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Oakland stars hope for healthy 2004

4/7/2004

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Any lingering questions surrounding the
health of two Oakland stars might have been answered in just more
than two hours.

Jermaine Dye hit a towering two-run homer and Mark Mulder looked
like his old self on the mound in leading the Athletics to a 3-1
victory over the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night.

Both players are determined to have strong seasons after
fighting injuries in 2003.

"That was the first time I felt completely normal since July,"
a relieved Mulder said. "It's good to go out and just make your
pitches and not have anything bothering you."

There's no longer anything bothering A's rookie Bobby Crosby,
either.

He got his first major league hit in the fifth inning, when he
lined a single to left past the outstretched glove of shortstop
Michael Young.

Crosby, 0-for-16 dating to September, punched his right
fist into his left hand in a subtle display of satisfaction. The
ball was retrieved by third-base coach Ron Washington for Crosby to
take home later.

"I was excited. But it's a base hit -- nothing to do anything
crazy about," he said. "It's a single. Hopefully there are many
more to come."

Oakland beat the Rangers for the ninth straight time to match
its longest winning streak against Texas, which the A's also
accomplished from July 28, 2002, to April 9, 2003.

Eric Young had two hits for the Rangers, but they got only one
hit from their top five batters. New A's closer Arthur Rhodes
pitched a perfect ninth for his second consecutive save, finishing
a game that took just 2 hours, 5 minutes.

"One run and five hits in nine innings makes the game go pretty
quickly," Rangers third baseman Hank Blalock said.

Mulder, who missed the final seven weeks of the 2003 season with
a stress fracture in his right leg, got through the first inning in
two minutes and the second in five. He retired the side in the
seventh on three groundouts, throwing just six pitches. He pitched
seven strong innings, allowing one run and five hits while striking
out four.

Mulder, 26, had been one of the brightest spots in
Oakland's awesome rotation before getting hurt last season, and he was
even considered a contender for the AL Cy Young award. He tied with
Roy Halladay and Bartolo Colon for the major league lead with nine
complete games despite making only 26 starts. He went 15-9 with a
3.13 ERA.

He threw 92 pitches, 61 for strikes, Tuesday.

"He was well on his way to having a great year last year,"
manager Ken Macha said. "For him to have the ability to throw a
complete game right around 100 pitches, that saves the bullpen.
He's like a stopper, a bullpen saver, a whole lot of stuff. He
means a lot of things."

So does Dye.

He hit .172 with four homers and 20 RBI last season while battling two injuries, but had a team-leading 20 RBI this spring -- and the A's have high hopes for him this year.

Texas starter Chan Ho Park, another player coming back from
injury, looked good through five innings -- striking out six -- then
gave up a one-out triple in the sixth to Bobby Kielty, who scored
on Eric Chavez's RBI single. Dye then connected on a 2-0 pitch, a
high fastball.

All four of Dye's hits against Park have been homers.

"I had the best command I've had in the last couple years,"
Park said. "I tried everything during spring training, but tonight
I made good pitches, but we lost. This is the first step. I need to
focus on my pitching in the next game. Every time I pitch, I feel
better and better and I want to pitch more. ... I don't remember
when I did this well. It physically helps to be healthy. Then you
don't have to worry about pitching."

Park went 0-1 with a 6.45 ERA in five exhibition starts this
spring and left his outing Thursday night against the Giants
in San Francisco with tightness in his right hip. He didn't seem
bothered in this start, finishing with eight strikeouts in 7 2/3
innings and allowing three runs on seven hits.

"Without a doubt, he was the reason we stayed in this game,"
manager Buck Showalter said. "He never panicked. You could see a
certain calmness when he pitched. Everyone in this clubhouse that's
been through adversity is pulling for Chan Ho. Everything is in his
control."

Texas' Ramon Nivar, recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma on Saturday,
singled and drove in the Rangers' only run on a fielder's choice in
the fifth.

Game notes
New A's catcher Damian Miller threw out runners trying to
steal in the second and third innings. ... Texas 2B Alfonso Soriano
had a fielding error for the second straight game. ... Park didn't
face the A's in 2003. He is 1-5 in eight career starts against
Oakland. He went 0-3 vs. the A's in 2002. ... The Rangers last beat
the A's June 25 in Oakland. The A's won the 2003 season series
15-4. ... The A's drew only 13,217 after 45,122 showed up Monday
for Opening Day.