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Archive for Athletics After Dark
Led by manager Art Howe, the 2001 A’s were one of the most talent-laden teams in franchise history. The remarkable part of that season was the club still finished in second place in the AL West behind the Mariners, who had a magical season and reeled off 116 wins. The A’s, who won the AL Wild Card by virtue of a record of 102-60, were stacked with several in- their-prime players. Hurlers Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder emerged as Oakland’s “Big Three” that season.
Jason Giambi, a hitting machine, was coming off his 2000 AL MVP season and eyeing a big payday in free agency in the fall. Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada stabilized the left side of the infield and combined to hit sixty-three homers. In late innings, stingy right-handed relievers Jeff Tam and Jim Mecir, along with crafty lefty Mike Magnante handed the ball over to closer Jason Isringhausen, who saved thirty-four games. Then there was the outfield—Johnny Damon, Terrence Long and mid-season acquisition Jermaine Dye. While we can’t forget about catcher Ramon Hernandez or the late pitcher Cory Lidle, who died in a plane crash in 2006, there were many others who contributed that are not mentioned in this piece.
With Giambi leading the way, the team exuded confidence. It was comprised of a perfect mix of power, speed and pitching. The clubhouse included remote control cars, wrestling action figures and a cranked-up stereo system. Many compared the A’s clubhouse to a frat party. Damon rode BART and his skateboard to the Coliseum.
After a shaky start of 8-18, the club mowed through opponents in the second half of the season, finishing 58-17 in their final seventy-five games. The A’s were arguably the best team in baseball and favored to win it all.
Which brings us to the pain.
A’s GM Billy Beane has always contended that the playoffs are a “crapshoot” and regular season success has almost nothing to do with the fate of the postseason. That proved true in 2001. That is because the two most winningest teams in baseball, the Mariners and A’s, failed to make it to the World Series. Ultimately, the 92-win Diamondbacks won it all. The surging A’s, in fact, couldn’t advance past the ALDS.
That’s part of baseball, you say. But what made the 2001 season so hard to overcome for many A’s fans?
First, the Yankees had home field-advantage in the ALDS, but thanks to gutty performances by Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, the A’s snatched the first two games at Yankee Stadium. Up 2-0 in a best-of-five series, the A’s were headed home for Game 3 with Barry Zito on the mound. One more win and the A’s would advance to the ALCS for the first time in a decade. Zito pitched masterfully, but highlighted by Derek Jeter’s infamous flip to Posada and Jeremy Giambi’s failure to slide at home plate in the bottom of the seventh, the A’s fell 1-0. Ouch.
Secondly, the departure of fan favorite Jason Giambi, heart and soul of the team, was another hard pill to swallow. Under then owner Steve Schott, the A’s were reportedly close to signing Giambi to a $91 million, six-year contract during spring training, however, talks stalled when he demanded a no-trade clause. Giambi proceeded to sign with the Yankees in December.
Once Giambi departed, some players followed suit. Days later, Damon signed a $30 million, four-year contract with the Red Sox and Jason Isringhausen signed a $27 million, four-year deal with the Cardinals.
The A’s brass not only had to deal with the haunting memories of the ALDS that got away, but were forced to watch three important pieces of their roster depart.
We all know things worked out the following season, but to this day, I still feel the sting of what could have been for the 2001 A’s.