That’s always a great question to ask any Oakland Athletics fan, because if they were at the Coliseum on Sept. 4, 2002, they were a part of baseball history. On that night, as immortalized in the 2011 Hollywood film Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and Chris Pratt, the A’s won their 20th game in a row—setting the all-time American League record for most consecutive victories. They also did it with the third-lowest payroll in the major leagues, notable in this era of free spending and big-budget ball clubs dominating October action.
The season wasn’t supposed to be a successful one after the 2000-01 teams won a combined 193 regular-season games before losing in the AL Division Series both postseasons to the New York Yankees in five games. When All-Star first baseman Jason Giambi left Oakland for the Bronx in 2002, the A’s were supposed to regress. Instead, the club ended up winning 103 games—increasing its season win total for the fifth year in a row, another record—and changed the game of baseball forever with its adherence to advanced performance metrics, thanks to General Manager Billy Beane.
Starting pitcher Barry Zito won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award with a 23-5 mark and a 2.75 ERA. Meanwhile, shortstop Miguel Tejada won the AL MVP Award by hitting .308 with 34 home runs and 131 RBI. Third baseman Eric Chavez added 34 HRs, 109 RBI and a Gold Glove, while Tim Hudson (15-9, 2.98) and Mark Mulder (19-7, 3.47) ably supported Zito’s campaign. Throw in closer Billy Koch’s 11 wins and 44 saves, and this was a tough team to beat: In addition to the 20-game win streak, the A’s also won 16 of 17 in June!
The team started out famously slow, with a 20-26 record through the first seven weeks of the season. However, the team began to come together after that, and by the All-Star Game, the A’s were 50-38 overall. Yet Oakland was still in just third place, thanks to outstanding half-season efforts from the Seattle Mariners and the then-Anaheim Angels. After an August 12 loss at the Coliseum to the Toronto Blue Jays, the A’s were 68-51, still in third and 4.5 games out of first place.
Enter The Streak.
Oakland won the last five games of the home stand before embarking on a 10-game road trip through the Midwest. After taking four games in Cleveland, three in Detroit and three in Kansas City, the A’s returned home on August 30 riding a 15-game winning streak and owning a four-game lead in the AL West division. Oakland won its 16th and 17th straight over the Minnesota Twins before things really started to get wild at the Coliseum.
In the 18th straight victory on Sept. 1, Koch actually blew the save in the top of the ninth, allowing three solo home runs to let the Twins take a 5-4 lead. But the A’s got the first two men on base in the bottom of the ninth off Minnesota closer Eddie Guardado before Tejada all but wrapped up the MVP vote with a three-run home run with one out to win the game in a walk-off celebration.
On Monday’s Labor Day matinee, Oakland hosted Kansas City, and it was Tejada again with the special moment. Tied 6-6 in the bottom of the ninth, Terrence Long led off with a triple, and the Royals intentionally walked the next two batters. After Scott Hatteberg hit a grounder that forced Long at home, Tejada came up to the plate with one out—and the infield drawn in with five defenders! The MVP calmly lined the ball right up the middle to win the game, Oakland’s 19th straight victory.
After a random day off on Tuesday, we all know what happened in the 20th straight win: The A’s blew an 11-0 lead versus the Royals before winning in the bottom of the ninth—again—on Hatteberg’s walk-off solo home run, the stuff of legends now thanks to Hollywood’s version. The Twins would end the streak back in the Midwest at the Metrodome on Friday, Sept. 6, but that didn’t stop the A’s from winning the next three games after that—or the AL West for the second time in three seasons. In fact, Oakland’s 103 wins tied the top-spending Yankees for the most in baseball that year.
The season itself would die in the ALDS in five games, for the third straight season—and as it would happen again to the A’s in 2003, 2012 and 2013. The fact it was the Twins again dashing A’s 2002 hopes was somewhat annoying, too, of course. But for the small-payroll team that changed the course of baseball thinking forever, the 20 straight wins will always stand as a testament to unparalleled success in modern-day Bay Area baseball. Moneyball, we salute you!
(After all, it’s an awesome thing to have an Oscar-nominated film immortalize you forever, isn’t it? We think so.)
This piece was written originally in 2015 for CBS Sacramento, but it was never published. The author, therefore, retains all copyrights on the material.