The fourth post in my series of the ups and downs of being a sports fanatic heads west to Oakland, California as I discuss my beloved Athletics. If you have missed my first three posts, they are about the Washington Redskins, Washington Capitals and North Carolina Tar Heels. I know you're asking yourself a question right now. 'How does he like the Oakland Athletics when it's obvious that he lives on the east coast?'
For the answer to this, let me wind the clock back to 1988 where the 10 year old version of me was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles. Not that I chose this fate, I just happened to live in Northern Virginia and they were the only team I had heard of. The Washington Nationals were still the Montreal Expos and Baltimore was still just a handful of years removed from their most recent World Series victory back in 1983. 1988 was not 1983 for Baltimore. The hapless Orioles started that season 0-21 and by the time my birthday arrived on May 5th they were 3-24. It was that 10th birthday when I received newspaper clippings from my grandfather in Pennsylvania (who was a very happy Pittsburgh Pirates fan, oh the irony) about how horrible and embarrassing the Orioles were. It was at that moment I made a choice.
Right around that time I began playing in the 'Majors' division of Little League. This was the first season where we played with actual names from Major League Baseball. No longer were we just a local sponsors name. I was drafted by the Athletics. I probably didn't even understand that they were based in Oakland, much less California. My grandfather shamed me from being an Orioles fan anymore. Starting in the summer of 1988 I was now a fan of the Oakland Athletics.
As I learned about the Athletics, I would go to the backyard with my wiffle bat and ball and mimic their lineup with Carney Lansford, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and pitchers Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley as our own.
I was on the Athletics for three years (including one truly heartbreaking championship game loss) and during those three years the real Oakland Athletics went to three World Series. During that time frame I was introduced to my fair share of elation and heartbreak. Nearly 25 years since moving on from Little League I am still a die hard, east coast, Oakland Athletics fan and over the years Oakland has supplied me with countless moments that cover the spectrum of emotions. I have picked out 10 of my favorite and 10 moments that still hurt to share with my readers.
TOP 10 MOMENTS OF ELATION AS A OAKLAND ATHLETICS FAN
1994 - August 9th vs Chicago White Sox (R. Sierra 8th inning HR to pull A's w/in 0.5 game of 1st)
2012 - October 3rd vs Texas Rangers (Athletics clinch A.L. West crown with comeback victory)
10. 1994 - July 10th vs Baltimore Orioles
The 1994 season is one to forget for many fans and players alike. The season ended in mid-August due to labor conflict and for the first time since 1904 there was no World Series played. I was sixteen and could care less about all the talk of the impending problems, but rather I worried about how horrid the Athletics were playing. By June 22nd, following a 10-1 drubbing by the Kansas City Royals, Oakland had fallen to 25-45, but miraculously stood only 7 games out of first place in the watered down A.L. W(orst)est. The next day, the season began to change for Oakland, they won 13 of their next 16 as I headed to Baltimore to watch Oakland play a Sunday matinee with my family. We had tickets about 15 rows behind the first base dugout and I (as always) went wearing a green and gold shirt/hat combo. The Orioles held a 4-3 lead heading into the 9th inning as Lee Smith slowly came into the ballgame. Ruben Sierra reached base to lead off the inning and up came my favorite player of all time, Mark McGwire. I stood and cheered hoping for a home run and that is just what I got! A 2 run blast put the Athletics up 5-4 and I screamed loud enough to hear myself and really only myself on the playback on HTS later that night (yes I watched the game again). I was told by many a fan to sit down and 'go back to Oakland' but I responded with 'Now you'll get to see a real closer come in!' Dennis Eckersley entered and shut the Orioles down for my favorite Athletics victory of all time that I saw in person. By seasons end (mid-August) the Athletics had crept to within just a game of 1st place and still stood 12 games under .500. The A.L. West would very likely have sent a team to the playoffs who was under .500 in one of the ugliest division races that never happened.
9. 2001 - Game 2 ALDS October 11th vs New York Yankees
Outside of the Seattle Mariners who magically won 116 games in 2001, the Athletics were by far and away the best regular season team in all of Major League Baseball. That team won 102 games, but because of the Mariners they were forced to open up the playoffs on the road against the New York Yankees who won 95 games. That didn't stop Oakland from winning Game 1 once again (as they had done a year earlier in Yankee Stadium) as this time it was Mark Mulder who out pitched Roger Clemens. I fully expected the 'evil empire' to strike back in Game 2, but Tim Hudson pitched one of his best games of his career a night later. Hudson scattered six hits and walked just one batter over 8 glorious innings and Jason Isringhausen survived a shaky ninth to put the Athletics up 2-0 in the best of five series. Ron Gant provided the winning run with a solo home run in the 4th inning. After losing the previous year to New York, I was on cloud nine after winning both game in New York to start this series. Everyone had said that the only reason Oakland didn't win in 2000 was because they weren't able to set up their pitching rotation. They did not have that problem in 2001. With Mulder and Hudson already done, the Athletics were still set with their third 'ace' Barry Zito in Game 3, Corey Lidle in Game 4 and back to Mulder for a Game 5 that didn't look like was going to happen. I was already looking forward to showing Seattle who was the real best team in the A.L. West. I also knew I was headed to JMU for Game 3 to visit my sister for the weekend where one of her suite mates was a die hard Yankees fan and boy did I have some chest puffing words for her...more on that later.
