A Season of Missed Opportunities for the A's

As the A's season came to a surprisingly anticlimactic ending on Sunday with a 3-2 victory over Anaheim, Oakland found itself facing an off-season without post-season baseball for the first time since 1999. While a 91-win season is nothing to sneeze at, the A's are faced with the reality that they had the opportunity to win the division and advance to the post-season for the fifth time in a row.

The A's fell one win short of making the post-season. With an astounding 28 blown saves this season, the A's are stuck with the uncomfortable feeling of knowing that they had numerous opportunities to put the season away before the final weekend. Here are some of the games that the A's wish they had back:

1) April 11. The A's entered the first Sunday of the season looking to sweep the Seattle Mariners and end the opening week at a strong 5-1. Arthur Rhodes took the hill for the fourth time that week. He was staked a 4-2 lead. That lead looked safe as he retired the first batter and then got Dan Wilson to ground to second baseman Marco Scutaro. However, Scutaro rushed his throw and Eric Karros was unable to scoop the short-hop, allowing Wilson to reach first safely. Three hits and two runs later, Rhodes had his first blown save and the game went into extra-innings. Chris Hammond imploded in the top of the 10th inning and the A's were saddled with a tough 9-4 loss. This loss was a precursor of things to come in the 9th inning for the A's.

2) April 19 and 20. Ten days later, the A's were stuck with two very tough losses back-to-back against Seattle. In the first game, Jermaine Dye homered off of Eddie Guardado in the top of the 9th inning to tie the game at one. In the top of the 10th, Adam Melhuse started the inning with a double. Marco Scutaro walked, but Mark Kotsay was unable to advance the runners and eventually the A's would strand Melhuse at second. Justin Duchscherer would eventually lose the game on a balk call in the bottom of the 14th inning. The next night, Rich Harden made his second start of the season and mesmerized the Mariners until the 7th inning when Raul Ibanez homered to tie the game at one. The A's offense was unable to add any more runs and they eventually lost on Ibanez's second homerun of the game, this time a walk-off shot off of Jim Mecir in the 9th inning. The A's walked five times in that game but were unable to bring any of those walks across the plate.

3) April 27. After being swept by the Anaheim Angels at home, the A's entered Yankee Stadium hoping to right the ship. They looked to be well on the way to getting back into the win column, as they carried an 8-4 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning. Jim Mecir took over the game in that 8th and was unable to record an out before allowing four hits and a walk. He was eventually charged with five runs. Ricardo Rincon came on and walked two and gave up a back-breaking double to Ruben Sierra. When it was all said and done, the Yankees had scored six runs in the inning and had a stunning 10-8 victory.

4) May 4. It was like déjà vu all over again a week later when the Yankees arrived in Oakland to begin a three-game series. This time the A's had an 8-3 lead going into the top of the 7th inning with Mark Mulder on the hill. Perhaps as a precursor of his late-season struggles, Mulder was touched for a three-run homerun by Alex Rodriguez with only one out on the board. He then walked Jason Giambi and was lifted for Chad Bradford. Bradford and Rincon were unable to stem the tide of the Yankees rally and by the end of the 7th inning, the Yankees had a 9-8 lead. They eventually won the game 10-8.

5) May 5. The next evening the A's met the Yankees again and again they had a chance to record a win against the pinstripers. Holding a 3-2 lead going into the top of the 9th inning, Arthur Rhodes was faced with the daunting task of retiring A-Rod, Giambi and Gary Sheffield to get the save. Rhodes failed immediately, as he allowed a game-tying homerun to A-Rod to start the inning. He then walked Giambi but retired Sheffield on a double-play. However, with two-outs and no one on, Rhodes allowed another run to give the Yankees a 4-3 lead. The A's got two runners on against Mariano Rivera in the bottom of the 9th, but they were unable to bring the run in and lost the game.

6) May 8. That next weekend, the A's were playing host to the Minnesota Twins. After beating the Yankees on that Thursday and holding off the Twins in extra-innings that Friday, the A's were riding a two-game winning streak into that Saturday game. Tim Hudson was throwing a beauty and the A's were tied with the Twins at two when Bobby Crosby came to the plate in the bottom of the 8th inning with Erubiel Durazo on third and Scott Hatteberg on first with no one out. Crosby grounded into a double-play and Durazo did not score. He was eventually stranded at third. Then in the top of the 10th inning, Jim Mecir allowed an infield hit to Shannon Stewart with one out. With two-outs, Stewart was still at first when Doug Mientkiewicz hit a looper to the outfield. It glanced off of Crosby's glove for an error and Stewart scored the go-ahead run on the error.

