2002 A's react to Indians' impressive streak

September 12th, 2017

Take it from Scott Hatteberg, a man who knows exactly what it takes to win 20 in a row.

As soon as Hatteberg's made-for-Hollywood home run off Kansas City reliever Jason Grimsley left the yard at Oakland Coliseum on Sept. 4, 2002, to walk-off the Royals, a banner was unfurled with a simple and round yet patently absurd baseball number: 20.

The "Moneyball" A's, later the subject of a big-time feature film with Brad Pitt as Billy Beane (and Chris Pratt as Hatteberg!) had done something historic, setting the American League record for consecutive victories.

That's almost three weeks of the 162-game grind without a loss. In big league terms, it's sheer lunacy. Somewhere along the line, you're going to run into a hot pitcher who shuts you down, or catch a bad break on a broken-bat dribbler, or a robbed home run in the ninth by the opposing center fielder.

Sure, a team talented enough to win 100 games -- the 2002 A's won 103 -- will rip off 10, 11 in a row at some point. Maybe more than once over the course of six months. But 20? No way.

Until 2002. And until maybe right now.

The Cleveland Indians, who came within possibly a rain delay of winning the 2016 World Series and then added slugger to an already young and deep lineup, beat the Detroit Tigers, 2-0, on Tuesday night to win their 20th consecutive game.

And yes, the 2002 A's are watching.

"They're a steamroller, man," says Hatteberg, now a special assistant in baseball operations for the A's. "This Cleveland team is very similar to that '02 A's team as far as balance. They have a great offense with a lot of young talent, and their pitching has been phenomenal.

"And I'm sure, just like with us, that they're getting more and more confident each night."

Third baseman Eric Chavez ended up tied with that year's AL MVP, shortstop Miguel Tejada, for the 2002 A's team lead in home runs. He recalls that the A's might not have been paying much attention to potential history-making after their 10th or 11th or even 14th consecutive win -- that would come once they hit the late teens and the press started focusing on the streak.

But one thing they did have was a rallying cry of sorts.

"We started saying that we could throw our hats and gloves on the field and we were going to win," says Chavez, now a special assistant to Angels general manager Billy Eppler. "That's exactly what we felt like. We were getting all the breaks. We were winning games in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, we were getting ace-like performances from the No. 4 and No. 5 guys in the rotation.

"When something happens like this, you need to be really talented, but you also need a lot of luck. And we were getting it."

Chavez and Hatteberg both made it clear that they do not believe the Indians would be in the midst of this historic run without the guiding hand of manager Terry Francona. Both played for A's teams that had Francona on staff and both said he's the perfect skipper for sustained excellence like we're seeing from the Tribe.

They also agreed that what these Indians are doing is all the more impressive because of the 24-7 news cycle, the social media explosion that's occurred over the last 15 years that has surely inundated their clubhouse and phones over the last three or four days with talk about chasing that Oakland team's streak.

That, and the fact that when the A's were winning 20 straight, (from Aug.13-Sept. 4) they weren't even aware of the existing record. There certainly wasn't a movie with the dude from "Jurassic World" hitting the game-winning dinger.

"The only distraction I can recall is that we were wondering if we would get a new collective bargaining agreement signed with the owners," Chavez says. "I'm sure they're feeling more pressure about it than we were."

That agreement was eventually struck on Aug. 30.

Hatteberg and Chavez both say they're watching every night now. They both say they will not be bummed out to see their record fall. They're just admiring great baseball being played by what looks like a great team.

"I don't care either way," Chavez says. "I think it's good for the game in general. I just want the health of the game to be good. So I root for that."