Oakland Athletics Pitchers Finished What They Started in 1981
Oakland Athletics fans are well aware of “The Streak”, in which the 2002 team rattled off 20 consecutive victories – the underlying plot for the feature film “Moneyball.” But there is another streak in Oakland Athletics lore where the team jumped off to an amazing start to the season. It was a glorious, record-setting April, launching a memorable season in A’s history.
Only two years removed from a disastrous 54-108 finish, “Billy Ball” began the 1981 season for the Oakland A’s with a record-breaking 11 consecutive wins from April 9th to April 19th – beating the Twins, Angels and Mariners, with the first eight victories of the stretch on the road.
Armed with a starting rotation consisting of Rick Langford, Matt Keough, Steve McCatty, Mike Norris, and Brian Kingman, dubbed the “The Five Aces,” the A’s received national attention during the scorching start, including a memorable Sports Illustrated cover on the April 27, 1981 edition.
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Of those 11-straight victories, nine were complete games. This was due mainly to manager Billy Martin, who expected his starters to throw a complete game, pitch counts be damned. Catchers Jeff Newman and Mike Heath handled a pitching staff that saw few bullpen appearances.
In the A’s first 10 wins of the season, right fielder Tony Armas homered six times on his way the 1981 AL home run crown. The squad followed its first loss of the season, a tough 3-2 defeat by the Seattle Mariners, with six more victories. Their 17-1 start remains unmatched.
These were also the A’s of slow-footed Wayne Gross stealing home, thanks to Martin’s strategy of a runner on first “drifting off” to catch a pick-off throw. Opposing pitchers and catchers couldn’t resist the bait, invariably throwing to first in an attempt to nab the fallen runner. And as soon as the ball began sailing toward the bag, the runner at third took off and scored easily.
The A’s finished April at 19-3. Norris posted a 5-0 record, Armas led the league in home runs with a .337 batting average, and Rickey Henderson had already collected 17 steals. In May, unfortunately the A’s cooled their jets – going only 13-17, which included a 1-9 East Coast road trip.
So how did the season end for the ’81 Athletics? Be sure to read about the entire 1981 season in this earlier post: The Forgotten Champion – The 1981 A’s.