The enemy Angels control the division theater, but a sweep of three battles on enemy turf could turn the tide in the Athletics' direction. Victories must come swiftly and early in battle; the enemy is too strong to defeat if they are leading late.
Secretly penetrate the opposition home base and support the Athletics' troops from behind enemy lines.
Unsuccessful. A sweep is now impossible; the Athletics may still win two of three, but the enemy will retain strong control of the theater.
Enemy countermeasures foiled the mission plan.
Stage 1: Infiltrate enemy territory.
Went according to plan. I contacted an enemy sympathizer (codename: Jacques), and by charm and wit convinced him to transport me and six other Athletics sympathizers to the battle site.
Stage 2: Gather intelligence.
Went according to plan. I had previously arranged to meet with another enemy sympathizer (codename: Rich) outside the battle site. My plan was to get these two enemy sympathizers talking with each other in a comfortable setting over dinner about the strengths of their side.
The Angels sympathizers are very confident. They feel their management is wise; their troops are strong and well trained; they have more young troops prepared to take over as the old troops move on; and they have the economic strength to correct any temporary weaknesses quickly.
The number of sympathizers seem to be growing every day, now spreading into Los Angeles County, which only ten years ago was the sole province of the Dodgers. This penetration into Dodger territory will only serve to further increase the Angels economic strength.
The only apparent way to counteract this economic trend is to get the Dodgers to succeed. The Dodgers, twice Oakland's worst enemy, are now the Athletics' most important ally. Unless the Dodgers can push back, regain control of LA County and push back into Orange County, the Angels will continue to get stronger.
So this is a two-front war. The Athletics fight the Angels on the AL Western Front, while the Dodgers fight them in the Southern California front. Sending Vice Admiral DePodesta from the Athletics office to run the Southern California Front gives us a united philosophical front against the Angel enemy. This could prove to be quite beneficial if the Athletic Philosophy proves to be superior in the long run to the Angel Philosophy.
But we have no evidence yet that this is the case. Currently, we are in retreat on both fronts. The Dodgers continue to suffer many injuries and losses in battle, and show no signs of turning things around. Meanwhile, the A's are restructuring their troops, hoping for a push in 2005, but really focusing on their long-term ability to resist the Angels on the AL Western Front. The restructuring appears to be working, but it has yet to have had any affect on the Angels. The Angels sympathizers are watching, however, and they do appear to be more concerned with the Athletics than with any other enemy they have.
Stage 3: Lending Support:
This is where the mission failed.
We managed to secure a position in the front row of the left field pavillion, just to the center field side of the Athletics bullpen. This position left us unable to see the outfield warning track in left and center fields, but this was not a problem, for not a single ball reached the warning track all evening from either team.
The Angels threw Ervin Santana, a young, talented, but wildly inconsistent pitcher. This should have played into the Athletics' strengths: taking pitches, making the pitcher throw strikes and work hard, taking walks and waiting for a mistake.
Santana didn't cooperate, however, as he threw lots of strikes, and didn't let the A's get deep in the count. Santana was helped by the home plate umpire, who was wildly inconsistent all evening. Nobody in my vicinity, whether they sympathized with the Angels or the Athletics, could figure out where the strike zone was.
This worked against the A's, as they went muttering to the dugout many times having been called out on strikes. And when they weren't called out, they swung at bad pitches, because they weren't confident that they wouldn't be called out either. As a result, the A's high-pitch-count weapon failed to deploy.
On the other side of the ball, Kirk Saarloos had trouble in the early innings keeping the ball down. Chone Figgins took a pitch up and away to left field for a single, and Angelball began. Figgins promptly stole second (Jason Kendall bounced his throw, as usual), Erstad moved him over with a groundball to the right side, and Vladimir Guerrero drove him home with a sacrifice fly. Angels baseball is Classic Baseball, and the first inning was as Classic as it gets.
In the next few innings, the Saarloos left more pitches up in the zone, and the Angels hit them hard, but the A's defense made several good plays to keep the Angels off the scoreboard. Saarloos wasn't getting many ground balls, so it felt like a just matter of time before the Angels would take advantage.
At one point, Nick Swisher led off with a double, giving the A's an opportunity to play Classic Baseball. But Marco Scutaro failed where Erstad succeeded: he struck out rather than move the runner along, and Swisher was stranded. The A's do not play Classic Baseball well; if they could somehow learn, however, they would have another weapon against the enemy.
But failing that, the A's finally got a chance to execute some Athletics-style Offense. The A's patience worked two walks off of Santana, and Scott Hatteberg followed the walks with a timely double down the right field line to score two. The A's took a 2-1 lead.
At this point, I was thinking to myself that the A's and the Angels are the perfect rivalry. On the pitching and defensive side, they are very similar, but their offensive philosophies are total opposites. Neither philosophy is clearly superior; the teams are quite evenly matched; there are very few blowouts; each game seems to be a knock-down/drag-out fight to the finish that gets decided by one or two key plays.
It was at this point, in the bottom of the sixth, that the Angels pulled out their secret weapon: the Rally Monkey. Two members of my supporting team were under 9 years old, and when they saw the Rally Monkey appear on the scoreboard, they became seduced by the Power of the Red Side of the Force.
So the bottom of the sixth began just as the bottom of the first: Figgins got on base, stole second thanks to yet another Weak-Throw-By-Jason-Kendall™, and Darrin Erstad again hit a ground ball to the right side. Perfect Angels-style baseball again. At this point, the Rally Monkey did its magic; after playing crisp defense all night (with the exception of Kendall's throws), the A's defense suddenly failed them, as Dan Johnson booted Erstad's grounder. A small rally became a Big Threat.
At this point, the youngest member of my team suddenly betrayed me. Excited by the Rally Monkey, she came and sat on my lap, grabbed each of my wrists, and proceeded to force my hands to clap together. "I will not clap when the Angels are rallying!" I cried, but the little devil just laughed, continued her assault on me. I resisted her attempts to make me cheer for the Wrong Side, but at this point my concentration was shot, and I was powerless to slow the Angels' Weapon of Doom.
Vladimir Guerrero then hit a double-play grounder, which could have minimized the damage, but Erstad again played Perfect Classic Baseball, sliding hard and preventing Scutaro from making the throw to first. Vlad then went first-to-third on a single to center, and the throw got past Chavez at third enabling Garret Anderson to get to second--yet another example of Angel baseball putting pressure on the opposition defense, forcing them into a mistake. Finley was walked intentionally, and when Molina popped up, it appeared the A's might get out of the inning with a tie score.
But the Rally Monkey is a weapon for which the A's have no equivalent. Strange things happen when the Monkey casts its spell; and in this case, Jeff DaVanon hit a chopper off the plate, and Saarloos couldn't handle it, and the Angels took the lead. This was Doom itself, for you don't want to be down a run going into the 7th inning having to face Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez. The Angels then completed the nightmare inning for the A's when Orlando Cabrera singled to center. Kotsay's throw to nail the runner from second skipped past Jason Kendall (who seemed cursed all evening), and two runs scored. 5-2 Angels.
That was all the Angels needed. I feel responsible: I did not properly prepare my troops for the Angels' Superweapon: the Rally Monkey. They fell victim to its awesome power; the A's defense immediately fell apart; and that was the one mistake that turned this otherwise evenly matched battle the wrong way.
Conclusion: Beware and prepare for the Rally Monkey. Do not let anyone get seduced by it. Keep a level head, trust your philosophy, and you can defeat even the most powerful of enemies. This was one battle lost, but there will be more, and it is possible to win.