7) May 28-30. After dropping two of the three to Boston, the A's arrived in Cleveland hoping to get back on the winning track. However, they managed to lose all three game in the Indians final at-bat. On May 28, Barry Zito threw eight shut-out innings, only to see Jim Mecir lose the game when he allowed a walk-off homerun to Casey Blake. The next evening, the A's took a 6-5 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning. Justin Duchscherer allowed a triple to start the inning. He was relieved by Arthur Rhodes, who immediately induced a groundball to a drawn in Bobby Crosby. However, Crosby's throw was slightly off-line and the game-tying run scored. The wheels then came off for Rhodes, as he allowed three hits and two runs and the A's lost the game 8-6. The A's left seven runners in scoring position in the game. In the series finale, the A's entered the top of the 9th inning trailing the Indians 2-1. Tim Hudson had pitched a brilliant game, but he looked in-line for a tough loss, as the A's had stranded 6 runners in scoring position during the game. However, Crosby started off the inning with a walk. He then scored on a Scutaro single when Omar Vizquel made a throwing error trying to nail Crosby at third. Scutaro then scored the go-ahead run on a Mark Kotsay single. The rally died there, as Billy McMillon grounded into a double-play, leaving Rhodes only a one-run lead to play with in the bottom of the 9th. It wasn't enough. Rhodes allowed a single to Lou Merloni to start the inning. He then retired the next two batters without incident. However, he walked Matt Lawton and then allowed a game-tying double to Omar Vizquel. Rhodes then uncorked a wild pitch, allowed the winning run to score with two-outs. These games had another side-effect, as they rendered Rhodes unavailable in the first game against the Chicago White Sox that next week. In Mecir's first attempt to record a save, he allowed a game-tying homerun to Jose Valentin with two-outs in the 9th inning. The A's later lost Eric Chavez to a broken hand, as he was hit with a pitch in the bottom of the 10th inning. He would miss 33 games as a result.

8) June 17. After losing two tough games to the Cardinals in the A's first ever trip to Busch Stadium, Oakland turned to Tim Hudson to right the ship. Hudson was in command early, as he had a shut-out and a 4-0 lead going into the bottom of the 6th inning. However, he allowed single runs in the 6th and 7th innings. When he left with one-out in the 8th inning, he had a 4-2 lead. Chad Bradford and Ricardo Rincon recorded one out each to close out the 8th and the A's looked on their way to victory. However, Jim Mecir came on to try to close the game, as Rhodes was unavailable after being hit around in the 8th inning the game before. Mecir was unable to record an out, as he allowed three hits to be sandwiched around a Scutaro error and the A's had a tough 5-4 loss.

9) June 19. Two days later, the A's had Mark Prior and the Chicago Cubs on the ropes with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 9th inning. Mark Mulder had pitched a gem and Chad Bradford was asked to close out the game (Rhodes was again unavailable, this time for a family emergency). Bradford struck out the lead-off hitter, but then allowed an infield hit to Todd Hollandsworth. Todd Walker followed with a single and Michael Barrett then doubled them both home and the A's, once again, walk-off the field a loser.

10) July 9. In the final weekend of the first-half of the season, the A's returned to their personal house of horrors, Jacobs Field. The game looked good in the beginning, as Eric Chavez returned to the line-up after being side-lined with his broken hand. He singled in a run in his first at-bat and the A's had an early 4-0 lead. However, they continued to strand runners throughout the game (11 in total) and were unable to stretch out their advantage. Kirk Saarloos, starting for the injured Tim Hudson, made the four runs stand up, as he threw 6.2 innings and allowed only one unearned run. In the bottom of the 8th inning, the A's allowed another unearned run, as new closer Octavio Dotel had only a 4-2 advantage to work with in the bottom of the 9th. Dotel allowed a run on a Travis Hafner double and was faced with a tough situation with runners and second and third with only one out. However, after intentionally walking Victor Martinez to load the bases, he struck-out Casey Blake. It appeared that the A's might hold on to the game when Dotel faced pinch-hitter Lou Merloni with the bases-loaded and two outs. However, on the first pitch, Merloni got a hit and two runs scored and the A's had lost again.