8. 2003 - Game 1 ALDS October 1st vs Boston
By 2003 the Athletics had made the playoffs three consecutive years and had flamed out in the A.L.D.S. three straight times. A fourth consecutive A.L. West crown in 2003 paired Oakland up with Boston in the Division Series this time. With home field advantage and experience finally on their side, Oakland was given a good chance to beat the Red Sox. This proved to be one of the best Division Series baseball had ever seen since adopting the new round in 1995. Game 1 might have been the best of the five games. I started the evening playing my own baseball game, but tracking the score on my phone (no web plan, just calling an 800 number for updates). Oakland started out well behind Tim Hudson and led 3-2 heading into the 7th inning. My game was wrapping up by then, but by the time I got home, Oakland was now trailing 4-3. I sat in front of my television as the Athletics came to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning needing a run to extend the game. I did not have a great feeling after 3 years of torment, but Oakland pieced together a rally and gave themselves a chance. With two on and two outs, Erubiel Durazo singled home the tying run as I erupted in joy. After Eric Chavez grounded out to end the inning, the game started anew in the 10th. Both teams were held scoreless into the 12th inning which is where Oakland survived wading through the middle of the lineup by stranding two runners. In the bottom of the 12th inning a walk and back to back ground outs left Oakland with a man on second and two outs. Scott Hatteberg walked and Eric Chavez stole 3rd base. Hatteberg then went to 2nd on defensive indifference. Boston chose to walk Terrance Long to load the bases and bring up slow footed catcher, Ramon Hernandez with the bases loaded. During the 'Moneyball' era of the Athletics, the team had scoffed at the stolen base and the bunt. It was about plate discipline and extra base hits. This is why what happened next shocked not only the world of baseball, but definitely die hard fans of Oakland like myself. On a 0-1 count, Hernandez squared to bunt and with the third baseman playing at normal depth, was caught unaware and Hernandez scampered down to first as the winning run crossed the plate. I don't have video of the game, but I had some friends reenact the events and it looked a little something like this:
7. 2006 - Game 3 ALDS October 6th vs Minnesota
After missing the playoffs in 2004 and 2005 and saying goodbye to two thirds of the 'Big 3', 2006 was seen as a rebuilding year for Oakland. Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder were traded away, but Dan Haren and Joe Blanton combined for 30 wins to help Barry Zito lead Oakland back to the playoffs. Frank Thomas came in to town for a memorable 39 home run season and Nick Swisher hit a career high (to date) 35 home runs to pace the offense. All of this led to Oakland capturing the A.L. West title once again with a date against the Minnesota Twins. When they last met, Oakland was the heavy favorite and that ended poorly. This go around Minnesota, with not only home field advantage and a better regular season record also had 19 game winner Johan Santana going in Game 1. The only saving grace I felt for Oakland was that Francisco Liriano who had stormed onto the baseball stage was injured and unavailable. I had all but conceded the first game in my mind, but when Oakland beat Santana I thought they might have a shot. Then they stole Game 2 and Oakland was once again one game away from advancing. Unfortunately Oakland was 0-9 since 2000 in the playoffs with a chance to win and advance. I had to force myself to watch Game 3. How can you blame me? I had seen this story before. I sat there, I watched and I rejoiced with a banshee type scream as the 2000 lbs. elephant that had been on the shoulder of all Athletics fans was finally removed with a Game 3 victory. Not only did Oakland win, but they won with relative ease. The Athletics were finally, FINALLY moving on to the A.L.C.S. to face the Detroit Tigers. Life had to be better there, didn't it?
6. 2000 - October 1st vs Texas
After six seasons of losing baseball, the Athletics finally showed signs of promise during the 1999 season. A 35-20 summer stretch that season was thrilling and although the team played just .500 ball from September 1st on, there was hope heading into the new millennium. By August 11th of the 2000 season the Athletics had lost their sixth game in a row and stood 7 games out of first place. With 47 games left, the season appeared to be lost. Then, what eventually became an Oakland tradition, they got red hot down the stretch. By the time the final three games of the season arrived, Oakland had shaved Seattle's lead to just a 1/2 game (with Oakland holding the head to head tiebreaker). The day before welcoming the struggling Texas Rangers to town for the biggest series since 1992, Oakland had dropped a gut-wrenching 14 inning decision to Anaheim (compare it to the 14 inning disaster versus New York this past September for pain inducing feelings). Seattle was headed to Anaheim for their final three games of the season. Friday night: Oakland won a back and forth affair while Seattle fell to the Angels. Oakland was now in first place and controlled their own destiny! Saturday afternoon: Oakland thumped the hapless Rangers winning 23-2 meaning a Seattle loss that night would clinch the division for the Athletics. Yeah, that didn't happen as Seattle nearly matched Oakland with a 21-9 destruction of Anaheim. One day, one win needed. Oakland was forced to start their ace, Tim Hudson who was 19-6 on the season. At the same time down the coast, Seattle started their game. Through six innings of the two games, nothing had been decided. Oakland was scoreless with Texas while Seattle and Anaheim were knotted a two apiece. A six month, 162 game season had now been boiled down to just three innings. In the bottom of the seventh, with two outs and nobody on base, Oakland finally broke through. A double was followed by a run scoring single and Oakland was now just six outs away from the division crown. Seattle also scored 3 runs in their seventh inning, putting all the pressure squarely on Oakland. Tim Hudson worked through the 8th inning and Oakland went back to work on offense. A lead off home run by Randy Velarde was shortly followed by another, pinch hit, home run by Olmedo Saenz as Oakland went to the 9th inning with a 3-0 lead. Obviously, Jason Isringhausen allowed hits to two of the first three batters of the inning, but got the fourth batter to pop out. With two on and two out, Isringhausen struck out Frank Catalanotto looking and Oakland was headed back to the playoffs. The dugout emptied and the bubbly was popped as the drought had finally ended.
