"This was my biggest hit ever. My first big league hit was pretty emotional, but man this is the biggest," Hatteberg said shortly after being swarmed by teammates at home plate after hitting the most important home run of his long major-league career.
Wednesday, Hatteberg sat and watched from the bench for nine innings as his Oakland A's teammates built, then lost, an 11-0 lead. The catcher-turned-first baseman was then called on to pinch hit. The southpaw swinger from Yakima¹s Eisenhower High proved to be the perfect choice for manager Art Howe.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Hatteberg belted a game-winning solo homer to break an 11-11 tie and send the largest regular season crowd in A¹s history (55,528) into a frenzy and his teammates jubilation.
It was more than the usual, dramatic clutch homer, because it extended the A's winning streak to a remarkable, American League record 20 games, breaking the mark set by the 1947 Yankees. All this after the Royals threatened to break the streak, by staging the most improbable of comebacks. Indeed, the last time a team blew an 11-run lead and lost was the 1976 Cubs against the Phillies in an 18-16.
"It doesn¹t matter if I was playing, but it was great to contribute," Hatteberg said. "It was a big night. You could tell by the crowd. There was a buzz in he air. It was great to be a part of something special."
The homer, his 13th of the season, is a single-season career high for him, and punctuates what he considers a dream season, his first in Oakland after years in Boston.
Last season in Boston wasn't a happy time for Hatteberg in the tumultuous, dysfunctional Red Sox clubhouse, despite getting his most plate appearances since 1998.
This year, he has struggled at times learning a new position and gone through the usual slumps and spurts at the plate, but the mood in the A's clubhouse has been a constant source of pleasure which has only grown over the last month.
"It is truly as loose and tight knit as they come," Hatteberg said. "I've been in clubhouses where it is not really fun to show up every day and I can¹t wait to come here. They are all my friends."
"I've never had so much fun. I think this streak has brought us closer together -- the confidence, the camaraderie. So many guys have done so many things to help."
As the A's cruise toward a third-straight post season appearance, Hatteberg will likely continue to play the same role he has for the last month -- starting about 2/3 of the games at first base and coming off the bench as a pinch hitter the rest of the time. After Wednesday's heroics, this old Cougar is just on more reason for the rest of the AL to fear the hottest team in baseball.
NOTABLE NOTE: Another former Cougar, Mark Hendrickson, has made the most of his first month in the Majors. This weekend he was elevated to the starting rotation for the Blue Jays.