11) July 30. In the second game of what would eventually be the best road-trip of the A's season, Oakland held a 4-2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th inning against the Texas Rangers. Justin Lehr allowed a one-out homer to Mark Teixeira to make the game 4-3. He then allowed a single to Gary Matthews, Jr. and was lifted for Chad Bradford. Bradford induced a ground-out from Eric Young, putting Matthews at second with two-outs. The A's elected to walk the left-handed hitting David Delucci to allow Bradford to face the righty Gerald Laird. Laird was pinch-hit for by Kevin Mench (also a righty), but Bradford hit Laird to load the bases. He was left in the game, as the A's bullpen was depleted by injuries and over-work. Bradford got two-strikes on the lefty Laynce Nix, but Nix singled in two runs. Michael Young followed with another two-run single to put the game out of reach.

12) August 4. After stunning the Yankees with a 13-4 victory at Yankee Stadium in the opener, the A's had the Yankees down to their final two outs in the second game. Leading 6-4, Octavio Dotel hung a slider to Gary Sheffield with Derek Jeter on first and the Yankees had tied the game. The A's had opportunities to score runs in the top of both the 10th and the 11th innings, but were unable to get the big hit. Alex Rodriguez made them pay, as he crushed a two-run, game-winning homerun off of Duchscherer in the bottom of the 11th and the A's lost the chance to take a series at Yankee Stadium.

13) August 10-15. The A's returned from their excellent 11-game roadtrip against Texas, New York and Minnesota feeling good about themselves and their 7-4 record on the trip. They had a great opportunity to gain momentum on their season as they began a seven-game homestand against Detroit and Kansas City. They won the first game against Detroit, 5-4, and then went 1-5 the rest of the homestand. The five losses came for different reasons, but this homestand stands out as one the A's should have had a winning record.

14) September 1. As the calendar turned to September, A's fans could sense that their team was about to surge their way to the division title. They had won 13 of 14 as they entered the second game of a three game series in Chicago. Barry Zito was dealing a gem going into the 7th inning. The A's held a 4-1 lead with two outs and runners at first and second when Zito allowed a two-out, run-scoring hit to Joe Crede, making the score 4-2. Chad Bradford came on to try to stop the White Sox rally, but he immediately gave up a run-scoring single, making the game 4-3. Jim Mecir came on and he, too, allowed an RBI hit (this time to Roberto Alomar) and the game was tied. The A's offense remained dormant in the 8th and 9th and the White Sox won the game in the bottom of the 9th inning when Justin Duchscherer allowed a run-scoring hit to Ross Gload. This game was perhaps a hint that this September was not going to be as successful for the A's as the previous four Septembers.

15) September 6. Barry Zito was on the hill again for the A's when they met the Boston Red Sox in Oakland for the first time since the 2003 ALDS. The A's started the game well, as Mark Kotsay homered to start the A's half of the first and Eric Byrnes followed with a double. However, Eric Chavez hit a sinking liner to center and Dave Roberts saved a run with a great catch. Byrnes would be stranded at second. Kotsay would homer again in his next at-bat, but the A's were frustrated early, as they hit line-drive after line-drive into the gloves of the Red Sox fielders. Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz hit back-to-back solo homeruns off of Zito in the top of the 4th inning to tie the game at two. Zito allowed two more runs in the top of the 7th inning, as the Red Sox got to Zito when his pitch count climbed above 100. The A's got one run back in the bottom of the 7th and looked poised to tie the game in the bottom of the 8th inning. However, in a sequence that seemed to deflate the A's, Kotsay lined a pitch to left that was incorrectly called a catch by Ramirez. Eric Byrnes then hit a deep drive to right-center that Gabe Kapler and Roberts converged together on to make a spectacular catch. Then Eric Chavez rocketed a pitch to left-field that Ramirez made a nice running play on. The A's appeared shell-shocked and watched as the Red Sox rallied for four runs off of Bradford and Rhodes in the top of the 9th, putting the game out of reach. The A's would drop the next three games and never appeared to play with much consistency after this game.

16) September 10. The third game of the aforementioned three-game losing streak was also a heart-breaker. The A's and the Cleveland Indians were tied 3-3 going into the bottom of the 11th inning. The A's loaded the bases with one-out and looked to be on the verge of a nice, extra-inning victory. Esteban German, in the game late for defensive and baserunning purposes, came up to the plate with a chance to win it. He hit a groundball to short, but Omar Vizquel was able to force out Erubiel Durazo at home. That brought Eric Chavez to the plate with another chance to win it. In a sequence that seemed to repeat itself a lot for the A's down the stretch, Chavez got a pitch to hit and hit it hard – right at the rightfielder for the third out. The A's would lose the game in the next frame, when Casey Blake hit a solo homer off of Duchscherer and the A's were unable to score in the bottom of the 12th. As a small note, in the top of the 11th, rookie Nick Swisher had temporarily saved the game with the catch of the year when he came out of nowhere to catch Vizquel's flair to left with runners in scoring position and two outs. However, the A's were not able to translate that fabulous play into a win.

