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On This Date in Sports September 4, 2002: The Streak

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Oakland Athletics set an American League record by winning their 20th straight game, beating the Kansas City Royals 12-11 on a walk-off home run by Scott Hatteberg. The A’s had once led the game 11-0, but the Royals, with five runs in the fourth and eighth inning, rallied to tie the game. Powered by the streak, Oakland would win the American League West with a record of 103-59.

Coming off two straight heartbreaking Division Series losses to the New York Yankees, the Oakland Athletics began the 2002 season missing several key players as the team’s budget restraints prevented them from keeping their star players. Hoping to keep his team competitive, General Manager employed a new way of looking at player stats to get the most out of his team’s limited budget.

Early in the season, the Athletics struggled, as they were in third place with a record of 24-28, ten games out of first place on May 30th. The A’s began to turn things around as they got back in the race powered by a stretch where they won 16 of 17 games.

The streak began on August 13th, with the Oakland Athletics sitting in third place in a tight three-way race in the American League West; with a record of 69-51, they were three and a half games out of first. That night with Barry Zito winning, the Athletics beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4. After a second straight win over Toronto, the A’s extended the streak to five games with a weekend sweep of the Chicago White Sox before embarking on a ten-game road trip. The trip four-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians, where the Oakland bats came alive, outscoring the Tribe 29-7 in the series. From there, it was on to Detroit, where the Athletics continued to bash the ball, winning three straight games over the Tigers by a combined score of 31-11. With the sweep of the Tigers, the A’s took over first place for the remainder of the season. Oakland would wrap up the road trip with three straight wins over the Kansas City Royals, winning the three games by a combined score of 19-8.

Returning home, the biggest question surrounding the Oakland Athletics, with a 15-game winning streak, was if the season would resume as a strike threat was not settled until the early morning hours. With a new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, the Athletics streak continued with a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Twins to extend the streak to 16 games. The A’s would close out August with a 6-3 win, improving to 85-51, holding a three and a half-game lead in the Western Division. The streak appeared to be in jeopardy on September 1st, as Billy Koch could not close out a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning, allowing three runs. However, Ruben Tejada saved the day with a three-run walk-off home run to extend the streak to 18 games, with a 7-5 win. Tejada came through again the following night with a walk-off single to beat the Kansas City Royals 7-6 on Labor Day.

The Athletics would have a day off between games of a two-game set against the Royals in Oakland. Seeking to extend the streak to 20 games, the A’s jumped out to a big lead early, scoring six runs in the first inning off Kansas City starter Paul Byrd. In the second inning, John Mabry made it 7-0 by greeting Darrell May with a leadoff homer. The Oakland onslaught continued in the third inning, as they added four more runs against May to make the score 11-0. In the fourth inning, with a 20th straight win in hand, Tim Hudson faltered, allowing five runs. Hudson would settle down and pitched into the seventh inning without further damage. In the eighth inning, the Royals' comeback continued as they added five more runs, highlighted by a three-run home run from Mike Sweeney. The Royals would complete the rally with a run against Billy Koch in the ninth inning. With most of the crowd stunned at the turn of events, the Athletics streak continued dramatically as Scott Hatteberg hit a walk-off home run against Jason Grimsley with one out to win the game 12-11.

The Oakland Athletics' winning streak would end two days later, with a 6-0 loss on the road against the Minnesota Twins. When the streak began, the A’s were in third place, four and half out of first. When it ended, they had a three-and-a-half-game lead in the AL West. Among the stars of the streak was Corey Lidle, who went 5-0 with a 0.20 ERA, while Billy Koch earned a win or a save in 12 of the games. The Athletics would go on to win the division with a record of 103-59 as Miguel Tejada was named MVP and Barry Zito won the Cy Young. However, the playoffs would bring more heartbreak as they were beaten by the Twins in the ALDS, losing  Game 5 at home.