‘Money­ball’ hero pulls for In­di­ans as they near 20

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Bob Nightengale bnighten@us­ato­day.com USA TO­DAY Sports FOL­LOW MLB COLUMNIST BOB NIGHTENGALE @BNight­en­gale for com­men­tary, in­sight and break­ing news.

They wrote a best-sell­ing book about his base­ball team.

They made a Hol­ly­wood movie about their win­ning streak.

They made a celebrity out of him.

Now, 15 years re­moved from his moment of glory, Scott Hat­te­berg finds him­self mes­mer­ized by the Cleve­land In­di­ans, whose tale may not make the silver screen, but has nonethe­less mes­mer­ized ev­ery­one in the base­ball strato­sphere.

The In­di­ans en­tered Mon­day night on a 19-game win­ning streak - the sec­ond-long­est in 63 years - and just one vic­tory shy of the Amer­i­can League record set by Hat­te­berg’s Oak­land Ath­let­ics’ team in 2002. If they can win 21 in a row, they’ll tie the ma­jor­league record for con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries set by the 1935 Chicago Cubs. The 1916 New York Gi­ants ac­tu­ally played the most games with­out a loss, 26, but there was a tie.

It was Hat­te­berg who hit the walk-off home run to en­sure the A’s 20th straight win, a soar­ing drive im­mor­tal­ized in lengthy book and movie se­quences in Money­ball.

He says he can hardly be­lieve what he’s see­ing, but the more he sees, the more he be­lieves.

Logic tells him this streak will come to an end, but his senses tells him it will keep go­ing.

His mind tells him he should be root­ing for the In­di­ans to lose, but his heart wants them to win.

So he plops down on the couch in his Seat­tle-area home, and like ev­ery­one else, is en­joy­ing the ride, ready for the se­quel.

“It’s tough to bet against them not break­ing it, isn’t it?’’ Hat­te­berg told USA TO­DAY Sports. “Hon­estly, they’re a fun to team to watch. You look at the way they’re swing­ing it. You look at the ro­ta­tion.

“There’s noth­ing fluky about this streak.’’

In­deed, the In­di­ans have pum­meled the op­po­si­tion by 100 runs in this streak, 132-32. They played 171 in­nings, and trailed in only four of them. They have pro­duced six shutouts, with a ma­jor­league lead­ing 1.68 ERA, and a ma­jor-league lead­ing .951 OPS with 90 ex­tra-base hits and 37 homers.

Yes, they have ac­tu­ally hit five more homers than the to­tal num­ber of runs their pitch­ing staff has given up.

“I’ve got to tell you, if any team is go­ing to do it,’’ says Hat­te­berg, now a spe­cial as­sis­tant with the A’s, “this is the team you want to see do it. They are re­ally, re­ally, tough to beat now.’’

It was 15 years and a week ago that Hat­te­berg hit the most dra­matic home run of his life, put­ting the A’s in the record book, and pro­vid­ing a chap­ter to Michael Lewis’ best-sell­ing Money­ball that was stranger than fic­tion.

“This has been such a fun team to watch,’’ Hat­te­berg says. “I mean, they’ve al­ways been a fun team to watch, and I didn’t re­ally pay at­ten­tion un­til their streak got to 15. You started look­ing at their lineup. Started look­ing at their ro­ta­tion.

“And you’re think­ing, “Man, this is a team that can re­ally do it.’

“What they’re do­ing now brings back so many good mem­o­ries. I can to­tally re­late to how they’re feel­ing.’’

Hat­te­berg was a pro­tag­o­nist of Money­ball, an un­her­alded, oft-in­jured for­mer catcher whose un­der­val­ued skills epit­o­mized the A’s an­a­lyt­i­cal ap­proach, one that would con­sume base­ball all the more af­ter the book be­came a best-seller.

His home run pro­vided a dra­matic hook in a tome that was more busi­ness than base­ball.

It broke the Amer­i­can League record for con­sec­u­tive wins, and the se­quence ul­ti­mately made great cinema, too.

By the time Brad Pitt was play­ing GM BIlly Beane in the 2013 movie, the rev­o­lu­tion Beane waged within it had long been over.

“It was the great­est moment of my ca­reer, top of the heap,’’ Hat­te­berg says, “I can’t imag­ine any­thing even com­ing close.’’

Hat­te­berg, for vir­tu­ally the en­tire game, didn’t even think he was go­ing to set foot on the field that night. He wasn’t in the start­ing lineup. The A’s had an 11-0 lead over the Kansas City Roy­als. Tim Hud­son was on the mound. Ev­ery­one was get­ting ready to party.

The score be­came 11-5 in the fourth in­ning. It was 11-10 in the eighth in­ning. And tied, 11-apiece, go­ing into the bot­tom of the ninth, as a crowd of 55,528 looked on in dis­be­lief.

“I just thought we were go­ing to cruise and cel­e­brate,’’ Hat­te­berg said.

“There was just this over­whelm­ing con­fi­dence that night. Even in the clos­est games, we thought we were go­ing to win. I thought noth­ing was go­ing to stop us.