17) September 17. The A's traveled up to last-place Seattle having split a four-game series against the Rangers. They were looking to put distance between themselves and the Rangers and Angels, who were playing each other that weekend. The A's looked well on their way to a win in the first game of the series with a 3-1 lead going into the bottom of the 7th inning. Barry Zito had pitched a great game, but was pulled after 6 innings due to a high pitch count in his last two starts. Chad Bradford came on to relieve Zito and the wheels quickly came off for the A's. Bradford failed to field an easy bunt attempt, allowing the lead-off hitter to reach. He then allowed a single to Jeremy Reed and the bases were loaded when a Jose Lopez bunt was unplayable. Ricardo Rincon came on and allowed a bases-clearing double to rookie Greg Dobbs on a 3-2 count. Suddenly, the A's were losing 4-3. The Mariners tacked on two more runs and the A's were stuck with another bitter loss.

18) September 23. The next bitter loss came at Texas. The A's had dropped the first two games of their series with Texas, but needed only one win in the finale to put some distance between themselves and the Rangers and Angels. Tim Hudson pitched a gutsy game, going 7 innings and allowing only two runs. The A's scrapped together three runs through 8 innings and then added a huge insurance run in the top of the 9th inning on a solo homerun by Bobby Crosby in the top of the 9th inning. Octavio Dotel came on to get the save and quickly retired Eric Young on a line-out to second. He then battled Hank Blalock for ten pitches, eventually allowing Blalock to homer to rightcenter. Michael Young doubled on the next pitch and the A's lead suddenly looked in jeopardy. Manager Ken Macha decided to walk Mark Teixeira intentionally despite the fact that Teixeira represented the winning run. The strategy appeared to pay off, as Brian Jordan hit what appeared to be a game-ending double-play. However, Scutaro and Crosby were only able to get one out and that allowed David Delucci a chance to get the winning hit. Dotel got Delucci down two strikes, but Delucci battled and eventually hit a line-drive out of Jermaine Dye's reach in rightfield. Both runners scored and the A's had lost the game.

19) September 29. Six days later, the A's were clinging to a one-game lead in the division and were coming off of a stunning loss to the Mariners the evening before when Tim Hudson has been hit around by the Mariners. Rich Harden was coming off of a great start against Anaheim and pitched a brilliant game. However, the A's were only able to manage two runs off of Mariner starter Bobby Madritsch. The A's held a 2-1 lead in the top of the 8th inning. Harden remained in the game despite being over 100 pitches because he was still throwing in the high 90s. He retired Ichiro to start the inning in a 13 pitch battle, but then allowed a hit to Randy Winn that glanced off of Harden's leg. Bret Boone followed with a double and Harden was relieved by Ricardo Rincon. Rincon struck-out Raul Ibanez to preserve the lead temporarily. However, Jim Mecir came on to face Jolbert Cabrera. Cabrera singled to right, scoring both runners. He then scored when Jeremy Reed singled to center and Mark Kotsay hit Cabrera in the back with a throw to third. The A's offense couldn't do anything against Madritsch and they took the loss 4-2.

20) October 2. In the second-to-last game of the season, the A's had to win the game to give themselves a chance to make the playoffs. They had absorbed a humiliating 10-0 loss to Anaheim the night before and they turned to Barry Zito to save their season. The A's jumped ahead early on a two-run double by Eric Chavez in the third inning. Zito was dealing early, but he allowed a game-tying two-run homerun to Vladimir Guerrero in the top of the 6th inning. However, the A's responded in the bottom of the 6th with two runs of their own. Zito pitched a 1-2-3 7th inning. However, his pitch count was up over 110 pitches, in part due to two A's defensive errors earlier in the game. Macha turned to Jim Mecir and once again his bullpen failed him. Mecir allowed a single to Benji Molina to start the inning despite having two-strikes on Molina. He then struck-out Curtis Pride but allowed a single to Chone Figgins, putting runners at first and second. Mecir was relieved by Rincon, who was asked to get out the lefty Darin Erstad. Rincon, for one of the few times this season, was unable to retired the lefty, as he allowed a two-run double. He then walked Guerrero intentionally. The A's brought in Octavio Dotel to face Troy Glaus and Garrett Anderson. Dotel retired Glaus, but Anderson got to him with a run-scoring single and the A's season was lost.

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