Street Named AL's Top Rookie

Just a little over one year removed from his final pitch as a Texas Longhorn, Oakland A's closer Huston Street hooked a huge honor on Monday, as he was named the American League's Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America. The A's were the only team to have more than one rookie in the AL top-ten, as Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton also made the list. The New York Yankees' second baseman Robinson Cano was second in the voting.

Huston Street, who broke the A's rookie record for number of saves despite not becoming the A's closer until late May, is Oakland's sixth Rookie of the Year and the A's second straight. Shortstop Bobby Crosby took home the award in 2004 and Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Walt Weiss and Ben Grieve were previous A's winners. This is the second time in A's history that they have had back-to-back Rookies of the Year (Canseco, McGwire and Weiss went back-to-back-to-back in 1986-1988). Street is the first A's pitcher to be honored as the Rookie of the Year and the first AL closer to earn the award since Kaz Sazaki won the award for the Mariners in 2000 and Gregg Olson of the Baltimore Orioles was honored in 1989. The previous four AL Rookies of the Year were former A's farmhands (Street, Crosby, Angel Berroa (KC) and Eric Hinske (TO)).

Street was drafted by the A's in 2004 in the supplemental first round. He moved through three levels of competition in 2004 (low-A, AA and AAA) and was named to the All-Arizona Fall League team after an outstanding performance in the prospect league. Street came into spring training as somewhat of a long-shot to make the A's veteran-laded bullpen roster. However, there was an opening when reliever Chad Bradford went down with a back injury and Street grabbed the opportunity with some impressive early spring outings. Despite winning a roster spot, Street was not expected to have an impact on the A's bullpen at the start of the season. Veteran Octavio Dotel was returning as the team's closer and the A's had a trio of seemingly solid set-up men in Kiko Calero, Juan Cruz and Justin Duchscherer. However, the A's best-laid bullpen plans were quickly scrapped, as injuries and ineffectiveness ravaged the bullpen in the season's early months.

Street first was thrust into important game situations as a set-up man in late-April when Calero was out with an elbow injury and Cruz was struggling to get hitters out. The Texas native showed his mettle in those situations, and with each success, he was given more and more pressure assignments by A's manager Ken Macha. When Dotel finally succumbed to a season-ending elbow injury in late-May, Macha decided to turn to the rookie Street to pitch in the most pressure-filled situations of all: the ninth inning.

Street responded to the challenge of being a big league closer with aplomb. He saved 23 of the 25 games that he appeared in as a closer (he had two blown saves as a set-up man earlier in the year), and the A's won each of the two games he blew. The second blown save was perhaps Street's best performance. After allowing two runs in the bottom of the ninth to the Chicago White Sox, Street pitched scoreless innings in the 10th and 11th to give the A's the hard-earned 9-8 road victory over the eventual World Champions. Street threw 3.1 innings in total that day, striking out three and earning the victory. Another signature Street save came on August 30 when he retired Vladimir Guerrero on a broken bat grounder with two men on in the bottom of the 11th inning to save the A's 2-1 road win over the Angels in the heat of the pennant race.

Street's statistics speak to his dominance of Major League hitters in 2005. He allowed only 53 hits in 78.2 innings pitched, which translates to a .194 BAA. He had a microscopic 1.01 WHIP and a Dennis Eckersley-esque 1.72 ERA. Simply put, Street gave the A's exactly what they have been looking for since Eckersley left the team in the mid-1990s: a no-drama closer who keeps runners off the bases and balls from flying into the stands (he allowed only three homeruns all season). For the first time in many years, A's fans could look forward to an easy ninth inning with Street on the hill.

Street led a cadre of A's rookies who made an impact this season. Starting pitcher Joe Blanton was arguably the A's most consistent starter this season and he earned two AL Rookie of the Month honors during the season. If it wasn't for a lack of run support from his teammates that caused his record to be artificially mediocre, Blanton probably would have challenged his teammate for the Rookie of the Year honors. As it was, Blanton finished tied with teammate Nick Swisher for sixth in the balloting. Swisher had an up and down season for the A's, but gave the team a solid source of power at the bottom of the order (21 HR and 74 RBI) and a spark of energy on the bases and in the clubhouse.

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