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MARKETPLACE:  Auto | Jobs | Personals | Yellow Pages  November 30, 2003
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Oakland doesn't bash anymore, but the A's are doing enough to win
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OAKLAND, Calif. -- A squeeze bunt in the 12th one night, a hit-and-run to start a smallball rally the next afternoon. Taking extra bases, leaning into a pitch once in a while, stealing bases, moving guys over ...

OK, already. What did you guys do with the Oakland A's?

Thursday afternoon, the A's stationed themselves one step away from the American League Championship Series simply by doing what they had to do. In the old days of Jason Giambi and the big-banging A's, that would have meant waiting on a two-run homer and then smacking a three-run job for good measure.

This year, though, that's just not how the A's operate. It's not how they won the AL West. It's not how they have beaten the Red Sox in the first two games of this best-of-five AL Division Series.

"It's a fact we don't have that great of an offensive team," said Eric Chavez, one of the few guys on this team who actually can hit.

"We're not exactly the team that we were a couple of years ago," said Eric Byrnes, who came through with one of Oakland's big hits in Thursday's 5-1 Game 2 win.

The A's won by pecking away at Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the second inning, then riding the superb pitching of Barry Zito the rest of the way.

Now, granted, that might not have the same panache as the days when Giambi was bashing homers left and right. It might not even be as sexy as last year, when shortstop Miguel Tejada won the AL Most Valuable Player Award.

But the A's won 96 games in 2003. They now have the Red Sox -- a much better offensive team, by the way -- looking for crisis counselors.

You want to argue with that?

Less than 14 hours after catcher Ramon Hernandez won Game 1 with a gutsy, stunning squeeze bunt in the 12th inning, the A's and Red Sox were back on the field for Game 2. The A's made it clear early that they didn't want this one going that long.

This is how easy it was:

� In the bottom of the second, facing Wakefield's baffling knuckleball, Jose Guillen earned a one-out walk, and slipped over to second on a passed ball. Hernandez, the next hitter, worked Wakefield to a 2-2 count before smacking a single to right on a perfect hit-and-run play that scored Guillen.

� After Wakefield hit Jermaine Dye with a knuckler, Byrnes came up and drove a high 2-2 knuckleball over left fielder Manny Ramirez's head for a two-run double. Two batters later, Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker threw away an easy out at first to score two more Oakland runs.

� And then Zito did his thing, pitching seven innings, giving up five hits, allowing one run and notching nine strikeouts.

No, the strategy is not going to make a whole lot of highlight reels. But it's hard to beat.

"We've gone through some times this year where we haven't had some guys produce a whole lot of runs. There's a reason we rank where we are, offensively,"  Byrnes said. "I know there weren't a lot of monster years put up, but it seems like this is a good baseball team, and we can score some runs."

The A's ranked 12th in the AL in batting average this season, 13th in hits, 13th in stolen bases and 10th in on-base percentage. But the best thing about the A's is that they know they're lousy. Or at least lousy statistically.

They've come to embrace their shortcomings, and have even learned to live with their limitations.

"It's really hard, especially in the postseason, to get base hit after base hit. We're trying to get hits, we're trying to hit and run, steal some bases. That's how you have to play," Hernandez said. "We got to do whatever it takes to get runs on the board."

It's working so far for the A's. Or whoever these guys are.


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