10/02/2003 9:37 PM ET
Byrnes picks good time to get hot
Outfielder raps key double in big second inning
OAKLAND -- Eric Byrnes was batting ninth for the Oakland A's on Thursday, which is as low as you can get other than on the bench. That's where he was when Wednesday night's game started.
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
But the fact that Byrnes delivered a critical two-run double underscored the team concept that the A's have ridden into the postseason.
"A different guy every night does something big," said Byrnes, who also singled in four at-bats. "It's more a team game. (Eric) Chavez and (Miguel) Tejada carry the offense. But we've got other guys who can do some things and win ballgames. There's always somebody new stepping up. Am I surprised those guys are 1-for-20? Yeah. Am I surprised we're up 2-0? No."
In the first half of the season, the bats of Chavez and Tejada failed to match expectations, and an injury to Jermaine Dye cleared playing time for Byrnes, whose offensive contributions compensated for the slumping left side of the infield. Three months into the season Byrnes was batting .335, fifth-highest in the league.
But the 27-year-old outfielder did a crash-and-burn once July rolled around. During a 20-game stretch, he hit .095, becoming only the fourth Major Leaguer to hit below .100 in a month with a minimum of 75 at-bats. He hit .299 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs before the All-Star break, and .168-1-9 after.
He wound up on the bench and found his way back into the lineup for most of September only because Chris Singleton was injured.
Byrnes watched most of Game 1, but as a pinch-runner scored the tying run in the bottom of the ninth on Erubiel Durazo's clutch single, then struck out against Derek Lowe in the 11th inning.
With Singleton only 2-for-17 with six strikeouts lifetime against knuckleball pitcher Tim Wakefield, Oakland manager Ken Macha gave the Game 2 start to Byrnes, who was 1-for-4 with two strikeouts in his limited exposure to Wakefield.
Sure enough, even down in the nine-hole, the game situation found Byrnes. With one run in and two on in the second, he pulled a drive to left field.
"I got it pretty good, but it was really at the point of the end of my extension and didn't really have everything into it," said Byrnes. "I wasn't sure if it would get over his head, but I was hoping. I was lucky I got just enough to get it over his head."
That head belonged to Boston left fielder Manny Ramirez, who momentarily hesitated at contact, then appeared to realize the ball would carry, so he turned and tried to catch up to it. Without his shades flipped down, Ramirez looked back into the partly-sunny skies and failed the catch the ball. It landed on the warning track, then Ramirez fumbled the ball as both runners scored. Byrnes eventually came around when second baseman Todd Walker threw away Chavez's grounder.
So the A's had to battle to win Game 1 and pretty much had Game 2 handed to them. But they have a bitter memory of the 2001 American League Division Series loss to the Yankees as proof that winning the first two games of the best-of-five series is no guarantee of winning any more.
"You learn from your successes and failures," said Byrnes, who has had a lot of both this year. "We learned from 2001. We understand what can happen. Boston has unbelievable hitters. We can't take this for granted."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This article was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.