Monthly archives: August 2005
Crosby Has Fractured Ankle
Bobby Crosby will likely miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured ankle.
Now we're back to where we were in May: both Crosby and Rich Harden will be out for an extended time. Were the injuries really the reason the A's struggled in May? We're about to find out.
Besides the obvious problem of replacing Crosby's numbers with Marco Scutaro's, losing Crosby really hurts the balance of the A's lineup. Crosby balances the the 3-4-5 slots the A's order, giving them a right-handed power threat to go with lefties Dan Johnson and Eric Chavez. Having three lefties in the lineup in a row makes it too easy for the opposing managers late in ballgames.
Against LHP, Kielty is the obvious choice to replace Crosby in the middle of the order; he's hitting .311/.392/.444. But against RHP, Kielty struggles to the tune of .230/.328/.343. You don't want those numbers killing any rallies.
The other options against RHP fall into two groups:
The problem with Hatteberg is that it makes three straight LH bats in the order, which causes a matchup disadvantage late in ballgames.
The problem with Ellis is that nobody really believes those 2005 numbers reflect his true talent level. He's never hit with power like this before. I'd rather have him hitting second and getting on base ahead of the big boppers.
The problem with Swisher is that low batting average, which is not ideal for an RBI lineup slot.
My guess is that Macha puts Jay Payton in the middle of the order, as he did last night. I don't really like that choice, but I don't like any of the choices.
I had been opposed to bringing up Daric Barton and putting him on the 40-man roster before it's absolutely necessary, but with Crosby's injury (and Kotsay's) it may be time to revisit that position. If the A's show any signs of struggling on offense in the near future, I'll reserve my right to change my mind on that one.
Baseball Nirvana, or Just Chemicals?
Last night's game between the A's and the Angels was baseball nirvana.
It was exactly the kind of game I love. Pennant race, division rivals, team aces (Bartolo Colon and Barry Zito) matching zeros head-to-head, crisp defense, extra innings, and the game decided by a small break off a top-notch reliever. (Well, perhaps not so small: Bobby Kielty hit a monster home run off a Frankie Rodriguez fastball.)
For a regular season game in August, it doesn't get any better than that.
I had speculated that my desire to win might make this series too too tense to take. But as the game progressed, desire dissolved into appreciation. I became consumed by the sheer aesthetic joy of watching a game well played.
I'm not sure why. Games like this, with so much impact on a pennant race, usually have me shouting things at the TV, and throwing things at the sofa. But perhaps, spiritually, it was exactly the attitude I needed at this moment in my life.
It was a lesson in the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism: desire is the cause of suffering. By about the fourth inning or so, I had let go of the desire to win. The game became bliss.
When Robb Quinlan hit the home run to tie the game in the eighth, it did not bother me. Everything was exactly as it should be.
I'm sure this moment of spiritual 'enlightenment' is temporary. It is comforting to know that this mental state is available to me when I need it. But I am not a monk trying to follow The Path. When my psyche is ready to handle the suffering, I'll be back to my old ways, wanting to win. I have no desire to live without desire.
* * *
Or perhaps this 'zen' feeling isn't really a religious experience at all; perhaps it's just brain chemicals. In Mind Wide Open, Steven Johnson explains how his wife had a very calm, almost indifferent, reaction to September 11, because she was breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding, and other life experiences that involve intense emotional attachment, such as childbirth and sexual climax, causes a chemical called oxytocin to be released in the bloodstream. Oxytocin puts you in a calm and nurturing mood. It's an alternative survival solution to the fight-or-flight stress responses: tend-and-befriend. It's the chemical of social bonding, parent-child bonding in particular.
Perhaps because I've spent the last five days intensely tending to my daughter's illness, my bloodstream is flooded with more oxytocin than usual. The testosterone-driven fight-or-flight response I normally have to the stress of a baseball game got replaced by a completely different and opposite response.
* * *
Hmm...maybe there's Mel Gibson movie to be made from this. I'll start working on the screenplay right away.
Heavyweight Update, Et Cetera
I hadn't updated the Heavyweight Championship (see sidebar) during my little AWOL period. For the first time since the first series of the season, the Yankees are champs again, after defeating Seattle, who beat the White Sox, who beat the Twins.
* * *
If the Yanks beat Seattle on Thursday, the A's will get another shot at the crown this weekend.
* * *
It makes no sense to win two out of every three when you can accomplish the same thing -- and have much more fun -- by losing 10 straight and then winning 15: The Oakland A's, baseball's extremists.
Not to mention, it's a better method for holding on to the heavyweight crown. The A's have a seven-win lead over the Blue Jays entering September for the overall heavyweight title. They'll be hard to catch.
Nick of Time
I feel a bit like Rip Van Winkle at this moment. I went to sleep for a while, and I awoke to find that everything had changed. The A's have a 1-game lead in the AL West? What happened? Last thing I can remember, they were 2 1/2 games out.
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I did not intend to be AWOL from the blog the last few days, but my little Jason Kendall fan suddenly got sick. We're not sure what it was, but it resembled West Nile Fever: she got some mosquito bites, followed a few days later by headaches, a high fever, and a skin rash.
