Crazy scoring streak

I was playing around with Baseball Reference’s indispensable P-I tool, looking for teams that had the longest streaks of scoring four runs or more in a game. There have been three streaks of 20 or more games since 1954: The ’94 Indians (23), the ’77 Red Sox (21), and the ’85 Royals (20). The top streak in the National League came in 2007, courtesy of the Cincinnati Reds in 2007.

These are all very interesting, especially when you look at team records during those runs of, well, runs. Cleveland went 17-6, Boston went 13-8, Kansas City went 15-5, and Cincy went 11-7.

A little further down the list, another team caught my eye: the 2002 Oakland A’s. From August 17 through September 4 of that year, they scored four runs or more in 17 consecutive games. They won all of them. More remarkably, if the A’s had scored two more runs in their August 30 contest against Minnesota, the streak would have been 17 straight games with six runs or more. (Actually, they hold that record as well, winning 12 straight from August 17 to August 28.)

The A’s also won three games before their 17-game run, so this is just a subset of a 20-game winning streak. In fact, if not for a 1-0 victory over the White Sox on August 16, the A’s would have had a 20-game winning streak in which they scored four or more runs in every game. That is impressive.

One cool thing about this streak is that the number of plate appearances comes out to about what a starting big-league player would get in a season. So we can look at the totals and get a pretty good idea of how well the A’s hitters did:

614 131 193 46 8 27 129 59 86 .314 .379 .547

That’s basically Magglio Ordonez v. 2003:

606 95 192 46 3 29 99 57 73 .317 .380 .546

Or a career’s worth of Mike Piazza (in seasonal notation):

586 89 180 29 1 36 113 64 94 .308 .377 .545

How about the pitching? Well, since we’re looking at how many runs the A’s scored, this is a secondary consideration. Still, as you might expect during a 17-game winning streak, it was pretty darned good:

IP ERA H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9
153 2.94 7.59 0.88 2.53 6.29

This was all part of a remarkable run that saw the A’s win 42 of their final 54 games of the year. That’s a .778 winning percentage (126 wins over a full season) if you’re keeping score at home. They went 24-4 in August, outscoring the opposition, 164-72.

To the games…

August 17, vs White Sox: 9-2

The A’s jump on Jon Garland early, highlighted by a five-run third. The big blow is a two-out, three-run homer off the bat of Mark Ellis. All three of those runs are unearned. Mark Mulder works eight strong innings for his 14th win of the season.

August 18, vs White Sox: 7-4

Again, it’s all about the third inning. Terrence Long two-run homer. Miguel Tejada sac fly. Jermaine Dye RBI single. The latter two runs are unearned. Barry Zito is solid through five before faltering in the sixth, but Chad Bradford stops the bleeding and Zito improves to 17-5.

August 19, at Cleveland: 8-1

Three in the first, two in the fourth, three in the ninth. Eric Chavez knocks two homers and drives in five. Tim Hudson works into the ninth for his 10th win of the season. Cleveland starter Danys Baez suffers the loss. A soon-to-be-finished Mark Wohlers serves up the final three tallies.

August 20, at Cleveland: 6-3

Two in the first, three more in the magical third. The 3-4-5 hitters—Tejada, Chavez, and Dye—go 8-for-15 with a double and two homers. They score all six of the runs and drive in five. Aaron Harang and four relievers take care of the rest.

August 21, at Cleveland: 6-0

Long knocks a three-run homer in the fifth. David Justice drives in the other three runs with a bases-loaded triple the next inning. The late Cory Lidle allows a first-inning single to Ellis Burks. Jim Thome follows with a walk, and that’s it for the Tribe. Lidle retires the final 25 batters he faces and notches his seventh win of the season.

August 22, at Cleveland: 9-3

The A’s lead this one, 3-2, headed to the eighth inning. Then the bats come to life. They score two in the eighth and four more in the ninth. The final inning features a two-run double off the bat of Long, as well as bases-loaded walks to Ramon Hernandez and Ray Durham. Mulder wins his 15th and Bradford, who retired the final batter in the eighth, stays on to collect the world’s easiest save.

August 23, at Detroit: 9-1

At this point, you may be wondering about the quality of competition. The White Sox went 81-81 in ’02, the Indians went 74-88, and the Tigers went kersplat—er, I mean 55-106. So these aren’t great teams the A’s are beating. Even so, it’s an impressive run.

Meanwhile, back at Comerica Park, Tejada and John Mabry treat their hosts rudely. Tejada drives in three, while Mabry drives in five with two homers—off the immortal Brian Powell and Adam Bernero. Zito works seven scoreless en route to his 18th victory.

Not to take anything away from Zito, who pitched brilliantly in 2002, but it sure makes life easier when your team scores 5.91 runs per game on your behalf. Also, I’d forgotten how good he used to be.

August 24, at Detroit: 12-3

Over before it begins. Oakland is up, 11-3 after three. Victim, thy name is Jose Lima. He surrenders all 11 runs, pushing his ERA to 7.77. It is Lima’s final appearance of the season. (Incidentally, here is what a 21-win season will do for a guy: After Lima hit that high-water mark in 1999, he managed to work 860 more innings in the big leagues despite a 6.00 ERA and 4.79 K/9.) Hudson goes the distance for his 11th win.

August 25, at Detroit: 10-7

The Tigers actually have a late lead in this one. They’re up, 7-2, after six. The A’s score one in the seventh, then explode for five in the eighth and two more in the ninth.