5. 2010 - May 9th vs Tampa Bay
Personal information warning: Ever since I was too old to play second base as a left handed fielder at the age of 13, I wanted to pitch. I was told I didn't throw hard enough, didn't throw enough strikes and couldn't survive on the mound. Until shoulder injuries finally put an end to my amateur career, I ended up pitching for about 17 years. I never threw hard, but I could make the ball dance and I could paint the corners in my prime. This leads me to the greatest day in the career of fellow 'soft throwing' lefty Dallas Braden. Mother's Day 2010, I was hanging out around the house in late afternoon and was tracking the Athletics game via Twitter. It was early in the season and Oakland had been average in what would turn out to be a truly average (81-81) season. Through four innings, Braden had not allowed a base runner. Through five innings, Braden had not allowed a base runner. Now my interest had started to pique. I turned the game on my television, putting my daily household chores aside and settled in for what I hoped was a memorable moment. Look, I'm a sucker for any chance at a no hitter or a perfect game. Even if it's the Yankees, I'll root for a pitcher to do the amazing. I never got through more than four perfect innings in any of my career starts. I pitched a two hitter once I think. I don't care what level you play, pitching a 7 or even a 9 inning game without allowing a hit, much less a base runner is the epitome of difficult. By now Dallas Braden had made it through the sixth inning and then the seventh inning without a base runner. 21 up. 21 down. Now I was starting to sweat. In the last 112 seasons, only 21 pitchers have been perfect. That's quite rare even with five perfect games in the last three seasons (plus one that should have been). The eighth inning came and went. 24 up. 24 down. Now I can taste it. I'm practically shaking in anticipation. I know pitchers are lost in the moment when this is happening, but I couldn't sit still. ESPN had put the game on. The MLB Network carried it. The 9th inning. Three batters to history. A line out. A fly out. One more out. Oh please, oh please, oh please. A swing. For a second the ball looks to be hit up the middle, but it turns out to be a rather routine ground ball to short stop. The throw to first...YES!! PERFECT GAME! Dallas Braden had his greatest moment on the day honoring mother's and aiding in the awareness of the fight against breast cancer. Dallas Braden had lost his own mother to breast cancer. The significance of the moment was overwhelming as Braden found his grandmother coming from out of the stands and hugged her and broke down with emotion. What a glorious moment for a good guy.
4. 2012 - September 29 vs Seattle
The 2012 Oakland Athletics are by far and away my favorite team during the 25 years of being a fan of the green and gold. The story has been told countless times about the off season trades, the prediction of 100+ losses, the terrible start, the comebacks, the Bernie dance, the win streak to end the season and of course the pies. I recapped my affinity for them in my post: 94 Reasons I Love the 2012 Oakland Athletics. If I had to pick one regular season game that truly encapsulates their season, it's September 29th versus Seattle. Coming of a loss at Texas that all but quashed their division title hopes, Oakland had won the first game of a three game series against Seattle, but now had to face Jason Vargas who had only given up 9 earned runs in his previous five starts against Oakland in 2012. Start #6 was more of the same. Through seven innings, Oakland had only scored on a fluke, heads up base running play by Yoenis Cespedes. He scored from first on a single after the right fielder relaxed for just a second. Meanwhile, Seattle had scored four runs and heading into the bottom of the 8th, still held a 4-1 advantage. Oakland pieced together a rally, as they were apt to do, but unlike their previous rallies, this one was cut down at the plate as Stephen Drew was thrown out to end the inning after Oakland had scored to cut the lead to 4-2. A scoreless top half of the inning set up more Oakland dramatics in the bottom of the 9th. With one out, Josh Reddick was walked on four pitches, bringing Josh Donaldson to the plate. On an 0-1 pitch, Donaldson crushed a hanging curve ball to dead center field and the game was suddenly and dramatically tied at 4. Now everyone in Oakland knew was was coming next. It was just a matter of who. Fans didn't have to wait long as in the 10th inning with two men on and one man out, Brandon Moss destroyed a pitch into the right field seats for a game winning, walk off, 3 run home run. It was Oakland's 14 and final walk off of the regular season and their 90th win of a very magical season. Of the players named in this recap (Cespedes, Drew, Reddick, Donaldson and Moss) only Donaldson had ever played for Oakland before 2012 and he didn't play in 2011 at all. With the win, Oakland stood just 2.5 games out first place with just four games to go. Spoiler Alert: They won out, beating Seattle again and then sweeping Texas to win the A.L. West.
3. 2002 - September 4th vs Kansas City
The most famous Oakland Athletics team is the 2002 team, thanks to the movie Moneyball. They were portrayed as a rag tag bunch of misfits that somehow won enough games to make the playoffs by Hollywood. The truth is that this team had made the playoffs in back to back seasons previously, winning over 100 games the year before. True they lost three key players, but they returned one of the best young set of core players in the majors. Behind the Cy Young award winning Barry Zito and A.L. MVP Miguel Tejada, this team was far better than the movie showed audiences. By the end of May, the team was headed nowhere which was accurate in the movie. Oakland stood 10 games off the lead in the A.L. West, but as had become a recent trend, they played much better from June onward. Beginning June 6th, Oakland won 16 of 17 games, but it was an even better streak beginning on August 13th that caught the nations attention. Barry Zito beat the Blue Jays that day to keep the Athletics within 4.5 games of first place, but that was just the beginning for Oakland. They reeled off 18 more wins in a row to match both the 1906 White Sox and 1947 Yankees for the current American League record of 19 wins in a row. Labor Day weekend was chock full of drama with Oakland winning in walk-off fashion on both Sunday and Monday afternoons. After a day off, Oakland took on Kansas City in a nationally televised game with the 'streak' on the line. A twentieth win would set an American League record and apparently make for a pretty thrilling movie arc as well. Through three innings, the game was a rout with Oakland taking a commanding 11-0 lead. Ho-hum, 20 in a row. Kansas City, to their credit, was ready to cancel the party. They stormed back with 5 runs in the 4th inning and 5 more in the 8th inning. Then they tied the game at 11 with a run off of Billy Koch who was pitching in his fifth consecutive game. Oakland escaped further damage and went to the home half of the 9th with a chance at history hanging in the balance. Even though this was not a make or break game for the season and Oakland would go on to win the A.L. West by four full games, the streak meant something to me. I had skipped out of work mid day on Labor Day to watch #19, I had ran around the house like a school kid when Miguel Tejada won #18 a day earlier. With one out in the 9th, Scott Hatteberg (#10, my uniform number BTW) pinch hit and hit a game winning, streak continuing, scream inducing home run. Hollywood execs called General Manager Billy Beane immediately thereafter.
