09/11/2002 9:51 pm ET
MLBeat: 'Role players' big for A's
By Mychael Urban / MLB.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When most people hear the phrase "role player," they assume you're talking about a seldom-used reserve, and in some cases that's true.
John Mabry, Olmedo Saenz and Eric Byrnes, for example. They might be on the bench for games at a time, and they fit the traditional meaning of the term "role player" for the A's.
But they aren't the only players who play roles. Every player on the Oakland roster has a clearly defined role, and that they understand those roles has been key to the A's success. Heading into Wednesday's game against the Angels, Oakland needs only to go 9-9 the rest of the way to win 100 games.
"I think everyone here knows what their job is, and that's half the battle," says manager Art Howe, "Some teams either don't have their roles laid out or the players aren't willing to accept the role they've been handed. We don't have that here."
The most clearly defined roles are in Oakland's bullpen, which through Tuesday had compiled a 2.37 ERA over the previous 34 games, and nobody's role is more set in stone than that of closer Billy Koch. He's the guy who slams the door, and on Monday he added to his ongoing career high with his 39th save of the season.
But there's more to the A's 81-0 record when leading after the eighth inning than Koch. Right-handers Chad Bradford and Jim Mecir have been reliable in setup roles for much of the season, and Bradford has been a particularly pleasant surprise. A sidearm specialist, he posted a 1.42 ERA in his first 47 outings of the season.
Lefty Ricardo Rincon, picked up just prior to the trading deadline in July, has been impressive in a set-up role as well; he's allowed four earned runs in 19 appearances with Oakland.
"Those guys don't get much credit," says Koch, "but they deserve a lot."
As does Randy Velarde, despite his limited playing time. A quiet veteran of 16 seasons whose physique looks as if it were chiseled from granite, he can play every infield position and gets kudos from throughout the clubhouse for his unmatched work ethic and professionalism.
"Randy's an inspiring guy," says third baseman Eric Chavez. "I mean, look at the guy. There's nobody who works as hard as Randy in here, and he prepares like he's a starter. That's impressive."
Velarde is the only player on the Oakland roster with more big-league service time than David Justice, and it is Justice who might be the ultimate example of someone for whom the traditional meaning of "role player" needs expansion.
He's an everyday player who plays one of the most important roles on the team: leader. Few players in the clubhouse are more liked or revered.
"DJ means so much to this team," says center fielder Terrence Long. "He's a winner, he's a teacher, and he's kind of like a big brother. No matter what you need, you can go to DJ and he's there for you."
General manager Billy Beane says that's exactly why he picked up Justice in an offseason trade.
"David has given us everything we hoped to get," Beane offers. "He has all of the intangibles that a team like our needs, and we're seeing them all as the season progresses."
And if the season progresses into the playoffs, Howe says, it will be in large part because everyone has thrived in their respective roles.
"That's the key to any team in sports," he explains. "Every person has a job, and when everyone embraces what that job is, that's when you're on your way to success."
Fantasy Edge: Ray Durham has cooled off since the A's hit the road last Thursday. Through the first five games of this seven-game road trip, Durham was batting .111 (2-for-18).
Mychael Urban covers the Oakland A's for MLB.com and can be reached at email@example.com. This report was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.