The A’s Ten Greatest Games
October 8, 1929: Running on Ehmke
In starting their second dynasty, the Philadelphia A’s threw the opposing Chicago Cubs a curve ball for the ages when manager Connie Mack—fearful that top southpaw pitchers Lefty Grove and Rube Walberg wouldn’t fare well against the Cubs’ vaunted, predominantly right-handed hitting lineup—put fading 35-year-old righty Howard Ehmke on the mound for Game One of the World Series. Mack was betting that Ehmke, a former 20-game winner who appeared in 11 games all year for the A’s, would tie the Cubs—led by future Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Hack Wilson and Kiki Cuyler—in knots with his palette of junk pitches.
Sensationally, the ploy worked. After taking the final three weeks of the season off to scout the Cubs, Ehmke faced them head-on and neutered their hitting from start to finish. He wasn’t dominant to start, allowing four singles through the first three innings, but then he settled in with a vengeance—striking out five straight batters during the middle innings, on his way to 13 for the day, at the time a World Series record—and three more than he ever struck out in any regular season game over 14 previous major league seasons.
For all of Ehmke’s pitching brilliance, he was matched through the first six innings by Cub starter Charlie Root, who had his own shutout going and allowed just two hits in the process. But finally in the seventh, Root caved in, allowing the A’s to scratch first with a solo home run by slugger Jimmie Foxx. In the ninth, Philadelphia added insurance by sending home a pair of runs thanks to two errors by Chicago shortstop Woody English. The Cubs finally got to Ehmke in the bottom of the ninth, scoring an unearned run and putting the tying run on base; but the wily veteran retired the final two batters to finish an impressive effort and give the A’s a big psychological lift to begin the series.
September 4, 2002: Getting the Most For Their Moneyball
The low-budget A’s had been reinvented for the new century by young general manager (and former Athletic) Billy Beane, who embraced sabermetrics over old-school scouting techniques to assemble a team that would work opponents to death with high on-base percentages; growing a trio of outstanding young pitchers (Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder) didn’t hurt. The Moneyball era hit its crescendo on a wild late summer evening before a sellout crowd at the Oakland Coliseum who came hoping to witness history.
The A’s entered the evening having won 19 straight games to tie an all-time American League record. Embedded within the run was a 10-0 road trip to Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City; the last two had occurred back in Oakland with walk-off hits deciding the game. But suspense would not appear to be part of the menu early in the quest for victory no. 20 against the Royals, as the A’s crushed Kansas City starter Paul Byrd for six first-inning runs, then followed up five more runs off reliever Darrell May over the next two frames to build up an 11-0 lead that seemingly looked safe. Seemingly.
The Royals fought back and quick. They rallied for five runs off A’s starter Hudson in the fourth, then stayed quiet until the eighth—when they connected for another five-spot, capped by a three-run Mike Sweeney homer. Over 100 years, no team had ever come from 11 runs down to beat the A’s, and now it looked as if the Royals were ready to pick a fine time to do just that when they tied the game in the ninth off Oakland closer Billy Koch. But after the A's Jermaine Dye flied out to lead off the bottom of the ninth, Scott Hatteberg—taken off the scrap heap and embraced by Beane for his “Moneyball” value—slammed Jason Grimsley’s pitch over the wall to win the game and set the record.
October 15, 1988: Gremlin in the Script
Fueled by MVP Jose Canseco, fellow Bash Brother Mark McGwire, ace starter Dave Stewart and sensational closer Dennis Eckersley, the powerhouse A’s strutted into the 1988 World Series taking on a Los Angeles Dodger team that looked terribly undermatched and beat up to boot—with its one star hitter, NL MVP Kirk Gibson, scratched from the lineup with two bum knees.
In Game One at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers drew first blood with a two-run, first-inning home run by Mickey Hatcher—matching his regular season total—but the A’s, who still had eight innings to do their thing, knew Stewart as the type of workhorse who would bend, never break and prevail in the long run. It didn’t take Oakland long to respond. With two outs in the second and the bags loaded on a single and two walks from Dodger starter Tim Belcher, Canseco drilled a grand slam to give the A’s a 4-2 lead. Stewart, as expected, settled in; he allowed a single run in the sixth, but kept the lead, even as the A’s slowed up offensively and couldn’t add insurance.
