A's assure past won't affect current run
Zito, Chavez only holdovers from all four ALDS shortcomings
In the days before the A's open their first-round playoff series, much will be made of the fact that they've been unable to advance past the first round in each of their past four postseason appearances.
Nine times from 2000-2003, the A's went into playoff games needing a single victory to move on to the American League Championship Series, and nine times they lost.
Such history, it will surely be suggested, has to weigh on Oakland's collective mind.
Suggest that to the A's themselves, however, and they scoff. Mainly because of the 25 players who will suit up for the AL Division Series, only two of them -- Game 1 starter Barry Zito and third baseman Eric Chavez -- were with the team for all four ALDS shortcomings.
"If it were on anyone's mind at all, it'd be me and Chavvy," Zito said. "And I can assure you that it isn't on my mind. We're talking about three, four, five and six years ago. That's a long time, and players grow and change in less time than that.
Added Chavez: "That's probably an easy angle to take, and understandable I guess, saying that it's in our heads, but I totally disagree. This is a completely different team, and with the exception of me and Barry, pretty much all of our top players weren't a part of any of those losses."
Of the players expected to start or see significant time in the postseason, only a few of them were around for any of the losses. Second baseman Mark Ellis was part of the 2002 and 2003 teams, and righty starter Rich Harden was a rookie when the A's were unable to hold a two-game lead against the Red Sox in 2003.
Backup catcher Adam Melhuse is the only other current Athletic who has been with the team since 2003; righty reliever Justin Duchscherer was a September callup in 2003 and was not on the playoff roster.
"Eric and Barry are among the leaders on this team, but the other leaders are all guys who didn't experience any of that," said manager Ken Macha, who, along with Ron Washington and Brad Fischer, are the only members of the coaching staff who have been with the team since 2000.
The other leaders are designated hitter Frank Thomas, center fielder Mark Kotsay and catcher Jason Kendall, and Kotsay and Kendall have never even been to the postseason.
"It'll be like a blank canvas for me and Kots," Kendall said. "We don't even have a playoff history, much less a bad one."
Thomas, whose 17 years of experience makes him the clubhouse sage, said he wouldn't put much stock in any monkey-on-the-back theories, even if the bulk of the roster had been around for the playoff disappointments.
"That's just something for people to talk about," Thomas explained. "What happens one year has nothing to do with what happened the year before, and it has nothing to do with what's going to happen in the future. Even when you have the same team, every team is different in some way every year.
"Look at the White Sox. We won the World Series last year, and most of that team was back this year and they missed the playoffs. Everything changes from year to year."
Another theory you might be hearing about the A's heading into the ALDS is that their perceived offensive philosophy -- work the count, look for walks, don't give away outs and play for the big inning -- isn't conducive to winning in October.
McAfee Coliseum will have a different look to it, compared to the last time the A's made the playoffs in 2003.
The tarps that covered the upper deck at the start of 2006 will remain over the seats for the playoffs. The capacity for a football game at the Coliseum is 63,034, but the most the A's will play in front of will be 34,077, with the possibility of another 1,000 for standing room only.
The Coliseum is known for being a pitcher's ballpark at night, but the ball carries more during the day. Homers need as much as 400 feet to straight-away center field, and as few as 330 feet to the left-field and right-field lines. Homers to left or right field usually need some height because the out-of-town scoreboards and high walls get up to 15 feet in the alleys.
The Coliseum is known for having a ton of foul territory that can make for some easy popouts. There are 75 feet between first and third base to the middle of the dugouts, and 100 feet to the bullpen mounds.
The noise factors at Oakland include the drum beaters in the left-field bleachers and a banjo player that roams through the upper deck with an A's cape chanting, "We're No. 1." The stadium has a lot of open area, but it can still get loud. Many fans in the left-field and right-field bleachers also wave Oakland flags throughout the game.
The A's ranked 26th in attendance in the regular season, averaging 24,402 fans -- the lowest among playoff teams. Each postseason contest is expected to be close to a sellout at the Coliseum.
"I think there's something to that," said the scout of an AL playoff team. "They don't play a lot of small ball, and you have to be able to scratch out runs any way you can in the playoffs. ... What they do works fine in the regular season, when you're facing fourth and fifth starters about 40 percent of the time. Those guys are fours and fives for a reason; they don't throw as many strikes, and they give up the big innings.
"But most of them are not going to be pitching in the playoffs. That's when you see ones and twos and threes, guys with good command who don't give up a lot of long balls. If you can't manufacture runs, you're in trouble against those guys. And because the A's don't really try to manufacture a lot of runs in the regular season, they can't expect to just flip a switch in the playoffs and try to do it."
Macha bristled at the suggestion.
"If you've paid attention to us this year, you know we're not that same station-to-station team we've been known to be in the past," Macha said. "We don't steal a lot of bases, but we've stolen more than twice as many this year than we did last year, and several guys have the green light. We've put on quite a few hit-and-runs this year, too, and we've got several guys who handle the bat well enough that I'm comfortable doing that.
"We've basically had two big home run guys, Thomas and [Nick] Swisher, so don't tell me we can't scratch out some runs. In fact, I think we've done very well in that area at times."
Washington insisted that not playing small ball had nothing to do with the playoff losses.
"We scored enough runs to win those series," he said. "What killed us was doing stupid things. Things like not sliding. Not going back and touching home plate after a collision. Not running all the way home."
Those references were to the infamous Jeremy Giambi/Derek Jeter play in 2001, and baserunning blunders by Eric Byrnes and Miguel Tejada in 2003.
"But that's ancient history," Washington said. "We've got a whole new team with a lot of smart, experienced veterans. It's time to create some new history."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.