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World Series 2001
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10/09/2001 09:25 PM ET
Young A's have last year to draw from
By John Schlegel
MLB.com
OAKLAND, Calif. -- The playoff experience in the Oakland A's clubhouse might not be extensive, but at least it's fresh.

It'll be a bit of dj vu for many of their players when they kick off their American League Division Series with the Yankees on Wednesday. Actually, they hope it's a brand new experience with a new ending.

When the A's and Yankees met in the 2000 ALDS, the upstart A's took the World Champions to five games before New York advanced and went on to its third straight World Series conquest.

The core of that 2000 Oakland team is back again this year, ready for another run at the Yankees -- and, they hope, more.

"We won't be overwhelmed, that's for sure," A's Manager Art Howe said. "Most of the guys have been through this before, and I'm sure they'll be talking to the guys who haven't."

There's an important distinction between last year's A's and this year's: Another year of regular-season experience.

But that one year of experience -- considering the A's roster is so young -- makes a world of difference.

"It's been exciting to watch," first baseman and MVP candidate Jason Giambi said. "It's exciting to be a part of, to see how these young kids grow up and develop into the players they've turned into."

Come Wednesday, they'll find out if a year of regular-season experience translates to being ready for another postseason date with the most experienced postseason team there is, the Yankees.

Giambi, one of the few guys on the team in their 30s, is the unquestioned leader of the A's. But when it comes to postseason experience, Giambi is just as inexperienced as the next guy in the A's clubhouse.

One series. Five games and out against the Yankees last year.

Core players like starting pitchers Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, as well as third baseman Eric Chavez, shortstop Miguel Tejada, outfielder Terrance Long and catcher Ramon Hernandez all also made their postseason debuts last year.

Oakland's 2000 playoff experience had some great moments, but it didn't have a pretty ending.

The A's won Game 1 at home but lost the next two, putting their backs to the wall at Yankee Stadium for Game 4. The A's roared to an 11-1 victory in that one, jumping out to the lead when DH Olmedo Saenz ripped a three-run homer off Roger Clemens in the first inning. Zito pitched 5 2/3 sharp innings in his postseason debut to get the win and help send the series back to Oakland for a decisive fifth game.

The two teams made the cross-country trip to Oakland, arriving around 4 a.m. -- or about 13 hours before game time. Much to the dismay of the packed house at Network Associates Coliseum, Game 5 was practically over before it began, as the Yankees knocked No. 4 starter Gil Heredia around for six earned runs while he recorded only one out in the first inning. The A's rallied but the Yankees held on for a 7-5 win.

Actually, not all the core players from the 2001 A's team were able to soak in last year's playoff experience.

This year's ALDS Game 1 starter Mark Mulder was on the 2000 squad but didn't make the postseason roster after seeing his season cut short in mid-September with a back injury.

"It was very difficult to watch because I knew that regardless, I had nothing to do with any of it," said Mulder, who elevated himself into Cy Young candidacy in 2001 by going 21-8 with a 3.45 ERA and four shutouts. "I was there, I was watching it, but you want to be a part of a situation like that."

This year, he will be, right from the very start.

Another key A's player who hasn't played in the postseason at all is leadoff man Johnny Damon, who spent the first six years of his career with Kansas City.

Even though he fits right in with the young crowd, Jermaine Dye -- the right fielder whose acquisition sparked the A's remarkable finish to the 2001 season -- has a little more experience than most. He was in the starting lineup as a rookie for the 1996 Atlanta Braves, going 8-for-47 during their run to the World Series, where they lost to the Yankees in six games.

"Experience helps a lot," said Dye, who was teammates with Damon in Kansas City the last four years. "I've talked with Johnny about it a little bit, explaining things like the extra media and everything that goes on off the field, but Johnny's Johnny. He's pretty much at ease with everything, so I think he'll be fine."

This year, the A's acquired a couple of players with more extensive playoff backgrounds -- outfielder Ron Gant with his five entries into the postseason (three with Atlanta, one with Cincinnati and one with St. Louis) and catcher Greg Myers with his three (with Toronto, San Diego and Atlanta). But both those men are role players.

The A's hope this is the third dynasty of postseason prowess in the club's 34 seasons in Oakland.

Since the 1968 season, the franchise has won 11 American League West division crowns and now a Wild Card berth. The A's have gone on to win six American League pennants and four World Championships. Only the Atlanta Braves have more (one more) division championships since '68, and only the Yankees have won more World Championships (six) and league championships (eight) since then.

Shortly after arriving in Oakland, the A's went on a run of three consecutive World Championships in 1972-74, behind stars like Reggie Jackson, Joe Rudi, Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter.

After some rough times, the A's got back to the playoffs in 1981 with Billy Martin's "Billy Ball" A's, but that was a one-year fling.

Another A's dynasty arose in the late '80s. With Bash Brothers Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco leading the offense and starter Dave Stewart and closer Dennis Eckersley leading the pitching staff, the A's won three straight AL titles in 1888-90, winning the World Series in '89 in four games over the Giants in the Fall Classic interrupted by the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Whether these A's can put together another Oakland dynasty remains to be seen.

They'll certainly have to expand upon their success of last year to do it, which means beating the Yankees in the Division Series this time.

John Schlegel is a regional writer for MLB.com based in the Bay Area.