2. 1989 - Game 4 World Series vs San Francisco Giants
Unfortunately this one is a memory that is fading faster than my hairline. Back in the fall of 1989, I was barely an Athletics fan. Sure, a year earlier I had re-branded myself in a fan of the green and gold, but living in northern Virginia and having a bedtime before 10:00 p.m. I didn't get to see much of Oakland on a daily basis. I was relegated to seeing scores from the games two nights earlier thanks to the early publishing times of the Washington Post. Luckily for me, the World Series games that year starting earlier in the night than 10 p.m.. After watching Oakland win the first two games of the Series, I had settled in to watch Game 3, but as history will forever remember, an earthquake hit the area in and around San Francisco which forced Major League Baseball to postpone the game. Ten days later, under somber circumstances, Oakland defeated San Francisco to take a commanding 3-0 series lead. As a naive 11 year old I didn't fully grasp the ramifications of being up 3 games to 0 and as Game 4 approached, I was still as nervous as ever. Rickey Henderson allowed me to exhale a bit as he hit a lead off home run to stake Oakland to a lead that they would never relinquish. By the time the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the 6th inning, they trailed 8-0 and even though they scored six runs over the next two innings, Oakland stayed in control. In the 9th inning, Oakland trotted out Dennis Eckersley who I had really only seen one previous time in a real pressure situation (more on that gruesome introduction later). He had a three run lead to protect and protect it he did. Oakland wrapped up a four game sweep of their bay area neighbors, but couldn't even celebrate in normal fashion with the heavy hearts of damage throughout the area. 23 years and counting guys...
1. 2012 - Game 4 ALDS October 10th vs. Detroit
Since 1989, Oakland has made the playoffs eight time including the magical journey of 2012. They have been heavy favorites and lovable underdogs at various times. Last year I believe that they were seen as lovable underdogs with a heavy favorite aura about them. Within the five game series against Detroit, every range of emotion was expelled. A lead off home run in Game 1 against Justin Verlander gave me hope, but he vanquished that quickly thereafter. Game 2 was painful, very painful. In Game 3 Brett Anderson and the bullpen were downright dominant as Oakland stayed alive. Game 4 proved to be the best game of the series and my most favorite moment of elation in the 25 years of being a fan of the Oakland Athletics. The game started out as boring as sin with Oakland flailing at every pitch by Tigers starter Max Scherzer who had 8 strikeouts through the first five innings. Detroit led 2-0 going into the home half of the sixth inning when the tide appeared ready to turn. Detroit's biggest weakness last season was their defense. An inning starting error got Oakland going and a wild pitch and a double followed and Oakland was on the board, now down 2-1. Stephen Drew (once again) was the man behind the big hit, but (once again) was thrown out trying for an extra base, which quashed the rally right there and then. Oakland did force Scherzer out of the game which gave me hope, but after a scoreless 7th inning and an insurance run for Detroit in the 8th, Oakland was suddenly six outs away from the end of their season. In the bottom of the 8th, Oakland got two men on base and season long surprise/hero Brandon Moss stepped to the plate. This was the moment, it had to be the moment. It wasn't the moment. Moss struck out and Oakland's season had dwindled to three outs. I sat back and reflected during the top of the 9th inning. It had been a great season. I didn't expect six months of joy, but that's why I'm a fan. As I was about to become a father for the first time, I realized that 2012 made me feel like a kid again. It had been a couple of years since I lived and died on every pitch via an internet game cast (no pictures...just a box score changing). I used to be obsessed with every at bat, every run and every outcome. My priorities had started to change. The 2012 team let me forget about that for about three hours each day that summer. Dammit, I didn't want that to end. This team was too much fun. Did they have one more magical moment in them? Josh Reddick stepped to the plate to start the 9th and he singled. Josh Donaldson followed with a double. 2nd and 3rd nobody out.... Coliseum crowd rocking. I was just trying to stay in control from my man cave. Seth Smith was now up. He doubled. Game tied. I went ballistic. I could hear the city of Oakland cheering 3,000 miles away. There was work left to be done. George Kottaras pinch hit and popped out. Cliff Pennington struck out. Uh-oh. Two outs, man on second base. Coco Crisp up. The heart and soul of the 'Bernie' movement. A fan favorite. I'll let the video speak for what happened next.
It was a primal, cathartic scream that escaped me. I only regretted not being able to be there in person. (Side note I was at Nationals Park the following afternoon to witness the Jayson Werth walk off home run that temporarily kept Washington's season alive. That happened to be the first ever playoff baseball game for any team I saw in person. I know what Oakland looked like at that moment)
Unfortunately, Oakland lost Game 5 which will be a repeated theme in the 2nd half of this post.
TOP 10 MOMENTS OF HEARTBREAK AS A OAKLAND ATHLETICS FAN
2012 - Game 5 October 11th vs. Detroit Tigers
2001 - Game 5 October 15th vs. New York Yankees
1997 - July 31st - (McGwire traded)
10. 1990 - Game 4 October 20th vs. Cincinnati Reds
The year following a World Series championship, Oakland was once again primed for another title run. They cruised through the regular season winning 103 games, which were eight more than any other team in baseball. Then they rolled through the A.L.C.S. against the Boston Red Sox, sweeping them in four games. There they would face the Cincinnati Reds who 'upset' the Pittsburgh Pirates in the N.L.C.S. in six games. All signs pointed to Oakland repeating as champions and the World Series ended up being a rout, just not as people were expecting. Behind Jose Rijo and a stellar bullpen, Cincinnati shutout the dominant Oakland offense as they won 7-0 in Game 1. The following night Oakland held a 4-3 lead going to the 8th inning, but unlike the Reds bullpen, Oakland coughed up their lead and wound up losing in the 10th inning. Back at home for Game 3, Oakland again came out flat as Cincinnati beat them 8-3. Just like the previous year, I still had hope, because I didn't know any better. Then in Game 4 was star outfielder Eric Davis was injured for Cincinnati, I thought to myself, if only they can win this one, it'll be a series again. Leading 1-0 and only six outs away from winning their first game of the series, Oakland let another lead slip away. The Reds scored two runs in the eighth and shut the Athletics down to capture the title. I was only 12, but I was horribly depressed about that. The silver lining I took from it was that in the three years of me being a fan of the Athletics, they had been to three straight World Series. They were going to be back, no doubt about it. I'm still waiting on their return. The drought is entering its 23rd season.
