Wednesday, September 11
A's and Koch survive blown saves
By Keith Woolner
Special to ESPN.com
On September 4, the Oakland A's went up on the visiting Kansas City Royals 11-0 after the third inning. Three hours later, the A's had reliquished all of their advantage, and entered the bottom of the ninth dead even with the tenacious and energized Royals. With Scott Hatteberg's dramatic ninth-inning bomb, the A's turned what could have been a laugher into yet another one-run victory (they are an MLB-best 28-9 in one-run games).
Hatteberg's blast marked the seventh time in 2002 that Oakland's winning pitcher was also one who had blown the save. That's the most in the majors this year, and more than any team registered in 2001. How have they done it? The answer, in short, is their closer, Billy Koch, who has been the goat and beneficiary of his team's late-inning offense in five of the seven games:
The blown save: Koch walked Rafael Palmeiro, and gave up a hit to I-Rod. Herb Perry sacrifices to get pinch-runner Mike Young to third. Koch strikes out rookie Hank Blalock swinging, then surrenders a single to Gabe Kapler to knock in the tying run.
The comeback: The first batter in the bottom of the ninth, Carlos Pena, hit a walkoff home run in the third pitch of his plate appearance.
Blown save, dramatic win No. 2: April 9 (Billy Koch)
The blown save: A week later, Koch blew another one. This time, he entered the game in the bottom of the 10th inning. Eric Chavez homered in the top of 10th to give the A's the lead, but with the bases loaded, Koch walked Rusty Greer on four pitches to blow the save.
The comeback: In the 11th inning, Greg Myers knocked in Terrence Long to again give the A's a one-run advantage. Koch redeemed himself with a 1-2-3 inning, ending with back-to-back strikeouts of Frank Catalanotto and the previous week's hero, Kapler.
Blown save, dramatic win No. 3: June 9 (Billy Koch)
The blown save: The A's started the 8th inning with a 6-1 lead over the Astros. After Jim Mecir allowed the first five batters of the inning to reach base, and Mike Magnante walked two of the three batters he faced on four pitches each, Koch entered the game. He walked Craig Biggio with the bases loaded to force in Richard Hidalgo. The run is charged to Mecir, but Koch blows a tough save opportunity before getting Lance Berkman to ground out to end the inning.
The comeback: In the bottom of the eighth, leadoff batter Miguel Tejada hit a 2-2 pitch over the left-field wall for a home run, giving the A's a 7-6 lead, which Koch preserved with a 1-2-3 ninth, getting Jeff Bagwell, Orlando Merced and Hidalgo.
The blown save: The very next day, an Oakland pitcher again had a blown save. Bradford entered the game in the top of the seventh with runners on first and second. Jose Hernandez, the first batter Bradford faced, doubled to center field, knocking in Geoff Jenkins. Matt Stairs tried to score as well, but is thrown out the end the inning.
The comeback: Oakland rallied in the bottom of the eighth when Ramon Hernandez batted in Terrence Long with a double. Mark Ellis then knocked in Hernandez with a single to give the A's a two-run lead. Koch pitched the ninth to save the game for winning pitcher Bradford.
Blown save, dramatic win No. 5: July 20 (Billy Koch)
The blown save: Oakland led Texas 5-4 going