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Surprise battery strong for A's
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10/05/2003  6:52 PM ET 
Surprise battery strong for A's
Sparks, Melhuse contribute to Oakland's Game 4 effort
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Steve Sparks went four innings in Game 4, allowing two runs on two hits. (Charles Krupa/AP)
BOSTON -- Steve Sparks was sitting in the visitors bullpen at Fenway Park on Sunday afternoon, minding in own business. Then the phone rang.

And Sparks flew.

A strained left oblique knocked Athletics starter Tim Hudson out of Game 4 of the American League Division Series in the second inning and simultaneously introduced Sparks to the playoffs.

"Sometimes it's good to go out there without thinking about it," Sparks, a right-handed knuckleballer, said after pitching four quality innings in what became a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox. "Go in there with a mentality of making good pitches and not trying to do too much."

He inherited a one-run lead, but gave that up -- plus one -- when Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon lined a one-out, two-run home run to right field in the third inning.

Sparks recovered and held the potent Red Sox offense to only two more baserunners through five innings and stood to be the winning pitcher when Oakland scored three runs in the sixth to take a 4-2 lead.

"I felt fine for not having pitched in a couple of weeks," Sparks said. "Surprisingly good, actually, except for a couple of times when I got kind of in-between speeds throwing my knuckleball."

One of those times came against Damon.

The other half of the Oakland battery, catcher Adam Melhuse, also got a surprising call for Game 4.

The original Oakland lineup listed Ramon Hernandez as the catcher. But he was experiencing lower back problems during batting practice and was scratched from the lineup.

Melhuse, who batted .299 in 40 games with the Athletics this season, went 3-for-4, drove in a run and scored one. He singled in the second and fourth innings, tripled home Scott Hatteberg in the sixth, and scored on Jermaine Dye's two-run homer.

"We didn't win, so it couldn't have been that great," Melhuse said. "I'd rather have taken an 0-for-4 with a win. I'd take that any day."

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.





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