Originally created 05/25/04

A's starting to click as they head to Boston

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Mark McLemore watched from afar as the Oakland Athletics used second-half surges the past two seasons to spoil the playoff hopes of his former team, the Seattle Mariners.

This year, the A's appear to be making their run a bit earlier. Oakland has won 13 of 16 games and a season-high five straight heading into a three-game series at Boston starting Tuesday.

"April, May and June they're usually slow, and then they come on in the second half like gangbusters," said McLemore, who joined the A's last month after being cut by Baltimore.

"This is a little sooner than usual because I'm here. No, just kidding. It's a good thing. Anybody in front of you, you don't want them to get out too far."

The A's went 10 straight months with winning records before going 11-12 in April. Two weeks ago, they were still under .500 and 6 1/2 games behind Anaheim in the AL West. But Oakland has since shaved three games off the lead.

"We haven't ventured too far from the formula," first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. "It's not something we plan on doing, falling in the hole. We're getting better. The team that does well usually peaks later. I feel like we're playing as good as we've played all year. That's a good sign."

Especially when they're about to play at Fenway Park against the team that eliminated them in Game 5 of last year's division series.

Even the Big Three starting pitchers of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito had their share of struggles early this season, and the bullpen made numerous blunders, but things are starting to come around for the two-time defending AL West champions.

The relievers have a 0.58 ERA over the last 14 games, and the starters are 8-2 with a 2.60 ERA during that stretch.

"You've got to credit these guys. They've played extremely well the last two weeks," second-year manager Ken Macha said. "Our starting pitching's been good. We have excellent defense. It's been solid all year. Our bullpen the last couple weeks has been outstanding. I still think there's an upside on our offense."

Macha believes the attitude of this team has been the biggest reason for the recent success.

For example, outfielder Mark Kotsay has been struggling at the plate and working to fix some problems with his swing. He's been understanding when Macha played Eric Byrnes instead.

And Arthur Rhodes, converted from setup man to closer this season, has been patient while Macha experimented with others finishing games.

There certainly will be some motivation against the Red Sox. The A's failed to get past the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight year in 2003.

"For us it's good going into that city with that energy," Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez said. "We're fueled by good pitching. They slumped a bit and the team slumped. Now, we're getting the opportunities to get big hits. It all starts with them. We're playing well."

Oakland just completed its second three-game sweep of Kansas City in a week. And with Hudson, Mulder and Zito, the A's can never be counted out.

"One thing about the Oakland A's is, the heart and soul of this ballclub is their pitching staff," Royals manager Tony Pena said. "They have the best starting rotation. Every year they come back, and they come back strong."


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