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Nightengale: ‘Moneyball’ Hero Captivated by Indians Win Streak

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Third base coach Ron Washington congratulates Scott Hatteberg after his game-winning homer in the ninth inning to beat the Kansas City Royals 12-11, on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2002 in Oakland, Calif. The A's broke the American League record with their 20th consecutive win. Photo: Nick Lammers/Bay Area News Group

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 major-league 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 major-league 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 pinch-hit 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.’’

Actor Chris Pratt, left, played baseball player Scott Hatteberg, right, in the movie “Moneyball.” Photo: ESPN

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 4 ½ 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, 10-game 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 pre-game 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.’’

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook

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