By Laurence Miedema
OAKLAND — It took 20 years, but David Justice finally came clean: He’s the reason the A’s then-A.L. record 20-game winning streak came to an end.
Jusice said that less than 48 hours after Scott Hatteberg’s dramatic walk-off home run at the Coliseum, immortalized in the “Moneyball” film and book, he took center stage in the visiting clubhouse at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The well-respected veteran, then 36 and set to retire after his lone season in Oakland, had appeared in six World Series with the Braves, Cleveland and the Yankees. But this was something else, he gushed to his young teammates.
Justice said he wanted to “take this opportunity to let these guys know how special they are. … I gave one of those heartfelt speeches, I might have got teary-eyed, maybe.”
Then the A’s went out and lost for the first time in 25 days. A 6-0 clunker to the Twins. Streak over.
Justice shared his confession — and complaint about how inaccurately manager Art Howe was portrayed in the movie — with a couple hundred season-ticket holders hours before the 2002 team was honored in advance of Sunday’s game against the New York Yankees. Toward the end of his story, he turned to the others seated for the Q&A session, flashed a huge grin and said, “So guys, I apologize for ending the streak at 20.”
And with that, everyone broke out in laughter.
Later, when talk of how much attention the team paid to the streak came up, pitcher Tim Hudson couldn’t resist, teasing Justice, “Until (his speech), we wasn’t thinking about it much.”
Sunday was an opportunity for players and fans to revel in what remains one of the biggest moments in the history of a franchise that has four World Series titles to its credit.
In the end, the A’s won 103 games and the A.L. West. They led the Twins 2-1 in the best-of-five ALDS, only to see the season end with two straight losses. The Cleveland Guardians broke the A’s streak in 2017, making it to 22 straight.
But it was all about 2002 and 20 on Sunday.
“I remember all those walk-off games, that was so much fun,” said Anthony Garcia of Sacramento, who was 18 during the year of the streak. “It was wild.”
Howe said, “Great memories. Great memories.”
One of the recurring themes of the A’s streak was how many different players played key roles in keeping it going. The attendee list included many of those contributors:
Miguel Tejada, Hatteberg, Hudson, Mark Mulder, Justice, Chad Bradford, Ray Durham, Mark Ellis, Ramon Hernandez, Billy Koch, Long, Ricardo Rincon and Randy Velarde donned white A’s jerseys again. So did Howe, coaches Thad Bosley, Brad Fischer, Ken Macha, and Rick Peterson. Longtime trainers Larry Davis and Steve Sayles were back. Melanie Lidle and son Christopher represented Cory Lidle, and Barry Zito taped a video message.
The ceremony also included a “20” banner lowered from the upper deck in right field, just below Rollie Fingers’ 34 and Catfish Hunter’s 27 on the tarp.
Tejada, the A.L. MVP in 2002, threw out the first pitch. He remains one of the most popular players in franchise history (fans yelled “Love you, Miggy!” and “MVP” when he was introduced). This was his first appearance at the Coliseum since 2011 when he was with the Giants. The last time A’s fans saw Tejada in an Oakland uniform was after Game 5 of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox.
“That last time I couldn’t come because of family, and now everything is fine,” Tejada said. “This is special. There was no way I was going to miss it.
“This is the team that gave me the opportunity to come from the Dominican. I played my first game in this stadium. Walking here makes me proud.”
Hatteberg caught Tejada’s throw — a little high and inside — which brought more levity to the players and fans.
Hatteberg spent the first seven seasons in the majors as a catcher, but was signed by the A’s before the 2002 season explicitly to NOT play that position.
“It wasn’t my idea,” Hatteberg said of his reunion duties “I’m not worried about getting down,” into the catching squat. “Getting back up, maybe.”
While many of the 2002 characters went on to long careers and success elsewhere — Jermaine Dye won a World Series with the White Sox in 2005, Mulder a year later with the Cardinals. Zito (2012) and Hudson (2014) win rings with the Giants — Justice was right; there was something special about the season and the group he called “some of the greatest guys you ever want to be around, let alone being great baseball players, but just great dudes.”
Hernandez, the catcher on that team, said, ” We always had each other’s back.”
Peterson, the A’s longtime pitching coach, said, “I tell people this all the time, and all of us are in the same boat, we all won the lifetime lottery ticket How can you beat this?”
There were heavy hearts too. Players are still processing the loss of Jeremy Giambi, who took his own life earlier this year. And Lidle’s death in a small aircraft crash in 2006 still weighs heavily on his former teammates.
“I wish he could be here to see all this and all his fans and his son,” Melanie Lidle said. “We’re here, loving every minute of this. I get the chills, I get goosebumps.”
Of course, no “Streak” reunion is complete without looking back at the run. What started Aug. 13 with the A’s clinging on to a 5-4 home win over Toronto soon took on a life of its own. Great pitching, great defense and timely hitting. And blowouts. A lot of those.
Koch ended Game 1 with a strikeout with the potential tying run on third base. After a 4-2 the next day, Lidle beat White Sox 1-0 for his first of four wins during the streak. For the next 14 wins, the A’s outscored their opponents 105-37 and trailed for a total of five innings.
Then came Tejada’s Labor Day Weekend heroics. His MVP push included a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth in a 7-5 victory over the Twins for No. 18, and then a walk-off RBI single against the Royals for No. 19 a day later.
Another concession on Sunday: Howe said he nearly cost the A’s their streak a game before Justice, in the A’s record-breaking 12-11 win over the Royals in front of 55,000 at the Coliseum.
“We were up 11-nothing and we had our ace Huddy on the mound,” Howe said of Game 20. “I turned to Rick and said we’re finally going to have a ‘laugher.’ Around the fifth inning, all hell broke loose.
“Then Scottie came through and took the heat off.”
Hatteberg has widely shared his story of that ninth-inning at-bat, about how when the A’s took a huge lead he kicked back in the clubhouse with coffee and planned to watch the win on TV before coming out to celebrate. But he, like Justice and Howe earlier, shared a little-known nugget. He was under contract with Louisville Slugger at the time, but, because he was facing a very difficult pitcher in the Royals’ Jason Grimsley, he opted for a “garage company” bat he was using in batting practice to hit the “biggest home run of my life.”
During the celebration, a representative from the Hall of Fame asked Hatteberg for the bat to display in Cooperstown. Without missing a beat, Hatteberg handed over one of his Louisville Sluggers. No problem until Michael Lewis mentioned the switcheroo in the “Moneyball” book.
“Cooperstown got wind of that and sent that back and that they don’t take un-authenticated things in a sternly worded letter. Now you know the story.”
No telling what stories this group will have to offer for their 30th reunion.
Source: Paradise Post