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The Big Three: Hudson, Zito and Mulder

The Oakland A's of the early 2000's won often, using a unique formula for the time. With very little money in the bank, they were forced to use cheap but valuable players. Whioe much wealthier franchises would use the same formula to even the playing field, that period holds a special place in the city's heart. But what many forget is that the backbone of their success came through the arms of three aces: Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. This is their story.

The Phenom from Chattahoochee

Tim Hudson was on top of the world. Having finished his high school career at Phenix City's Glenwood School with a 12-1 record and an Alabama state title, the class of 1993 phenom took his 1.77 ERA to Chattahoochee Valley Community College where he flourished, striking out 117 and earning first-team All American honors as a freshman.

After being named second-team All-America the following year, he signed with Auburn where the accolades never ceased to rain upon his shoulders. In his senior year of 1997, he became the first to be named All-SEC as both a pitcher and an outfielder while also garnering All-America honors. After that impressive campaign, Tim Hudson was taken in the sixth round of the 1997 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. Two years later, he was called up and posted an impressive 11-2 record. But the rotation was far from finished.

The Ace

It was as if he had been bitten by the showbiz bug before birth. Born to parents that had worked for the famed singer Nat King Cole in Las Vegas, Barry Zito's parents soon learned how gifted their youngest child was on the baseball diamond. Wanting more for Barry, the family moved to San Diego when he was young, hoping that the hotbed of talent would mold him into greatness.

Despite the fact that his father quit his job to help develop his son, Barry needed more. So his parents hired former Cy Young winner and Padres legend Randy Jones to tutor him. By high school, it had become apparent that young Zito would flourish in just about any environment.

Still, he wanted more, transferring from Grossmont High School to the University of San Diego High School for his senior year. Zito played well in his new environment, winning eight and losing four while positng a 2.92 ERA an striking out 105 batters in just 85 innings.

From there, his collegiate career was a whirlwind of adventure. Freshman All-America honors at UCSB was followed by a 2.62 ERA and all-state/all-conference honors at LA Pierce College (JC) as a sophomore to finishing his college career at all-mighty USC with first-team All-America honors and a 12-3 record. By 1999, the A's had seen enough and scooped up the PAC-10 Pitcher of the Year with the ninth overall pick in the MLB Draft. He was called up to the majors one year later.

The Big Three

After the A's lost to the Blue Jays in the 1992 ALCS, the franchise fell into a rut, never seeing a winning season for the rest of the millennium. Along the way, the franchise experienced some major changes, none bigger than the departure of their longtime, World Series winning manager Tony La Russa. In his heyday, the franchise had known nothing but success with trips to the Fall Classic almost a foregone conclusion.

In stepped Art Howe, a Pittsburgh, PA native that had never seemed to join a consistent winner. With the A's strapped for cash, it seemed that his fortunes would continue to lag.

By the turn of the millennium there was a freshness in the air at the Athletic's spring training. That year they welcomed two newcomers: Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. Both were precocious in their own right.

With a glistening college resumé in hand, Barry Zito thought that he would be the start that shined the brightest in the city of Oakland. Similarly, Mulder thought that he And in time he was, but that season, Tim Hudson was the team's ace, winning an American League best 20 games and earning an All-Star Game invitation. But his 4.14 ERA came short against Pedro Martínez's scintillating 1.74 as he lost the Cy Young race to Boston's ace.

Meanwhile, both Zito and Mulder were trying to find their groove in Oakland's rotation with Zito posting a 7-4 record and a 2.72 ERA and Mulder falling short in a 9-11, 5.44 ERA campaign. With so much youth injected into the rotation, the A's surprised many with their first playoff appearance in eight years, losing to the Yankees in the Divisional Series in five games.

The following year was Mark Mulder's turn to shine, leading the league with 21 wins (compared to Hudson's 18 and Zito's 17) and coming in second in the Cy Young race as the A's again lost to the Yankees in the Divisional Series.

The Streak

The A's threesome had been banging on the door over the past couple of year and had always come up short in the Cy Young race. That changed in 2002 as Barry Zito enjoyed a truly memorable run. While his 23-8 record and 2.75 record were impressive, what probably won him the Cy Young more than anything else was his contribution to his team's historic winning streak. It began with a 5-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on August 13 with Zito leading the charge. The following day, it was Hudson's turn, beating the Blue Jays 4-2. Three days later, it was Mulder's turn as he beat the White Sox 9-2.

On August 18, Zito beat Chicago 7-4 while Hudson started the series against the Cleveland Indians the following day on the right foot, winning 8-1. Mulder finished off the Indians three days later with a decisive 9-3 victory. The A's were on fire as they started their next series against Detroit. Barry made quick work of the Tigers with a convincing 9-1 win.

Not to be outdone, Hudson beat the Tigers 12-3 the next day to extend the A's winning streak to 11 games. On August 27, Mulder took care of business in Kansas City by beating the Royals 6-4. Zito finished off the Royals the following day with a convincing 7-1 win. When Hudson beat the Twins in Oakland two days later, the A's had won 16 straight games.

They would soon tack on four more for an American League record that has does wonders for the lore of Moneyball. From that moment on, major league teams all over America were sold on the concept of analytics. The game would never be the same. Together, the trio would be responsible for 11 of the team's 20 wins.

The Unraveling

Going into the 2002 playoffs, the A's were on fire. Not only did they have 103 wins to their name and a Cy Young winner on their roster but they had recently won an A.L. record 20 games in a row. They were brimming with confidence, right up until they lost to the Anaheim Angels in the Divisional Round.

Things began to slowly change when Art Howe's contract wasn't renewed for 2003. While the team still lacked the resources to compete with bigger clubs, eventually Moneyball couldn't save them. But their pitchers remained and would continue to thrive in an increasingly unstable environment.

After years of waiting, Mark Mulder finally earned an invitation to the All Star game in both 2003 and 2004. 2003 was arguably his best of those two years. as he won 15, lost nine and posted a 3.13 ERA while leading the majors with nine complete games. Meanwhile, Tim Hudson posted a 16-7 record with a 2.70 ERA, leading the A.L. with two complete game shutouts. After winning the Cy Young Award the previous year, Barry Zito didn't live up to expectations in 2003, but he still posted a 14-12 record, recorded a 3.30 ERA and was invited to the All Star Game.

Despite having a new manager in Ken Macha, much remained the same for Oakland as the A's fell to the Red Sox in the Divisional Round. Two years later, with the team having missed the playoffs in 2004, Mark Mulder left for St. Louis where he would remain until his retirement in 2008.

Tim Hudson was the next to go. After posting a 15-12 record and making another All Star Game in 2004, he left for greener pastures in Atlanta. He played well enough with the Braves from 2005 through 2013 to be inducted into the Braves Hall of Fame. He finished his career in San Francisco, making his fourth and final All Star Game and winning the World Series with the Giants in 2014 before retiring in 2015.

Barry Zito was the last to go. After leading the A's to another Divisional Round loss in 2006 and earning another invitation to the All-Star Game, he left for San Francisco in 2007, right when Bruce Bochy became their manager. He struggled against San Fransisco's mighty winds that first year, going 11-13 and posting a 4.53 ERA.

His struggles continued when he was left off of the Giants postseason roster and was forced to watch his teammates win the 2010 World Series from the sidelines. That embarrassment only seemed to invigorate him as he posted a 1.59 ERA in Game 1 of the 2012 World Series, beating the Tigers behind Pablo Sandoval's three home runs. The Giants would ultimately win the series in a four game sweep. From there, his career petered out and after being out of baseball entirely in 2014, Barry Zito returned to Oakland in 2015 where he would finish his career.

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