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AL WEST Streaking A's closing in on Anaheim



Published: Sun, August 7, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Oakland has gone 33-7 over its last 40 games.

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Yeah. It's the A's. Again.

Another second-half renaissance. Another dust-to-contender summer. Another Billy Beane triumph. Can you stand it?

Up in the city by the City by the Bay, the Oakland Athletics have just turned a mortifying first half into the best 40-game romp in Oakland franchise history (33-7), a piece of derring-do that has them leading the American League wild-card race and breathing down the Angels' halos in the American League West.

They've gotten a little stronger, a little more experienced, and a little more confident, but really now, from 17-32 to juggernaut? In two months?

"It's been a pleasant surprise," said Beane, the general manager. "Back then, I thought I probably had a competitive club. But they really have exceeded anything I would have expected."

Bobby Crosby, after an opening-day injury killed his first two months, has firmed the defense and contributed -- .288 average, .357 on-base percentage from the three-hole -- offensively. Eric Chavez, a habitual second-halfer, since June 1 has pushed his average from .218 to .273, his home runs from four to 18 and his RBIs from 23 to 66.

Barry Zito has won eight consecutive starts and Rich Harden, whose stuff suggests Pedro Martinez in his prime, has won seven of nine decisions. Together, they've given up 33 earned runs in their last 1302/3 innings, and rookie closer Huston Street has given up two earned runs in his last 21 appearances, over 292/3 innings.

There's more, much more -- the acquisition of Jay Payton, for one, Nick Swisher's development, for another -- but thematically, the explanation for the A's charge might be found on the calendar. If it's August, those must be the A's.

"We have so many changes every year," Beane said. "Maybe it takes a while for a club to create its own self-esteem. At least that's what I attribute it to."

Since the summer of 2001, according to Steve Vanderpool of STATS, LLC, the A's have the best second-half record in baseball, at 214-101. Over the last 2 months of every season since, the A's rank first in ERA, 3.51; first in opponents' batting average, .243, and third in runs scored, 5.33.

As a result, they lead the game in most post-All-Star game winning streaks of five (15), six (12) and seven (eight) games.

"It's fun to sit back and watch them," Beane said. "The credit goes to the players. As a group, in terms of them getting along, they're maybe as good as we've ever had. Our veterans are only 29 and our rookies are 22, so there's no real generation gap."

The Angels and A's play a three-game series beginning Tuesday in Oakland, and the division championship may come down to four games in Oakland in the season's final week.

Palmeiro night scrapped

The Orioles intended to honor Rafael Palmeiro's 3,000-plus hits with a pregame ceremony Aug. 14 at Camden Yards, even after the positive steroid test.

Bad idea, and everybody knew it, including Palmeiro, who saved them the collar-tugging few minutes of standing by their man and rolling the videotape.

The Texas Rangers were to have honored their beloved Raffy, who served a decade in Arlington over two separate Palm-eras, with a short video tribute this weekend. He wasn't able to make it.

More than half of Palmeiro's 3,018 hits were as a Ranger. Most of his first five seasons in Texas were spent before Jose Canseco arrived, all of the second five years post-Canseco, with five years in Baltimore in-between.

In his first Texas go-round, Palmeiro hit 107 home runs. In his second, which began when he was 35 years old, he hit 214. The Rangers should honor the Orioles' hitting coach instead.

Ranger management was spared having to have Raffy Appreciation Night, as the man of the hour will be serving his suspension for falling face-first into baseball's steroid mess.

The Orioles won't get off as easy, unless Palmeiro makes the very wise decision to pull his cap down low, take his position and hope nobody notices.

Then again, the Rangers aren't done with this, either. The Orioles return to Arlington in mid-September, presumably with Palmeiro in tow, and the Rangers already are in possession of a clip showing his 3,000th hit.

"We haven't talked about that yet," a team official said. "It depends. What more do we learn in a month?"




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