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A's look to take the next step
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09/28/2003  1:05 PM ET 
A's look to take the next step
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It was a very successful regular season for rookie manager Ken Macha. (Paul Sakuma/AP)
OAKLAND -- There's not a legendary curse that haunts the A's.

There is, however, some not-so-successful recent postseason history residing in the East Bay.

It's not 85 years long and it's not Bambino-esque, but with its 3-2 loss in the ALDS to Minnesota in last season's first round, Oakland enters the 2003 ALDS losers of three straight first round series.

No other team has ever lost three straight in the first round and made it back for a fourth chance. To get a little deeper into October this time and make a different kind of history this season isn't brain surgery, according to manager Ken Macha.

"If we don't go out and play the best baseball, we're not going to win the series," he said. "We've got to have good solid defense and good starting pitching. We've got to play the game the way we've been playing it in the second half.

"If we do that, we'll be all right," he said.

The A's have been oh-so-close -- up 2-1 last season against the Twins, up 2-0 in 2001 and heading home against the Yankees and tied at 2 in 2000 with a fifth and deciding game in Oakland -- but the common denominator in those three failures to advance according to Macha, has been the failure to execute when the time came.

Macha chose a play most A's fans hate to remember in illustrating his point.

"We had the Yankees down 2-0, and everybody wrote about the fact that we didn't slide," he said, referring to the famous Derek Jeter relay that stopped Jeremy Giambi at the plate in 2001. "You know what? Really we got into Game 5 and we had a 2-0 lead, and we started throwing the ball around all over the place. We didn't play good baseball that game."

  Network Associates Coliseum
Seating Chart
Ground Rules
Ballpark A-to-Z Guide

It's not the prettiest park in the big leagues and it doesn't have crazy dimensions or quirks, but for the Oakland A's, Network Associates Coliseum has provided a significant home-field advantage. The A's finished 57-24 at home in 2003, the best mark in the American League. Oakland's success at home hasn't been limited to this season. Since 1999, the A's lead the Majors in home wins.

Weather can play a big factor in the way The Net plays. The Bay Area is known for its microclimates. Temperatures can change 30 degrees in a matter of miles, so can this stadium's friendliness for pitchers. For night games, when the fog rolls in, balls that will go out of the yard during sunny days get knocked down to fly outs.

The Net also can help pitchers with the huge amount of foul ground -- biggest in the Majors. Oakland's fans are a boisterous, if not always large bunch.

It's likely with the number of transplanted East Coasters in Northern California that the Red Sox will have their fair share of support in what will make for a lively atmosphere.
Added Game 1 starter Tim Hudson: "I just think we need to play better baseball all around and not make all the little mistakes that hurt us.

"It's kind of been our Achilles heel in the past. Teams that have played the best baseball have won the series," he said. "Last year, Minnesota played better baseball than us. Two years ago, New York did. We just need to be fundamentally sound, go out and make pitches and not make mistakes. I think our experience in the playoffs is going to help us in that regard."

The 0-for-October has also been a matter of chance. Although he's been disappointed by the fact that Oakland hasn't advanced during his tenure, general manager Billy Beane said the A's can not change who they are once October comes around.

"We've got right now the 25th payroll in the league. The one thing I've always taken time to do, and this is the fourth year in a row, is to enjoy the playoffs. I like our chances just as much this year as I liked them in the past. I understand that there's a certain amount of random chance that comes into play in the playoffs. ... Hopefully, we'll go a couple more steps."

With a bunch of guys who were nearly to a man playoff rookies in 2000 but now some of the most seasoned postseason vets in baseball, there's optimism this is the year for those steps.

    Mark Mulder   /   P
Height: 6'6"
Weight: 200
Bats/Throws: L/L

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That seasoning has come from those three losses and a 2003 in which the A's have had to deal with some big slumps offensively and the loss of ace left-hander Mark Mulder down the stretch.

"This is the most adversity we've faced," Beane said. "It's good. I think facing it in our fourth year in a row going to the playoffs, we've managed to handle it better than if this had happened in the first or second year."

Mulder's injury -- which could have devastated a young ballclub -- instead pulled the 2003 A's together. Oakland was four games behind Seattle the day their ace lefty limped off the mound at Fenway Park, but won two out of three games down the stretch to take the AL West crown.

The spark to that run ironically started in Boston -- a local they'll have to get through to take the next step.

The A's took two of three at Fenway in their only Boston appearance in August and only played the Red Sox seven times this season, but that won't leave Oakland's rookie manager without much knowledge about his opponent.

Macha managed in the Red Sox system from 1995-1998 and guided much of the current Boston nucleus -- guys like Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon -- on their way up through Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Pawtucket.

That's going to make Macha's first playoff experience as a manager a little more special.

"They play the game right and treat it with respect," he said. "But we're going to try to beat their [butt].

"I'll be yelling "Noonan" when they're at-bat," he laughed.

Kent Schacht is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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