Stewart was done after eight innings and bowed to Eckersley, the dynamic starter-turned-closer who quickly became the game’s best in the ninth. Promptly, he retired the first two batters; he then worked around former Athletic Mike Davis, seeing light-hitting Dave Anderson on deck, and gave up a rare walk. Then Anderson was pulled…for Gibson, who had spent the entire game to that moment laying down in the clubhouse with ice packs attached to his pained, wobbly knees.
Despite the MVP honors, Gibson was so hobbled to start that his appearance looked to be a desperate, futile effort on the Dodgers’ part. He fouled off Eckersley’s first two pitches and staggered along, barely able to keep his balance as he swung through; somehow he drew the count full and then, expecting Eckersley’s slider, got it—and punched it deep into the right-field bleachers. Neither Eckersley, the A’s nor anyone else in the baseball world could believe it. The Dodgers’ 5-4 win emotionally crippled the A’s, who never recovered from one of baseball’s most memorable moments and lost the series to Los Angeles in five games.
October 27, 1989: After the Earthquake
A year after the Gibson disaster, the A’s returned to the Fall Classic matched up against their upstart cross-bay rivals, the San Francisco Giants—who could not retain the magic left over from the Dodgers by getting soundly beat by the A’s in the series’ first two games at Oakland. On October 17, minutes before the start of Game Three across the bay at Candlestick Park, the earth shook, violently—and the stadium held. A remarkably calm but rattled crowd walked out of a blacked out facility and into the last rays of a warm, sunny Bay Area evening punctuated by plumes of smoke as the 6.9 Loma Prieta quake killed 63 people, caused billions in damage and delayed the Bay Bridge Series—named after the structure that itself suffered serious damage.
Play resumed ten days later as a source of local healing and the A’s, without skipping a beat, continued the rout. Facing NL ERA leader Scott Garrelts, the A’s nearly matched his 2.28 regular season mark in the first inning with two runs and then knocked him out in the fourth when Dave Henderson hit his first of two home runs on the evening. The Giants hung close for the moment, cutting the Oakland lead to 4-3 off Dave Stewart—the Game One starter who, because of the layoff, got the Game Three gig to the frustration of scheduled starter Bob Welch—already reeling from the loss of his San Francisco home in the earthquake.
In the fifth, the A’s pulled away with four runs, three coming off the bat of Canseco—who in the first inning had been enraged by up-and-in pitch from Garrelts and looked wanting to start a brawl, leading to numerous rolling back of eyes in the stands by disaster-shaken fans who felt now was not the time. Overall, the A’s clocked five homers on the night off Giant pitching, and four ninth-inning runs by San Francisco made the 13-7 A’s victory closer than the runaway rout it really was. The win gave the A’s total command of the series, which they clinched the next night; it was the first and only championship for the A’s since 1974.
August 27, 1982: Speeding Past Lou
On a crisp evening in Milwaukee, a new speed king was crowned as Rickey Henderson stole Lou Brock’s single-season record for stolen bases with a month still to play in the regular season.
In only his fourth year, Henderson entered the game with 118 swipes, tied for the all-time mark set seven years earlier by Brock. He grounded out in his first at-bat against Brewer starter Doc Medich; it would be the only time on the evening he would be retired. In the third, he walked. Leaning away from first, the Brewers knew he wasn’t going to wait and did everything they could to keep him from setting the record. Medich tossed four formal throws to first to keep Henderson closer to the bag. Then Henderson took off—and Medich threw a pitchout, but even despite that and a solid throw from catcher Ted Simmons, the Brewers still couldn’t nail him. Henderson immediately lifted second base off the dirt and high in the air in celebration as a Milwaukee crowd of 41,600 gave him a standing ovation. Brock, retired for three years, came out to congratulate him as the game was stopped for a quick ceremony. As Hank Aaron had said when he broke Babe Ruth’s career home run mark in 1974, a relieved Henderson later stated, “I’m glad it’s over.”
Henderson wasn’t done for the evening. He walked three times, stole four bases and scored twice, but it wasn’t enough as the A’s lost, 5-4. It was one of 94 losses in a forgettable year for the A’s otherwise made historic by the man who would eventually overwhelm all stolen base records in a 25-year career.