9. 2006 - Game 2 October 11th vs. Detroit Tigers
After four (yet to be discussed) gut wrenching losses in the playoffs, the Athletics re-invented themselves in 2006 and qualified for the playoffs for the 5th time in seven years. They swept past the Minnesota Twins to meet the Detroit Tigers in the A.L.C.S., the franchises first since 1992. I was thrilled to see that Detroit had beaten the hated and, I assumed, much better New York Yankees in the previous series. I went it to this series with full expectations of reaching the World Series. Oakland had home field advantage and all the pundits had always said, lookout for Oakland if they could ever play in a seven game series because of their pitching depth. With Barry Zito on the mound for Game 1 I hoped for a great start. Zito didn't even make it through the 4th innings and it was Tigers starter Nate Robertson who excelled. He got through five scoreless innings and left up 5-0 with the Tigers eventually winning 5-1. I knew that Game 2 was a make or break game for Oakland. They wouldn't recover from an 0-2 hole heading to Detroit. Looking back a match up of Esteban Loaiza versus rookie Justin Verlander makes sense now, but I though Oakland had the advantage. Through three innings Oakland held a 3-1 lead and everything looked to be okay. Then Loaiza imploded. He gave up four hits, a walk and four runs in the fourth as a two run lead was turned into a two run deficit. Detroit tacked on two more in the sixth inning and never looked back, winning 8-5. All my excitement and hope was dashed. My feelings carried into the Oakland clubhouse as they mustered all of two hits in Game 3, being shut out 3-0. Then, just to toy with me, they took a 3-0 lead in Game 4 into the fifth inning, but Detroit rallied to tie the game at 3 and went to the 9th inning with a chance to win the series. With two on and two out, Magglio Ordonez put the final nail in the Athletics coffin with a walk off 3 run home run.
8. 2000 - Game 5 October 8th vs. New York Yankees
After winning the A.L. West for the first time in eight seasons on the final day of the season, the Oakland Athletics were gifted a date with the two time defending World Series champion New York Yankees. While Oakland had been red hot down the stretch, New York was showing signs of wear and tear of 2+ consecutive long seasons, losing their last 7 games and 14 of 17 overall (Oakland was 14-3 in that time frame). With Games 1 and 2 in Oakland, the Athletics seemingly had a semblance of an advantage over the best team money could buy. On the field, Oakland kept rolling by winning Game 1 in front of the rabid fan base. Andy Pettitte silenced the crowd and the bats of Oakland as New York won Game 2 4-0. Back on the east coast, New York took control of the series by winning Game 3 as it looked like the young Athletics were just too green to compete. With a chance to wrap up the series, New York got shellacked on their home field as Roger Clemens lost for the second time in the series. An 11-1 rout got people wondering if Oakland could really upset the Yankees with another cross country trip awaiting the two teams and a game in less than 24 hours. Unfortunately for me, I got stuck working the night shift at my store. I had a TV in my office, but it being a horrendously busy Sunday night I was dragged away right as Chuck Knoblauch singled to lead off the game for New York. I hurried back to the office about 10 minutes later only to see in horror that New York had knocked out Athletics start Gil Heredia and had scored 6 runs. I was distraught. The game was apparently over before it started. As I shuffled in and out of the office over the next hour or so, Oakland tried desperately to get back into the game. They scored five of the next six runs and with five full innings to play only trailed by two at 7-5. Fifteen outs to shock the baseball community. They managed all of three base runners the rest of the way. New York went on to win its third straight World Series.
7. 1992 - Game 4 October 11th vs. Toronto Blue Jays
A year after a somewhat disappointing 84 win season, Oakland returned to the playoffs in 1992 by winning the A.L. West with 96 wins. There they played the Toronto Blue Jays who had now made the playoffs in three of four seasons, keeping pace with Oakland who had been in the postseason for four of five seasons. The Blue Jays had lost each of their two previous League Championship series while Oakland had been undefeated. It appeared to be a very evenly matched series, one that would swing at any moment. In Game 1, Oakland hit three home runs including a ninth inning game winner to take an early series lead. Toronto won both Games 2 and 3 by two runs as the close series played out to everyone's expectations. It was in Game 4 where Oakland let their reign of the American League slip away. In a battle of pitching veterans, it was Oakland starter Bob Welch that out performed Blue Jays starter Jack Morris. Through three innings, Oakland held a 5-1 lead that eventually grew to 6-1 through seven innings. With the way Oakland's bullpen had performed over the previous five seasons, everyone would have figured this game was over and the series was going to be knotted at two games apiece. Toronto didn't make it easy. Welch was chased from the game after a lead off double by Robbie Alomar. The next four Blue Jays singled as Toronto posted three runs to close the gap to two. The biggest factor that would pay dividends later was that Oakland was forced to bring in Dennis Eckersley (who gave up the last two singles) to end the inning while throwing 13 pitches. The Athletics went quietly in the bottom of the eighth as Toronto sent the top of their lineup up in the 9th. Devon White led off with a single, capping an 8 pitch at bat, which brought Robbie Alomar back to the plate. Alomar had another quality at bat and on the sixth pitch hit a game tying two run home run to deep right field. I had seen this before. It hurt all the same. Still, the game was only tied and with Oakland being the home team, I still thought they could pull it out. In the bottom of the 9th, Harold Baines led off with a single and pinch runner Eric Fox stole second base. This is where it got weird. Mark McGwire...yes that one, was asked to, albeit successfully, sacrifice Fox to third with a bunt. Mark McGwire hit 42 home runs that season with 0 sacrifice bunts. For his career he hit 583 home runs with just 3 sacrifice bunts. The baseball gods apparently didn't like seeing a slugger of his caliber square around like he was a light hitting middle infielder. Oakland didn't score that inning and to extra innings they went. In the top of the 11th Toronto scored a run on a sacrifice fly and held on to win an excruciating, mini-dynasty ending, game 7-6. Oakland won Game 5 to stay alive, but back in Toronto, the Blue Jays eliminated the Athletics and headed to the World Series where they would win the first of two consecutive championships. It took Oakland 14 years to get to another A.L.C.S..
