The A's Rough Rider

Friday, September 26, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Theodore Roosevelt Lilly III is making quite the name for himself in Oakland's talented pitching rotation.

And that's not surprising, considering his namesake.

The reticent left-hander is nothing like the brash, rough-riding 26th president of the United States -- but the Athletics sure like what he's done for them in the second half.

"My great-grandfather rode with Theodore Roosevelt, admired him and respected him, worked for him, pretty much," Lilly said. "He was a Rough Rider, and named my grandfather Theodore Roosevelt. That's how I got that name, from the admiration of being around him. It means a lot more when you get older and you understand."

Lilly proved this week that he's plenty tough.

Volunteering for duty

When rookie right-hander Rich Harden began having back spasms, Lilly walked into manager Ken Macha's office and volunteered to fill in despite the fact he'd just thrown a bullpen session the day before. Lilly proceeded to pitch six impressive innings Sunday in an important 12-0 win over Seattle that avoided a three-game sweep against the second-place Mariners.

Lilly (12-9) retired 13 straight during one stretch on the way to winning his career-high sixth straight start.

"It would be very comfortable for him as an individual to just say 'I'll go on Tuesday,"' general manager Billy Beane said, referring to what would have been Lilly's day to start. "To come in and put himself on the line took a lot of guts.

"He's gotten better and better, and it couldn't come at a better time. He's been the best in the league the last 12 or 13 starts."

Lilly will be counted upon for a big role come the playoffs next week, too.

After a rough beginning in Oakland, he has been a key component in the A's second-half success. Oakland won the AL West for the second year in a row and has earned a playoff berth for the fourth straight season, but the A's have lost in the first round the past three seasons.

With their "Big Three" -- Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito -- depleted to the "Big Two" because Mulder is injured, Lilly likely will start Game 3 of the first round of the playoffs.

Hudson is confident every time Lilly takes the mound, especially after what he showed Sunday.

"This was the biggest game of the year by far, and he stepped up like a lot of people can't do," Hudson said. "I know after throwing a bullpen, the last thing I want to do is pitch a game."

A postseason flop

Lilly has high expectations for this postseason after a disappointing showing last year.

He made two disastrous relief appearances in the AL division series against Minnesota, going 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA as the A's were eliminated in five games.

Lilly took the loss in Game 1, getting tagged for two runs on three hits in two-thirds of an inning. He relieved Hudson with a 5-4 lead and no one on base before giving up the tying and go-ahead runs. He had a no-decision in Oakland's 11-2 loss in Game 4, when he also relieved Hudson.

Lilly was acquired in a trade with the Yankees last year and was slow to find a rhythm with his new team. He spent July 23 to Sept. 10 on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, then returned to make three starts. He came out of the bullpen Sept. 28, a role he kept through the playoffs.

He changed his delivery in the offseason and has been effective most of this year.

"I haven't done what I wanted to do, but I've been able to contribute enough," he said. "The main thing is we're in first place and have a chance to go to the World Series."

Connecting with the past

Lilly feels a certain connection with Roosevelt, who signed the proclamation creating Yosemite as the nation's fifth national park.

"I grew up 40 miles underneath Yosemite," said Lilly, who lives in Bass Lake and attended Yosemite High School.

On the road this season, Lilly has been reading "Theodore Rex," a 550-page book on Roosevelt's life by Edmund Morris.

"Something like this is kind of special to me," he said. "I'm understanding why he had so much energy for life and to accomplish things. It can certainly be motivating."

Lilly's 59-year-old father, Ted Lilly Jr., isn't sure how long his grandfather was a Rough Rider -- Roosevelt's crew of volunteers recruited from the hunters and cowboys of the West for the Spanish-American War.

"Ted is telling me his son is going to be the fourth," said the elder Lilly, who follows Oakland's games on the Internet from Florida. "He's really gotten into it."

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