October 12, 1929: The Biggest Comeback
Howard Ehmke’s surprising and brilliant Game One performance had given the A’s the initial boost in the 1929 World Series, but it was another memorable matchup later in the series that helped nail down the A’s first world title in 16 years.
Connie Mack tried to spring another surprise on the Cubs by giving the ball to 46-year-old Jack Quinn, making him the oldest pitcher ever to start a World Series game. It worked with Ehmke; it didn’t work with Quinn, who lasted five innings and got knocked about for six runs (five earned) on seven hits. Once Quinn was done, the Cubs weren’t—adding two more runs to make it an 8-0 game going into the seventh-inning stretch.
Charlie Root, who had lost Game One to Ehmke, had thrown six shutout innings of three-hit ball and was in great shape to even up the Series for the Cubs. Al Simmons led off the A’s seventh with a home run, and the Shibe Park crowd of 30,000 was thrilled just to see its team wipe away the goose egg from the scoreboard. Then Jimmie Foxx singled. Bing Miller singled. Jimmy Dykes singled. Joe Boley singled. After George Burns popped out, Max Bishop singled, which at that point skimmed the deficit to 8-4. Then came a moment when the A’s sensed they had destiny on their side: Mule Haas hit a fly ball to center that Cub outfielder Hack Wilson lost in the sun. The ball dropped, Haas followed two runners to home plate and the inside-the-park homer suddenly made it an 8-7 game. Players in the A’s dugout were so ecstatic that Dykes slapped one hard on the back—only to realize it was the 67-year-old, suit-and-tie Mack, who went sprawling onto a pile of bats.
Sherriff Blake, the Cubs’ third pitcher of the inning, couldn’t contain the suddenly slim lead; the five batters that followed Haas all reached and three of them scored—the last two on Dykes’ second hit of the inning, a double that made it 10-8. Fifteen men came to the plate in the ten-run explosion that would be the most ever scored in a World Series inning; the comeback from eight runs down would also establish a Fall Classic mark. Shellshocked from the experience, the Cubs didn’t reach base for the rest of the day and the A’s prevailed, clinching the championship in Game Five two days later.
October 22, 1972: Tenace the Menace
In their first World Series appearance in 41 years, the A’s were handicapped without an injured Reggie Jackson (after tearing a hamstring in the ALCS) and thus declared underdogs to Cincinnati’s powerful Big Red Machine. But coming to the rescue in place of Jackson was little known back-up catcher Gene Tenace, who came out of nowhere to slam a then-Series record four home runs through the first six games as Oakland forced a winner-take-all matchup at Riverfront Stadium.
Though he wouldn’t go deep in the finale, Tenace would still leave his imprint on the game and help launch a dynasty. With two outs in the first inning against Reds starter Jack Billingham, Tenace singled in Angel Mangual (who reached via an error) to open the scoring. After the Reds knotted it at 1-1 in the fifth, the A’s unknotted it with two runs in the sixth—the first coming in on yet another two-out hit from Tenace, a double that scored Bert Campaneris. “Designated runner” Allan Lewis ran for Tenace and scored on Sal Bando’s double to make the score 3-1. The A’s held down the Reds behind a rare middle relief effort from Catfish Hunter, who replaced starter Blue Moon Odom in the fifth inning—but not before surviving an eighth-inning Cincinnati rally in which one run crossed the plate; fortunately for the A’s, two other baserunners were left stranded after the third out. Closer Rollie Fingers, who had come in to extinguish the fire in the eighth, hit one batter in the ninth but otherwise retired the side to wrap up the A’s first championship since 1930.
October 23, 1910: The Mackmen on Top, Finally
In a time when workhorses were not beneath pitching well over 300 innings—sometimes, up to 400—Connie Mack had his own to brag about, if only for a brief time. Jack Coombs, a right-hander who had given the team modest results through a light workload from 1906-09, exploded in 1910 with one the great campaigns ever recorded by a pitcher: A 31-9 record with a 1.30 ERA and 13 shutouts in 353 innings. Leading the A’s to their second-ever World Series appearance in 1910, Coombs was not about to slow up.
Coombs started Game Two and went the distance with a 9-3 win over the Cubs. On just one day of rest, he was given the ball again—and threw another complete game, allowing five runs but backed by a dozen tallies, three of which he drove in himself on three hits. For Game Five, three days later, Coombs was given his third starting assignment within six days—and was at his sharpest.
