September was hard to stomach for Crosby & the A's
The Oakland A’s post-season dreams came to a quiet end on Tuesday night, as they fell to the Angels of Anaheim by a score of 4-3 for the second straight night. In a season of ups and downs, the A’s were unable to overcome their latest down-stretch as they watched the Angels run away with the division over the season’s final week. Nonetheless, the A’s have a lot to be proud of in what ultimately was a successful season in 2005.
When the 2005 season began, media pundits predicted that the Oakland A’s would be battling for last place rather than first. Instead, the A’s rode a red-hot middle of the season to push themselves into contention for a division title. Going into September, the A’s seemed poised to reach the post-season, but injuries to Bobby Crosby and Rich Harden took the wind out of their sails. Let’s take a quick look back at was a memorable season…
April began ominously when Crosby had to leave the first game of the season with fractured ribs. The A’s would lose the season opener to Baltimore 9-0 and would lose Crosby for the next two months. Going into the second game of the season, the A’s were faced with the prospect of falling to 0-2 due to the fact that Harden had to miss the start with a blister.
However, the A’s bucked the odds and shut-out the hard-hitting Orioles line-up 9-0 behind a stellar starting pitching performance by Kirk Saarloos and two homers by rookie Nick Swisher. In many ways, the first two games of the season would encapsulate how the rest of the A’s season would go. Oakland is leading the league in both being shut-out and shutting out their opponents, so it was apropos that they would do both during the first two games. It was also a bad omen that Harden and Crosby would miss these two games, as the two stars would miss significant portions of the season.
April would be a see-saw battle for the A’s, as they finished an even .500. Oakland’s pitching staff was stellar, but the offense was MIA, as stars like Eric Chavez and Erubiel Durazo struggled to get on track. In fact, the A’s offensive support was so scarce that Barry Zito and Joe Blanton went all of April without earning a win and Kirk Saarloos and Dan Haren only had one win. All four would end the season with at least 10 wins. April would also feature a memorable 1-0, 10-inning win over the Angels highlighted by an outstanding pitching performance by Harden.
May began poorly when Swisher crashed into the outfield wall and separated his shoulder on the month’s first game. The A’s would win on May 1, but would manage only six more wins the entire month and Swisher would miss more than three weeks. May featured two heart-breaking, walk-off losses to the Boston Red Sox, season-ending injuries to Durazo and Octavio Dotel, disabled list visits by Harden and Kiko Calero and a struggling young pitching staff. It also signaled the start of two eras, as Huston Street debuted as the A’s closer and Dan Johnson made his first big league appearance. Both rookies would be an important part of the A’s later successes.
The A’s managed to end the month of May on a high note with two straight wins over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Those two wins coincided with the return of Crosby to the line-up. On June 1, the A’s beat the Devil Rays by a score of 11-2 to up their record to 20-35. Barry Zito earned his second win of the season that night. By the end of June, the A’s would be 38-40 and would be riding a seven-game winning streak. In between, the A’s got Harden back in the rotation, watched Blanton earn his first major league win (he would have five by the end of the month), saw Street settle in as closer and capped their inter-league season with a three-game thumping of the cross-town San Francisco Giants that included a 16-0 laugher.
July was more of the same for Oakland. The A’s won 20 games in July, including a seven-game winning streak that featured Jason Kendall’s unbelievable tag of Michael Young at the plate to end an 11-10 game in Texas. The A’s climbed over .500 for the first time since April right before the All-Star break and they didn’t look back the rest of the season. By the end of July, Oakland was 12 games over .500.
The A’s would win 17 games in August, but when they look back at this season, they will point to a 10-day stretch in the middle of the month as the undoing of their season. One of the biggest highlights of the A’s season came on August 11 when Oakland overcame a 4-0 deficit to beat the Angels 5-4. That game ended when Angels’ closer Frankie Rodriguez dropped the return throw from his catcher and Kendall raced home with the winning run. That game gave Oakland a one-game lead in the division and it appeared that the stars were aligned for another post-season appearance for the A’s.
However, it was not to be. The next day, reigning AL Cy Young award winner Johan Santana took some of the wind out of the A’s sails when he tossed a complete-game shut-out to beat Haren and the A’s, 1-0. Oakland would rebound to beat the Twins the next day, but would fall in the series rubber-match by a score of 2-1. It was the first home series loss that the A’s had had since May and the A’s wouldn’t win another home series until the season’s second-to-last week against those same Twins.
The A’s followed that series loss by being swept by the free-falling Baltimore Orioles and dropping two of three to the anemic Kansas City Royals. The A’s only win against the Royals would be a 4-0 win by Harden, but it would also be the last start Harden would make in 2005. Of the seven losses to the Twins, Orioles and Royals, five were one-run losses. The A’s would rebound to win seven straight on their next road trip and would briefly take the division lead, but the losses to the Twins, Orioles and Royals really hurt when the injuries began to mount in September.
September began with a 3-0 loss to the Angels that brought the A’s back into a tie for first. The month would also begin without Crosby, who discovered that he had a fractured ankle on the last day of August. The A’s would crush the New York Yankees by a score of 12-3 on the month’s second day, but would drop the next five games to fall behind in both the division and the wild card races. Oakland would never lead in either race again. Despite two heart-warming, come-from-behind wins against the Mariners (8-7 on September 7) and the Rangers (7-6 on September 24), the A’s lost five of six games from September 21 to September 27, knocking them out of the race for good.
Now the A’s only have the post-season award season to look forward to. Rookies Street, Johnson, Blanton and Swisher all figure to be top candidates for the AL’s Rookie of the Year award and Chavez will be looking to win his fifth straight Gold Glove award. They may also be bidding adieu to long-time DH/1B Scott Hatteberg and lefty-specialist Ricardo Rincon. Manager Ken Macha is at the end of his contract and may not return and A's coaches Ron Washington and Bob Geren are already being mentioned in connection with a few open managerial jobs. In the end, though, the majority of the A’s starters will be back in 2006 and with a little good health, the A’s could be looking at a much more successful September in 2006.