The eighth is a disaster. Backup catcher Greg Myers leads off with a homer off Oscar Henriquez. Later, Chavez and Mabry knock back-to-back two-run doubles off Jamie Walker and Juan Acevedo, respectively. Dye homers in the ninth off Bernero to seal the deal. For the A’s, Harang gets shelled, but five relievers pick up the slack.

August 26, at Kansas City: 6-3

Another pushover team. The Royals finished 62-100 on the season. This one sees Lidle beat Darrell May. Most of the damage comes in a four-run sixth. Justice, Dye and Hernandez collect three hits each.

August 27, at Kansas City: 6-4

The A’s score single runs in every inning from the third through the eighth. They hold a 6-1 lead into the bottom of the eighth, when Carlos Beltran and Joe Randa pull the gap to within two runs. Jim Mecir fans Kit Pellow to end the threat, and Billy Koch works the ninth to preserve the victory and earn his 35th save.

Mulder notches his 16th win. Justice collects three more hits, including his 10th homer, a solo blast to right in the sixth off Runelvys Hernandez.

August 28, at Kansas City: 7-1

The A’s score six in the first. A walk, seven singles, wild pitch, and sac fly—death by paper cuts for Royals starter Shawn Sedlacek. Zito cruises through six, then surrenders a run in the seventh on a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Pellow.

August 30, vs Minnesota: 4-2

The Twins score a single run in the first; the A’s answer. Ditto the second. In the fifth, Chavez singles home Hernandez, who led off the inning by reaching on an error by Minnesota shortstop Cristian Guzman. The A’s add an insurance run in the seventh on back-to-back doubles by Durham (single, two doubles, and a homer in this one) and Scott Hatteberg to start the frame. They load the bases against Tony Fiore, but Justice strikes out and Ellis pops to third base to end the threat. No matter: Ricardo Rincon and Koch retire the final six batters of the game to save the win for Hudson.

This is the first good team the A’s have played during the streak. The Twins lead the AL Central on arriving in Oakland. They go on to win the division and, in fact, beat the A’s in the ALDS before losing to the eventual World Champion Angels.

August 31, vs Minnesota: 6-3

The A’s jump out to an early 2-0 lead and are up 3-1 after seven. Lidle works into the eighth before yielding to Rincon, who immediately coughs up a homer to pinch-hitter Dustan Mohr

September 1, vs Minnesota: 7-5

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Oakland breaks the ice in the third on a two-run homer by Tejada. Nursing a 2-0 lead in the sixth, Mulder serves up a two-run shot to Torii Hunter. The A’s score two of their own in the bottom half to retake the lead, 4-2.

This is the score entering the ninth. Mulder allows a leadoff homer to Matthew LeCroy and another to Corey Koskie. The game is tied again.

Koch comes in and retires the first two batters he faces. Then he gives up another solo home run, this one to Michael Cuddyer. The Twins have their first lead of the game.

Eddie Guardado works the ninth for Minnesota. He walks Hernandez and allows a single to Durham before fanning Olmedo Saenz. Then Tejada steps to the plate and knocks his second homer of the game to send ’em home happy.

September 2, vs Kansas City: 7-6

Another day, more late inning heroics. The Royals draw first blood, as Neifi Perez and A.J. Hinch hit solo homers against Zito in the third. They tack on three more in the fourth to take a 5-0 lead.

The A’s scratch back for two in the fifth on a two-run shot off the bat of Justice. They erupt for four more the next inning to creep ahead, 6-5.

Kansas City ties it in the ninth, and for the second straight game, Tejada drives in the winning run walkoff style. Koch picks up his second victory in as many days.

September 4, vs Kansas City: 12-11

This is one of the most ridiculous games ever. As they had exactly one week earlier against the Royals, Oakland enjoys a six-run first. This time the A’s beat up on Paul Byrd.

Then they beat up on Darrell May. After three innings, Oakland leads, 11-0.

The Royals score five in the fourth and five more in the eighth. Then, with two out in the top of the ninth, the unthinkable happens: Luis Alicea knocks an RBI single to tie the score. Kansas City has rallied from an 11-run deficit.

Koch, who blew the lead, keeps the Royals from doing further damage. In the bottom half of the inning, with one out, Hatteberg homers to right-center for the A’s third straight walkoff victory and Koch’s third win in as many appearances.

Individual performances

As you might imagine, there were some good ones:

Durham 74 21 25 5 4 2 9 8 7 .338 .410 .595
Tejada 73 21 27 4 0 3 18 2 9 .370 .412 .548
Chavez 69 17 25 4 0 5 23 8 17 .362 .429 .638
Dye 68 16 19 6 1 2 13 5 13 .279 .355 .485
Long 63 10 18 7 1 4 13 5 6 .286 .333 .619
Hatteberg 60 9 19 6 0 1 6 9 6 .317 .400 .467
Justice 56 12 19 5 2 4 16 4 8 .339 .383 .714
Mabry 23 7 9 2 0 4 12 1 3 .391 .417 1.000

I love that Mabry knocked more home runs—despite 50 fewer at-bats in those 17 games—than did Tejada, who won the American League MVP that year. Truly, anything can happen given a small enough sample.

The winning and scoring streaks came to a crashing halt on September 6 at Minnesota. The A’s, who had bullied opponents for the better part of three weeks, lost, 6-0, to the Brad Radke and the Twins. Yep, the offense that averaged 7.7 runs over the previous 17 games failed to score even one.

References & Resources
As with many things in life, this could not have happened without the aid of Baseball-Reference and David Pinto’s Day by Day Database.

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