6. 2003 - Game 5 October 6th vs. Boston Red Sox
Following three consecutive vomit inducing playoff series, Oakland had yet to learn from past mistakes. After taking a 2-0, best of five, series lead against Boston, the Athletics were once again forced to a winner take all, Game 5. All Oakland had to do was get past Pedro Martinez again after holding him to a no decision in Game 1. Game 2 winner, Barry Zito, was on the mound for Oakland, but after losing two straight games, all the momentum was on the side of the Red Sox. Through five innings, the game progressed as expected with Oakland leading 1-0. The sixth inning was not a good one for the green and gold...again (you'll see). Jason Varitek led off the sixth inning with a game tying home run off of Zito, which was survivable. After a walk and a one out hit by pitch, Boston's best hitter, Manny Ramirez, stepped to the plate. He crushed a pitch into the right field bleachers and Boston suddenly led 4-1, just 12 outs away from completing another Oakland implosion. The Athletics didn't give up. They scored a run in the sixth and chased Pedro in the eighth with another run to cut the deficit to one. It was still 4-3 heading to the bottom of the ninth. One last chance to get the monkey off their backs. Boston started the inning with reliever Scott Williamson on the mound. That was not a good strategy. He walked the first two batters of the inning which brought the crowd alive. Boston replaced him with Game 3 starter, Derek Lowe. Back in Virginia, I had left my living room with my roommates and hunkered down in my bedroom for fear of more pain and depression. Now with two on and nobody out, I was, once again, ready to explode in joy. Ramon Hernandez, the hero of Game 1, laid down another perfect bunt to advance the runners to 2nd and 3rd with one out. Adam Melhuse of all people, pinch hit for Jermaine Dye (a move I still question) and not shockingly struck out looking. Two outs. My mood swung immediately. Why the #$^* is this happening again? Lowe walked Chris Singleton to load the bases. Terrance Long stepped to the plate. Hero or goat, it all rested on his shoulders. On a 1-2 count, Long took a fastball that narrowly edge the black of the inside corner and struck out looking. Derrick Lowe motioned to Oakland his thoughts with a quick hand gesture to his groin and the collapse was complete. I stayed in my room that night, quiet and lonely and pissed. Dammit. But this wasn't even the most painful game of that series.
5. 2003 - Game 3 October 4th vs. Boston Red Sox
Two nights earlier life was pretty good. Oakland was up 2-0 over the Red Sox and although they were headed to Boston for Game 3, looked to have the series in hand. I got stuck at work that night, but was following along over the phone in between customers. There wasn't much to report. After five innings Oakland trailed 1-0. Both starters, Ted Lilly for the Athletics and Derek Lowe for the Red Sox were stuck on cruise control. Oakland was going to need a break to get back in the game. Speaking of breaks, I took mine and headed down the street to the sports bar to watch a couple of innings. I got there just in time to witness a play that still infuriates me to this day for various reasons. Oakland had loaded the bases in the sixth inning after a single and two walks. Mixed in between was the first of two of the strangest plays I had ever witnessed and I still have no explanation of what happened a decade later. The first was a play at the plate where fan favorite, 100% energy, Eric Byrnes appeared to score after an errant throw got past catcher Jason Varitek. Byrnes injured himself sliding into Varitek and then shoved him while Varitek scrambled to get the ball. All the while, Byrnes failed to realize he missed the plate. He was tagged out seconds later. Oakland still trailed 1-0. Eric Chavez was intentionally walked to load the bases bringing Ramon Hernandez to the plate. Did he dare bunt again? No, he hit a grounder to short stop...inning over...wait, Nomar booted it! Oakland scored! 1-1! Tejada then collided with third baseman Bill Mueller...obstruction!! The umpire pointed at the two players yelling 'obstruction' and Tejada slowed down and stopped halfway down the line to home. Oakland was going to take the lead. Boston gathered the ball up and tagged Tejada. The same umpire now yelled 'Out!' I nearly lost my shit in the restaurant. There was no sound on the television and all I saw was Oakland manager Ken Macha screaming. It was ruled that if Tejada had just kept running towards home he would have been awarded home, but since he stopped he was still a live player. He didn't even need to touch home, but just make an attempt. Two runs washed away over stupidity. Classic Oakland in October. The Athletics were undaunted. They kept the score even a run apiece through nine innings. I was back at work. The night had slowed at work and I had called my girlfriend to have her watch the game for me. She could have cared less. She knows nothing about baseball. The tenth inning came and went. The Athletics came up dry in the 11th. In the bottom of the 11th, I was on the phone with her receiving play by play updates. With one out and one man on base, Trot Nixon pinch hit for Boston. These were the words I heard when I asked her what was going on: "All the players for Boston have run onto the field and are at home..." I hung up. Son of a bitch.
