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A’s honor ‘Big Three’ Sunday

Two-hundred thirty-four wins. Fifteen-hundred forty-one strikeouts. Almost 4,000 innings pitched. Six All-Star appearances.

For five seasons — 2000 through 2004 — the Oakland A’s Big Three pitchers dominated American League hitters. For five years the pitcher’€™s mound at what is now Coliseum was the absolute center of The Town.

After less-than-stellar outings from Barry Zito, 37, and Tim Hudson, 40, on Saturday afternoon’€™s crowning starts, the two joined the third member of the Big Three, Mark Mulder in being honored prior to Sunday’s game.

Despite Saturday’s workload for Zito and Hudson, and rust from Mulder, it was 60-foot strikes from all for the ceremonial first pitch.

A’s manager Bob Melvin spoke about the emotions surrounding Saturday’€™s 14-10 San Francisco victory:

“€œIt was amazing. You really had to kind of take a step back afterward, and get re-focused into the game because there was so much emotion that was part of that. It was really cool.”

After being drafted by the A’€™s, and coming up through the franchise’s farm system, all three starters went on to greener pastures.

Mulder, who was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, won a ring in 2006 with the red birds. Zito, who signed as a free agent with the Giants prior to the 2007 season, won rings with the team in both 2010 and 2012.

Hudson, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 2004, was part of San Francisco’€™s title-winning team in 2014.

For Hudson, though, Oakland will always hold a special place in his heart:

“€œSome of my best memories in baseball are here in Oakland.”

As another packed house gathered to give a tip of the cap to Mulder, 38, neither team’s record will come into play. For the tens of thousands of fans who fill the green seats of this might as well be game seven of the World Series.

Said Hudson:

“€œI feel like it’s like a celebration of our careers. Something that’s very cool.”

But what are we celebrating? Why do these three pitchers deserve such a grand place in our memories? Why are TVs, stadium monitors and even our own minds cluttered with images of Zito with short, surfer-boy hair and Hudson. Well. With hair?

Sure, they were key players in that magical 2002 month in which Oakland fans were treated to 20 consecutive wins, but the careers of the Big Three were so much more than that.

Tim Hudson

The right-handed sinker-slider pitcher, the bulldog, is Major League Baseball’€™s active wins leader. With 222 career wins, and just 132 losses, the Alabama native has been one of this era’s most steady pitchers.

Over his 17-year career, ‘€œHuddy’€ has averaged a 16-9 win-loss record with a 3.49 ERA and 147 strike outs in 222 innings pitched.

Over the half-decade as one-third of the Big Three, however, Hudson collected 81 wins (16.2 per season)€“ and 767 strikeouts (153.4 per season in 1,104.1 innings pitched).

With his 20-6 season in 2000, he led the AL in wins and winning percentage (77 percent). He also led the AL in shutouts in 2000 and 2002 (two in each season).

His work, number 15 was honored with all-star game selections in both 2000 and 2004.

Mark Mulder

Now an ESPN analyst, the broad-shouldered lefty posted a career 103-60 record with a 4.18 ERA and 834 strikeouts in 1,314 innings pitched.

As for his part in the Big Three, Mulder posted 81 wins (16.2 per season)€“ and 668 strikeouts â(133.6 per season) €“ and 1,003 innings pitched.

With 21, Mulder led the AL in wins over the 2001 campaign. He also led the AL in complete games in 2003 (9) and 2004 (5) as well as shutouts in 2001 (4) and 2003 (2).

For his work, No. 20 was honored with All-Star game selections in both 2003 and 2004.

Barry Zito

With one of MLB’s most baffling pitches ever, the curveball specialist not only won the AL CY Young Award in 2002, he was in the Top 25 of the AL MVP balloting in 2001 (21) and 2002 (13). The San Diego native will likely finish his career with a 165-143 record and 4.04 ERA with 1,883 strikeouts in 2,572-2/3 innings pitched.

At the top of the early 2000s rotation for the A’€™s, ‘Big Z’€ posted 72 wins (14.4 per season) and 774 strikeouts (154.8 per season)€“ in 981 innings pitched.

Leading the AL in wins (23) while losing only five and posting a 2.75 ERA in 2002, the lefty was baseball’€™s most dominant pitcher in 2002..

For his work, number 75 was honored with All-Star game selections in 2002 and 2003.

With their first-round picks in the 1998 (Mulder, second overall) and 1999 (Zito, ninth overall) and sixth-round pick (Hudson) 1997 amateur drafts, the A’s discovered something special. The combination of talent evaluation and development produced something amazing.

From Hudson’€™s selection to Zito’€™s departure, the A’s and their Big Three laid the blueprints for building a homegrown staff that all franchises will consult when building future staffs.

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