spot for him in the starting rotation when the playoffs began, but neither Finley nor Williams came out and told him outright. Still, he came on in relief in Game 5 to close for "Blue Moon" Odom, the starter that Blue would later give the "choke" sign to in the winning locker room.

Before the start of the World Series, Williams told the southpaw to be ready in the pen, and he appreciated the direct approach. With the A’s one victory away from winning it all, Blue was given the starting nod. He was knocked out early, an 8-1 Cincinnati win, the only game not decided by one run in the Series.

Vida Blue rediscovered his form and won 20 games in 1973. But he struggled again in the post-season, most notably Game 4 of the ALCS when he coughed up a 4-0 lead.

A year later, he faced those same O’s in yet another tight situation. The series was tied at 1-1, and Blue was called on to pitch the pivotal Game 3.

He did not disappoint.

With the slimmest of support to work with – a Sal Bando solo homerun – Blue was magnificent. Facing just three batters over the minimum, he allowed just two hits and walked none in a stirring shutout that put the A’s in the driver’s seat.

Next stop: LA

1974 World Series: A’s (4) vs. Dodgers (1)

The A’s, as was their wont, made headlines before the Series started. Former second basemen Mike Andrews sued Finley for 2.5 million (for the '73 Series fiasco), "Catfish" Hunter charged the owner with a breach of contract (paving the way for his departure from the team following the Series), and Rollie Fingers and "Blue Moon" Odom exchanged punches on the eve of Game 1.

The defining moments from this series, fittingly, are three-fold, and revolve around Dodger outfielder Bill Buckner, who is best known for a baseball rolling through his legs in the ’86 Series. In 1974, he was best known for letting words roll through his teeth. The 25-year old irked the A’s by saying only three of them were good enough to play for Los Angeles.

Even as Oakland built a 3-1 lead, Buckner insisted the champs were lucky. In the bottom of the seventh of a tied Game 5, A’s fans in left field let their feelings for Buckner known, flooding his area with debris.

While the game was held up, batter Joe Rudi was in conversation with Reggie Jackson, noting that reliever Mike Marshall was not staying warm during the commotion. "He’s going to throw me a heater, and I’m going to knock it out of the park."

When play resumed, Mike Marshall threw Joe Rudi a heater. Joe Rudi knocked it out of the park.

A’s 3, Dodgers 2. They still needed six outs to clinch it, but this thing was over. But it wasn’t over for Buckner. Leading off the eighth, he singled sharply to center. The ball skipped past Billy North, but an alert Jackson backed him up. He noticed that Buckner had third base on his mind, and he fired a strike to perfectly-positioned second-baseman Dick Green – the unsung hero of the ’74 Series, by the way. Green whirled and threw to Sal Bando at third, who applied a hard tag on Buckner.

The A’s recorded the final five outs drama-free to capture their third consecutive World Series title.

1981 ALDS: A’s (3) vs. Kansas City (0)

A strike-shortened season created an extra round of playoffs in 1981, the same format that is been in place since 1995. But that year was just weird, with pre-strike "champions" squaring off against post-strike "winners" to determine the division titles.

The A’s, on the strength of an 11-game win streak to start the season, dominated the first half. Manager Billy Martin made the cover of Time, and his stellar starting pitchers adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Oakland pitchers allowed just two runs, and the A’s swept Kansas City for their first AL West crown since 1975.

Mike Norris set the tone. He was a rookie in ’75, and threw a complete-game shutout in his first big-league game. With a new prize starter, Finley had visions of Norris becoming the next "Catfish" Hunter, after his former ace left the A’s for greener pastures (New York money, that is) following the ’74 season.

Alas, Norris was injured in his third start, and he spent the next few seasons trying to figure things out.

Enter Billy Martin, who never met a reclamation project he didn’t like. Under his direction, the A’s made a 29-game improvement in 1980, and his young starters – Matt Keough, Brian Kingman, Rick Langford, Steve McCatty, and Norris – led the way. In a development that would ultimately lead to their demise, the staff recorded a record 94 complete games that season.

To this day there are many who believe that Mike Norris, not Baltimore’s Steve Stone, should have won the Cy Young award in 1980.

So it was somewhat fitting that Norris would start Game 1 of the ALDS. And like "Catfish" before him in the ’73 clincher, he tossed nine zeroes at the Royals.

Kansas City never recovered.

1988 ALCS: A’s (4) vs. Boston (0)

The A’s were back in the post-season after a seven-year famine, and Oakland’s star power was on full display against the Red Sox. In the kind of games that – in the words of manager Tony La Russa – made "your breath stink", the A’s squeezed out a pair of tight, one-run affairs at Fenway, showcasing their superb pitching, timely hitting, and forearm bashing.

At home for Game 3, they fell into a 5-0 hole early, only to use the long ball – three home runs – to rally past Boston, 10-6. In the finale, the stars aligned once more. Dave Stewart went seven strong, Jose Canseco hit his third homerun of the series, and Dennis Eckersley saved his fourth straight game to send the A’s to their first World Series in 14 years.

I can write an entire story on Eck, detailing his ups and downs in and out of baseball. Oh wait, I did.

He will always be remembered for one fateful slider in the 1988 World Series, but the A’s wouldn’t have gotten there if he hadn’t picked up his life and career from the gutter, not to mention allow his ego to accept a closer role.

With the A’s clinging to a 2-1 lead in Game 1, Eckersley entered in the eighth inning. He recorded five consecutive outs, then got in trouble in with two outs in the ninth. Jody Reed doubled. Rich Gedman walked. Up to the plate strode batting champion Wade Boggs. The Fenway Faithful roared.

