The Oakland Athletics look to beat the Seattle Mariners for the 14th consecutive time this evening -- an impressive streak to be sure, but still shy of the franchise record for doling out consecutive whoopings to a particularly unfortunate foe. That distinction, the San Francisco Chronicle tells us, goes to the New York Yankees, who lost 16 games in a row to the A's from September 9, 1989 to May 1, 1991.
On the surface, that seems like an improbable occurrence -- the mighty Yankees sporting an 0-16 record against the plucky Athletics! -- until you consider the era in which that stretch of games occurred. When the streak began on a September afternoon behind a complete game, four-hit shutout from Mike Moore, the A's were on their way to the second of three consecutive American League pennants. The Yankees, on the other hand, were 67-77 at the time and on their way to a fifth-place finish in the AL East, 14.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Things would only get worse for the Yankees in 1990 -- when they would lose all 12 games to Oakland, scoring a paltry 12 runs to the A's 62 -- as the Bombers found themselves in last place for the first time since 1966. The Yankees would lose two more games to the A's in 1991, before finally downing Oakland 5-3 on May 10, on the strength of a two-run Don Mattingly homer off of Joe Klink in the seventh inning. (Kevin Maas hit a solo shot immediately after Mattingly's at bat to give the Yanks an insurance run.)
And once that streak was broken, it stayed broke. The A's won the next day 10-2, but dropped the two remaining games of the series. New York also took three of four when the Yanks traveled to Oakland that July.
To further illustrate that these are not the Yankees of Buster Olney tomes, here's the starters and rotation for the 1990 team that contributed 12 of the 16 losses to Oakland, according to Baseball-Reference.com. (Players from the '89 and '91 squads are listed in parenthesis.
C- Bob Geren (Slaught-89, Nokes-91)
1B - Don Mattingly
2B - Steve Sax
3B - Randy Velarde (Pagliarulo-89, P. Kelly-91)
SS - Alvarao Espinoza
OF - Roberto Kelly, Jesse Barfield, Oscar Azocar (Hall-89, Williams-91)
DH - Steve Balboni (Maas-91)
Rotation - Tim Leary, Chuck Cary, Dave LaPoint, Andy Hawkins, Mike Witt (Parker, Cadaret, Terrell, John-89, Sanderson, Johnson, Taylor [Wade, not Brien], Perez, Eiland-91]
So for those of you scoring at home, that's Don Mattingly, and a bunch of other guys who were... present. Sure, Steve Sax got his own poster which some people inexplicably hung in their bedroom growing up, and he was on an episode of the Simpsons about that time. That's something. There's future Oakland bench coach Bob Geren doing the catching on that 1990 team. And an appearance by young Bernie Williams on the 1991 squad. But, all in all, not really a team that's going to be immortalized in legend or song, unless those legends and songs are about what a terrible, terrible team the Yankees were in 1990.
Because we can never leave well enough alone, here's the lineup for the 1970 Chicago White Sox, losers of 11 consecutive games to the A's and previously runners-up in the Futility Streak sweepstakes until the 2006 Mariners stumbled onto the stage.
C - Ed Herrmann
1B - Gail Hopkins
2B - Bobby Knoop
3B - Bill Melton
SS - Luis Aparicio
OF - Carlos May, Ken Berry, Walt Williams
Rotation - Tommy John, Jerry Janeski, Joe Horlen, Bart Johnson, Bob Miller
I am probably the only person in the world who finds it interesting that Tommy John witnessed two of Oakland's three longest winning streaks against a single franchise from the losing side of the bench. Quick -- someone call up Bill Bavasi and convince him to sign John to a one-day contract. The circle must remain unbroken!
I've already noted that the 1989-1991 Athletics that gave the Yankees such a trashing enjoyed some measure of postseason success. Those 1970 A's finished this close to beating the Twins for the division title -- Note to those who cannot see the author: he is holding his arms apart at a distance to signify nine games... he has also separated a shoulder doing so -- in a prelude to winning the division five years running. (Plus, those three World Series titles the ancients sometimes speak of.)
Is history a good indicator of what awaits the 2006 A's after their mastery of a single franchise? One can only hope. (And yes, by typing this entry I realize I've doomed the A's run of good fortune against the Mariners to come to an untimely end tonight. If it's any consolation, I'll be at the game to witness the fruits of my jinxing first-hand.)