4. 2012 - Game 2 October 7th vs. Detroit Tigers
After losing Game 1 against Justin Verlander and the Tigers, Oakland knew the only chance at avoiding Verlander again was to win the next three games. This was to be no easy task, but a win in Game 2 would not only swing the momentum to the Athleics, but send them home with home field advantage. Tommy Milone started for Oakland and although he had been much better in the cavernous dimensions of Oakland all season, there isn't much difference between his home field and that of Comerica Park in Detroit. He held Detroit's powerful offense in check giving up just a single run over six innings. The Tigers starter, Doug Fister, was equally as good through six innings as the teams headed to the seventh tied at 1. Of course I was stuck at work, but heading to the seventh I took my break just in time to watch the craziness begin. Oakland broke the tie with some classic post season small ball. A leadoff walk, a sacrifice bunt and a single was all it took to give the Athletics a 2-1 lead. With nine outs to get, Oakland had their bullpen rested and ready. It was to be Sean Doolittle in the 7th, Ryan Cook in the 8th and Grant Balfour in the 9th. The trio had been rock solid down the stretch in the regular season, but as everyone soon found out, that means squat in October. Doolittle retired the first two batters, but then gave up back to back hits. Luckily for him, all he had to do was retire the American League Triple Crown,
Clu Haywood Miguel Cabrera. Doolittle did his job getting Cabrera to hit a fly ball to center field. Coco Crisp raced in and DROPPED THE GODFORSAKEN BALL!! Two runs scored and Detroit was in the lead 3-2. I had seen this before from Oakland. Weird stuff happens and I nearly broke the television in the break room. Oakland escaped further damage and went back to work. Yoenis Cespedes led off with a single off reliever Joaquin Benoit and with one out stole second and third base. Then Oakland caught a break. Benoit uncorked a wild pitch and the game was tied at 3! On the next pitch, Josh Reddick crushed a ball to the stands in right field and Oakland was suddenly back on top 4-3. What a swing of emotions. The funny thing about a swing is its tendency to go back and forth. The bottom of the 8th proved that. Ryan Cook entered as was the plan and of course he got into hot water right away. Two straight hits and a sacrifice bunt put Detroit in position to take the lead back, but a strikeout got Oakland an out away from escaping. On the first pitch to Alex Avila, Cook matched Benoit with a run scoring wild pitch of his own. 4-4 game. Oakland came up empty in the 9th, but still brought closer Grant Balfour out in the bottom half of the inning. By now I was back working and my nerves were shot. Balfour struck out the first batter, but then ran into trouble with back to back hits and an intentional walk to load the bases. Don Kelly hit a fly ball deep enough to score the winning run as Detroit walked off with win and another, in the long line of, crushing defeats to my soul.
3. 2002 - Game 5 October 6th vs. Minnesota Twins
The demise of the 'Moneyball' team. As heavy favorites against Minnesota, Oakland had already choked away Game 1 before thumping the Twins in Games 2 and 3. The series should have been a sweep. Minnesota crushed Oakland in Game 4 and the teams headed back to Oakland for a one game series. Oakland had already suffered defeats in Game 5 in the last two seasons, but that was against New York. Surely Oakland could beat the Twins at home, surely they could. I was at home and a train wreck. I couldn't stomach another year of disappointment, especially not as the prohibitive favorite. Mark Mulder squared off for Oakland against Brad Radke. Both pitchers had won their previous start and this game turned out to be a pitcher's duel. The Twins scored a single run in both the second and third innings, but Oakland got on the board with a lone run in the third inning as well. That is where the game stood heading to the ninth inning. The Athletics had never really threathened Minnesota as they mustered all of four base runners, and never two in an inning, between the 4th and the 8th. Mulder had settled in and he and Chad Bradford shut Minnesota down, but closer Billy Koch couldn't do likewise in the 9th. Stop me if you've heard this one before, but as the 9th inning approached, it was nearing the time for me to go to work. I was already late, but since I was the boss, I could have cared less. I knew that Oakland only needed to get through the 9th unscathed because Minnesota was going to bring in Eddie Guardado whom they owned. His 16.88 ERA that season against Oakland was all I needed to know. The Athletics were going to win this game! Oh that's right Billy Koch. That asshole. He started the ninth inning with a walk and then gave up a 2 run home run to king of the douchbags A.J. Pierzynski. The damage wasn't done. With fans filing out, Koch gave up another run before closing out the horrible inning leaving Oakland in a massive 5-1 hole. Distraught, defeated and facing 8 hours of work, I jumped in the shower (to hide my tears...not really, but maybe) to get ready for work. I exited, numb to the touch and wanting to bury my head in a pillow and disappear for days on end. I didn't do that though, I got dressed and walked downstairs to notice the game was still on, still being played. What had I missed? What the hell was going on? The crowd was boisterous, the announcers were stupified. Mark Ellis had hit a 3 run home run with just one out! It was a 5-4 ball game. Terrance Long (you'll remember him from such disappointments as striking out with the bases loaded to end the '03 season) had yet to rip a hole in my heart, but he flew out to center for the second out. Randy Velarde super charged the crowd with a single, bringing Ray Durham to the plate with a chance to be a hero. That, of course, is not how this Hollywood ending worked out. He popped out into foul territory and Minnesota won in Oakland. It was the third of four straight Game 5 disasters I witnessed. Imagine, if you will, that instead of being blown out in three consecutive Super Bowls after Scott Norwood missed a potential game winning field goal, the Buffalo Bills lost all four games in that fashion. No fan should have to suffer that. This one hurt most of all. Of course outside of the movie, the most famous moment from those four years came one year earlier.