I was listening in at work, hanging on every single word from Bill King’s mouth. Eck fired two strikes past Boggs, who led the league that year in hitting, on-base percentage, OPS, doubles, and runs scored. In 719 plate appearances, he struck out 34 times. Boggs fouled off an 0-2 offering.

Here’s how Eckersley described the next pitch, years after the fact:

"There was this weird frozen moment when I looked at him as if to say, 'How did you swing and miss?'" said Eck later. "And he looked at me as if to say, 'How did you strike me out?' It seemed like about 10 seconds, but it was only a flash."

The A’s were no flash, and neither was Eck.

1989 ALCS: A’s (4) vs. Toronto (1)

After the World Series shocker of ‘88, the mighty A’s spent the next 12 months preaching the theme of unfinished business. They strongly felt that the Dodgers had deprived them of a World Series title that was rightfully theirs.

Their shot at redemption begin with a hard-fought showdown against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS.

It shall forever be remembered as the Rickey Show. (And for one very long homerun by Jose Canseco). Rickey hit, walked, ran, disrupted, stole, strutted, hit for power, and did everything but pitch and sell hot dogs. He was the missing ingredient in a lineup that was already terrifying to American League pitchers.

The only mystery when reviewing his numbers – 6-for-15, seven walks, two homeruns, fifteen total bases, eight stolen bases, eight runs scored – was how did they get him out nine times?

Actually, even when he was out, he wreaked havoc. He broke up a double play in Game 1 that led to an errant throw at first base and allowed the go-ahead runs to score.

The next game he was 2-for-2 with two walks, two runs scored, and four stolen bases. He was having fun at the Blue Jays’ expense, something that did not go unnoticed in the opposing dugout.

After a loss in Game 3 – Oakland’s lone blemish on an otherwise perfect post-season – Rickey answered Toronto’s request to stop showboating on the basepaths:

"If they think my stealing is hotdogging," he said to reporters, "I tell you what I'll do: Tomorrow I won't run. I'll just hit a couple of home runs – and go as slowly around the bases as they want."

And so he did.

Oakland was out-hit in each of the last two games, but with two tightly-contested one-run victories, the A’s advanced to the World Series for a second straight season.

1989 World Series: A’s (4) vs. San Francisco (0)

There was pitching. So much pitching. Dave Stewart shut out the Giants on five hits in the opener. Mike Moore followed suit in Game 2, allowing one run on four hits.

There was hitting. So much hitting. Seven different A’s homered in the Series. The A’s scored 22 runs in Games 3 and 4.

It was complete dominance. Oakland outscored its Bay Area rivals 32-14. The A’s did not trail at any point in the Series.

Not even Mother Nature could derail the mighty A’s.

The A’s surely knew their place after a massive earthquake interrupted – and later postponed – Game 3. Some of them traded baseball caps for hard hats. But when the Series was set to resume, Tony La Russa made two key decisions that kept the A’s on course.

First, he had them practice in Arizona, respectfully allowing the Bay Area to heal while his team turned its focus back to the task at hand. Then he chose Dave Stewart – who started the opener – to take the ball for Game 3, a luxury he obviously wouldn’t have under normal circumstances.

The move paid off as Oakland-born Stewart pitched well enough to earn MVP honors for the Series.

Oakland’s celebration was understandably subdued but a sweep of its big sister will always account for one of the city's greatest sport's triumphs.

1990 ALCS: A’s (4) vs. Boston (0)

The 1988-90 seasons were an embarrassment of riches for A’s fans. Those teams won 306 games. They played in three straight World Series.

And it all came together one last time in the 1990 ALCS. The A’s were kind enough to allow the Red Sox to score a run in each game. Exactly one run in each game. That’s four runs in 36 innings, folks. Yikes.

It ended with another Stewart-Clemens showdown. Showdown is too kind, I suppose. Stew always beat the Rocket. This day was no different. Clemens didn’t make it out of the second inning. He was ejected for saying the few words to an ump that are frowned upon. Stewart came out in the ninth to a standing and deafening ovation.

Good times, man. Why couldn’t they last?

2006 ALDS: A’s (3) vs. Minnesota (0)

Sixteen years.

It had been sixteen years since the Rocket blew up in Oakland.

Sixteen years since the A’s last won a post-season series. They had lost their previous six.

More recently, the A’s were snake-bitten. Four straight trips to the playoffs, four straight agonizing Game 5 defeats. Three at home. Billy Beane said his shit didn’t work in the post-season. He wasn’t wrong.

Then two more seasons of not making the playoffs at all. Close. So damn close.

In 2006, they were back. And after taking two from the Twins in Minnesota, the A’s found themselves in familiar territory. Up 2-love.

Where had we seen that before? Oh yeah. 2001 against the Yankees. Lost three in a row. 2003 against the Red Sox. Lost three in a row. Make it go away.

The 2006 A’s made it go away. Overcast skies tried to dampen the mood. The mood would not be dampened. Eric Chavez got things started with a solo shot in the second. Marco Scutaro doubled home Jay Payton.

Milton Bradley went deep with a man on in the third to make it 4-0.

Beers flowed.

The Twins cut the lead in half, but the A’s tacked on another in the home half of the seventh when Nick Swisher walked with the bases loaded.

They were still loaded when Marco Scutaro walked up to the plate.

To chants of Marco! Scutaro! ringing in his ears, Scutaro sliced a bases-clearing double that put the finishing touch on the A’s first post-season series win in 16 years.

I will never forget it.

But let’s not wait that long again, ok?

Here’s to the next chapter.

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