After the A’s scored a first-inning run off standout Chicago ace Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown on an Eddie Collins single, the Cubs scratched a second-inning run when Frank Chance doubled and worked his way home on a sac bunt and ground ball. Philadelphia retook the lead in the fifth on an unearned run, then Coombs helped break it open in the eighth with a leadoff single—his fifth hit of the series—that started a five-run rally. With only six outs to spare, the Cubs were hoping that three starts in six days would begin to fatigue Coombs. But all the Cubs could muster was a single run in the eighth, far too little and ultimately too late. Coombs went the distance once more, won his third game of the series, and the A’s triumphed in the Fall Classic with their first of three championships over the next four years.
October 13, 2001: Buried by The Shovel
Although Oakland’s Moneyball Era of the 2000s was a regular season smash, the postseason would be an altogether different story—with a frustrating string of repeated failures to clinch playoff series after taking early leads. The 2001 ALDS against the New York Yankees would provide the central lasting image of those disappointments.
The A’s won the first two games of the best-of-five series and were hoping to break out the brooms in Oakland for Game Three. A pairing of top pitchers in the A’s Barry Zito and the Yankees’ Mike Mussina lived up to its billing; neither allowed a hit through three innings, and Zito took a no-hitter into the fifth—when, with one out, catcher Jorge Posada launched a solo homer to break the scoreless tie. Zito didn’t unravel and allowed two hits through eight innings, while Mussina kept the Yankee lead into the seventh when he finally ran into serious trouble. After retiring the first two batters, he allowed a single to Jeremy Giambi, the younger, less talented brother of reigning AL MVP Jason Giambi. Terrence Long then roped a line drive into the right-field corner; flying on contact with two outs, Giambi appeared ready to tie the game, but Shane Spencer’s throw toward home, far from on-target, was speared at by star shortstop Derek Jeter—who redirected a desperate shovel relay to Posada. Giambi, believing he was home safe, never even bothered to slide—and was tagged out just shy of stepping on the plate. It was all at once a remarkable effort by Jeter and a boneheaded move by Giambi, who with a more alert slide could have avoided the tag.
Having failed in the seventh, the A’s had to start again through the last two innings against Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, so typically automatic in the postseason. They managed one-out hits in both frames—including a double in the ninth by Jermaine Dye—but neither knock precipitated a rally and the 1-0 score held, keeping alive a series that would be controlled to the end by the Yankees, delivering another heartbreaking October blow to Billy Beane’s Athletics.
July 10, 1932: Rommel’s Last Stand
Because Sunday baseball games weren’t allowed in Philadelphia until 1934, the A’s often had to interrupt long home stands to travel elsewhere and get in a game. When this happened, manager Connie Mack made it standard practice to tote along just two pitchers: The starter and, just in case, the reliever. But when the A’s came to Cleveland for a one-day Sunday visit and Mack became dissatisfied with starter Lew Krausse after just one inning, he brought in the back-up: Veteran hurler Eddie Rommel.
Despite having pitched a total of five innings over the previous two days, Rommel had to suck it up and keep the A’s in the game. And so he did. For 17 innings. Rommel allowed 14 runs on a major league-record 29 hits—nine of them off the bat of the Indians’ Johnny Burnett, another all-time mark—and nine walks.
All of this, and he won.
Great hitting kept the A’s in the game and Rommel on the mound, for better or worse. Philadelphia tallied seven times in the seventh to take a 13-8 lead, but the Indians immediately countered with six to retake the lead at 14-13. The A’s answered back in the ninth with two runs, but the Tribe scored once to take the game to extra innings. Suddenly, for the next six innings, both Rommel and Wes Ferrell—the Indian ace who himself would labor long through much of the afternoon—would settle in and not allow a run. Jimmie Foxx finally lit up the offense in the 16th with his third homer of the day—but the Indians prolonged the game further when they got to Rommel for two more runs. Tied at 17-17, the A’s notched one more run in the 18th and, this time, Rommel held off the Indians to secure the marathon. It was his 171st and last win of his career; he probably didn’t have much left after this marathon, anyway.
Oakland A's Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the A's, decade by decade.
The A's Ten Greatest Hitters: A list of the ten greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The A's Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
Have a comment, question or request? Contact us at This Great Game.
© 2016 This Great Game.