2. 2001 - Game 3 October 13th vs. New York Yankees
The 2001 postseason is one of the most famous postseasons in the history of Major League Baseball. With the backdrop of the country recovering from the tragedy of 9/11 and a classic, seven game World Series that had more drama, more twists and turns than any Hollywood script could produce, there was a lot to remember. Two games into the playoffs, Oakland had already staked their claim as the new kid on the block. They walked into New York and beat the 3 time defending World Series Champions with great pitching and timely hitting. I was on cloud nine. I was feeling brash and boastful. The end of an era, the beginning of a new generation. I had bought into the swagger and bravado of Oakland with their long hair and beer bellies and rock and roll attitude. It was going to be a repeat of the dynasty from 1972-74 with three staight championships of their own. Yeah I let my mind get the best of me. That Saturday, I headed down to JMU with my parents to visit my sister who had just recently started her freshman year there. I had graduated in 2000 myself and watched the campus turn into the Bronx each October as New York won in the fall of 1996, 1998 and 1999 (and eventually 2000 with me back at home thankfully). I was sick and tired of it, but that was going to end that night. When I had helped my sister move in that August one of her suite mates was sporting a Yankees hat and putting up Yankees paraphanelia all over her room. We had bantered back and forth, but I didn't have much ammunition at the time. Now sporting my green and gold Athletics shirt I strutted into the dorm just waiting to get a shot at her. She saw me, I smiled, she walked away. Victory was mine. Game 3 was in Oakland and I don't think I've even seen a more raucous crowd. After all, Oakland had won their last 17, count them 17, games in Oakland to end the season. It was going to be a good night. I pulled up to a quaint little 22" television in the dorm room, alone as everyone was out and about for Parents Weekend. It was another low scoring affair as Barry Zito and Mike Mussina matched out for out. The Yankees struck first in the fifth inning as Jorge Posada launched a solo home run to quiet the crowd. That was one of just two hits the Yankees would get all night long. Oakland didn't fare much better until the bottom of the seventh inning when a two out rally nearly ended the series. Jeremy Giambi, the younger, yet just as slow footed, brother of slugger Jason hit a single to right field. That brought up...drumroll please...Terrance Long! The center of the postseason universe in my lifetime. He hadn't failed in 2002 and 2003 yet and he didn't fail this time. Long laced a bullet down the right field line into the corner. Giambi rounded second and was being waved home. The relay throw from the corner airmailed the cut off man, Oakland was going to tie the game up! Then out of nowhere, Derek Jeter appeared as if the devil himself had placed him there to destroy everything that was holy to me. He picked the ball up on a bounce, flipped the ball sidearmed to catcher Jorge Posada who tagged Giambi in the leg as he ran through home plate. I didn't use the word 'slide'. Jeremy Giambi didn't slide. We'll never know if that would've made the difference, but you always slide into home on a close play...ALWAYS! Just another little mistake that was maginified until it burned a hole through your brain into your guts and spilled your entrails all over the floor for Oakland. The crowd was deflated, New York hung on for a 1-0 victory. In Game 4, Jermaine Dye broke his leg as New York won again. Game 5 saw Jason Giambi play his final game with Oakland as New York not only won the series, but wound up signing Giambi away from Oakland. Life sucks sometimes. Slide dammit!
1. 1988 - Game 1 October 15th vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The one that started it all. I'll admit most of what I remember from this game will probably be revisionist history. I was 10 years old and just a budding fan of the Oakland Athletics. Hell I was just in the beginning stages of truly understanding the game of baseball. I know I was watching the game, I swear I was. I think I was. What I do know is that I have seen the highlight of the penultimate moment of this game far too many times. It is why this ranks #1 and will probably (please God hopefully) always rank #1 on this list. Oakland was the favorite against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1988. They had won 10 more games in the regular season than the Dodgers and had swept the Boston Red Sox in the A.L.C.S.. The Dodgers on the other hand were the underdog within their League Championship Series against the New York Mets, but had won. With Game 1 in Los Angeles it seemed imperitive to most pundits that if the Dodgers had any shot at competing with Oakland they would need to win Game 1. A first inning, two run home run for Los Angeles helped give them hope. That was dashed rather quickly as Jose Canseco hit a second inning grand slam giving Oakland a 4-2 lead. Oakland starter, Dave Stewart, surrendered a sixth inning run, but heading to the bottom of the ninth inning, Oakland still led 4-3. Dennis Eckersley was summoned to close out the game. This is what he did. He led the all of baseball with 45 saves that season and was the runner up in the American League Cy Young Award voting. At age 33, Eckersley, a one time starter and recovering addict had a new lease on life as a closer. He would close games for the next decade for Oakland and later St. Louis, but in 1988 he was just getting started. He quickly retired the first two batters, ho-hum, nothing to see here, have a nice night, enjoy the trip home. Uncharacticalistically, he walked the next batter (he had walked just 11 in 72 innings in the regular season and would walk just 3 batters in the 1989 season in 57 innings). Of course, maybe that was part of the strategy. This brought up the pitchers spot in the lineup and thanks to an injury to National League MVP Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers were out of viable options. With a healthy Gibson, the Dodgers would have been given a much better shot to win the series. He was thought to be unavailable though, that was until he appeared limping towards the on deck circle. Tommy Lasorda, the Dodgers manager, had been told by Gibson that he had one good swing in him. He rolled the dice. Eckersley overpowered the gimpy Gibson with fastballs, but Gibson worked the count full and fouled off a tough pitch at that point. Eckersley switched it up and apparently Kirk Gibson was ready for it. Instead of sticking with the fastball that Gibson had shown no ability to hit solidly, Eckersley tried a slider on the outside corner. Gibson later said he was sitting on that pitch and guessed completely. He lunged on one leg and smacked the pitch into the bleachers in right field sending the city of Los Angeles into delerium. Gibson slowly, injury or not, gutted his way around the bases adding an extra fist pump between first and second that was emulated by a generation of kids. Oakland never recovered as Orel Hershiser seized the momentum and won both Game 2 and Game 5 as the Dodgers won the World Series. To this day I swear I cried watching that ball land in the bleachers. I know I still feel anger in the pit of my stomach everytime I see the replay or hear Vin Scully's call of "I don't believe what I just saw." I'll leave you with that pain. Sorry Athletics fans, I really am.