“Then, that hap­pened.’’ Hat­te­berg, with one out in the ninth in­ning, was called to pinch­hit for Eric Byrnes. He took an inside pitch for Ball 1 off Roy­als re­liever Jason Grim­s­ley, and then watched him throw a 96-mph fast­ball. He waited for it to sink. It hung. Hat­te­berg swung, and watched the ball soar into the right cen­ter-field seats. His­tory.

“Crazy, just plain crazy. How do you ex­plain it?’’ - A’s Hall of Fame broad­caster Bill King.

Hat­te­berg pumped his right fist into the air as he rounded first base, did a few wind­mills with his arm on the way to sec­ond, and by the time he reached home plate, the en­tire A’s team was wait­ing for him, jump­ing into one an­other’s arms.

“I’ll never, ever for­get it,’’ said Hat­te­berg, who had 106 ca­reer homers. “How could I? Ac­tu­ally, I need to see that again. It’s been awhile.’’

And the movie, Money­ball, in which he was por­trayed by ac­tor Chris Pratt?

“I’ve been forced to sit through that enough times,’’ he said, laugh­ing. “I’ve seen it enough.’’

Who knows if Hol­ly­wood has any de­signs of pro­duc­ing a movie about the In­di­ans’ win­ning streak, or whether Char­lie Sheen can be brought back for a se­quel to Ma­jor League, but the sim­i­lar­i­ties are eerie, Hat­te­berg says.

The Oak­land A’s streak, just like the In­di­ans’, came out of nowhere.

It started on Aug. 13, trail­ing the Seat­tle Mariners by 41⁄2 games in the AL West.

They won two games against the Toronto Blue Jays at home, swept the Chicago White Sox, and then went onto a three-city, 10game trip.

They won ev­ery game, and re­turned home with a 15-game win­ning streak.

Not un­like the In­di­ans’ fran­chise-best 11-0 road trip that pro­vided the foun­da­tion for their cur­rent streak.

“I didn’t equate it to any his­tor­i­cal thing,’’ Hat­te­berg said.

“I just knew that we had swept a 10-game trip, and that’s some­thing I’d never been part of be­fore. Peo­ple started show­ing up in the stands with num­bers on how many games we had won in a row. I didn’t even know we re­ally had a streak un­til about 15 games in.’’

The Ath­let­ics, just like the In­di­ans are do­ing now, suf­fo­cated teams with their pitch­ing, with their starters win­ning 15 games, in­clud­ing the first 11 games of the streak. They just weren’t as dom­i­nant as the In­di­ans, yield­ing a 2.65 ERA, outscor­ing the op­po­si­tion by 76 runs, need­ing to win their last three games on walk-off hits.

“What I re­mem­ber the most,’’ Hat­te­berg said, “was the pregame speech David Justice gave be­fore ev­ery game. It started on our 10-game road trip. I re­mem­ber him say­ing, “You can’t sweep the road trip. You can’t sweep the road trip un­less we win tonight.’

“Well, you know how su­per­sti­tions are in base­ball. So he said that ev­ery sin­gle night. It was some­thing we ac­tu­ally waited on be­fore start­ing ev­ery game.

“We win our 20th at home, hit the road in Min­nesota, and son of a gun if he didn’t call an­other meet­ing. Well, in­stead of say­ing the same thing, he starts talk­ing about the streak and how proud he is of us.

“It was the first time dur­ing the streak that he men­tioned the streak, so you can guess what hap­pened.’’

Yep, the streak died on Sept. 6, 2002, at the old Metrodome with the Twins win­ning, 6-0.

“Come on, he should have known bet­ter,’’ Hat­te­berg said, laugh­ing.

“You can’t talk about the streak when we haven’t done it the en­tire time.’’

Cleve­land man­ager Terry Fran­cona, who was on the Ath­let­ics’ coach­ing staff the fol­low­ing sea­son, plucked a page out of that su­per­sti­tion hand­book by barely men­tion­ing the streak dur­ing this en­tire run. He has kept his an­swers con­sis­tent, me­thod­i­cal, and bor­ing.

“I just don’t feel like go­ing there,’’ Fran­cona said af­ter Cleve­land’s 11-0 vic­tory Mon­day over the Detroit Tigers. “I think it sends the wrong mes­sage. I think our mes­sage is al­ways con­sis­tent, “Hey, show up and try to out­play them to­day.’’

Yep, talk­ing like a man who must have re­ceived a lit­tle in­tel from his days in Oak­land, mak­ing sure not to of­fend the base­ball gods.

“Tito is the per­fect leader for that team,’’ Hat­te­berg says, “to nav­i­gate th­ese waters. He’s calm­ing. He has those guys loose and hav­ing fun. He’s the right guy.

“So come on, how can you not root for those guys? We had our day. Now, it’s their turn.

“I can’t wait to watch them do it.’’

2002 PHOTO BY BEN MARGOT, AP

Scott Hat­te­berg hit the homer that capped the A’s record win.

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