You treat West Nile Fever just like the flu, unless there are signs of meningitis or encephalitis, which happens in 1 out of 150 cases. So not being sure--it takes a blood test to confirm the West Nile virus, but that doesn't change the treatment, so why stick needles in her?--I spent last four or five days just watching her closely for any signs of trouble.
* * *
Last night as she went to sleep, her fever was still above 102. Today was supposed to be her first day of kindergarten. You only get one first day of school per lifetime. How sad that she would have to miss out on sharing the first-day experience with other kids.
But when she woke up this morning, her fever was suddenly gone. Four days of high fevers, and miraculously, everything was back to normal, just in the nick of time.
Wow. OK, so, I guess you get to go to school after all, kid.
We saw her off to her classroom, made sure her teacher kept a close eye on her, and said our goodbyes. My wife and I hung around the school talking to other parents until recess, so we could check her temperature again, just to be sure. She was fine.
* * *
When the school day was done, and both my kids were home playing with each other, I snuck off by myself for a little while and turned on the radio. The A's were playing a tense extra-inning battle, which they won on a Nick Swisher homer in the 12th.
Winning is nice, and first place is nice, but that wasn't the best part of the game. Happy endings aside, it was simply a relief, even for a few minutes, to escape.
* * *
I'm totally drained. Going from worrying that my youngest kid could be seriously ill, to sending her off to school for the first time, all within 24 hours--my emotional tank is empty.
* * *
Tuesday night, the A's-Angels series begins. The pitching matchups should make for three close, exciting ballgames. It should be baseball at its best. I should be looking forward to it with intense anticipation.
But I'm not. I don't think I can take it, I really don't. Not right now. It's too much.
Wake me when it's over.
How Come Jesus Gets Industrial Disease?
Ken Macha, quoted in the Chronicle:
Chuck Tanner said the best thing you can have as a manager is patience and the second thing you can have is patience. That's probably the third thing, too.
I was listening to the Dire Straits song Industrial Disease today. I mean really listening. And I thought about Ken Macha's quote. If there is such a thing as Industrial Disease, I think it's just that: impatience.
When the weather turns cold, people start wanting to chop down trees to add fuel to the fire. Free Daric Barton?
I think the idea is silly. The A's have been cold, but they're still tied for a playoff spot. The A's can still make the playoffs without him, and it's not clear that bringing him up will help those odds. He will need time to struggle and adjust; if those struggles and adjustments happen during crucial games in September, how is that helping? At this point, I think it's just as likely that Bobby Kielty or Nick Swisher will get hot and carry the team to the playoffs as it is that Daric Barton will.
We're impatient. We don't trust our own processes to yield the right results in the long run, so we sacrifice long-term results for short-term ones. This often backfires on us; it doesn't produce the immediate results we expect; we end up paying a much higher price now than we would later, when our superior processes have had time to work their magic.
If you don't trust that democracy and free markets will win over dictatorships in the long run, you rush off to eliminate them in the short run, when the enemy isn't ripe for defeat.
If you don't trust that your current team can make the playoffs today, you rush a prospect who may not be ready to help you win a pennant. Then when he finally is ready, you find he's eligible for arbitration, and much more expensive.
I find myself in the same boat here at the Toaster. I sometimes find myself thinking: Don't let others beat you to the punch! Go add some more writers! Start adding those cool features to the web site!
But then I stop myself. Remember to trust the process, trust the plan; when the software is scalable, then we can proceed, and it will all work itself out. Don't rush it.
Whitey Herzog said a manager should have a good sense of humor and a good bullpen.
On that note, this test will measure your type of humor. (It won't tell you if you are, in fact, funny.) My result:
I haven't found an equivalent test for bullpen styles. Let me know if you find one.
Do my test results mean I shouldn't go see The Aristocrats, a documentary about how different comics tell the same dirty joke? Until I took that test and found out I don't like 'gross-out' humor, I was dying to see that the film.
(Note: I wasn't actually dying to see it. Don't take words so literally.)
I love this description of the movie from Paul Provenza, the film's director:
"The setup is easy. The punch line is always the same. But the middle section...well, that's why THIS is the joke. It's a blank canvas. Anyone can do whatever they want with it and that's where it gets really interesting.
I've been not blogging about the A's here for over five months now, and Provenza's description of the joke describes how I've come to feel about doing this blog. The melodies are all the same: you win, you lose, you're on a winning streak, you're on a losing streak, somebody's hot, somebody's cold, somebody's great, somebody sucks, the stats show this, the stats show that...we all know them by heart.
Those are the melodies of the baseball season; the setup lines and the punch lines are the structure of the stories we're telling. Playing those songs straight quickly becomes boring. Riffing off the melodies: that's more interesting to me.
I haven't seen the Aristocrats, but I did go to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory today with my family. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to.
The people I talked to about it had all said it was very faithful to the book, but there are some significant changes to the story, and surprisingly, I actually think they make the story better.
Warning: Spoilers may follow:
One change I like is to make Mike Teevee not just a brain-dead TV zombie, but a computer-game technogeek. It makes the tension between Teevee and Wonka palpable. Teevee becomes a utilitarian skeptic, unable to see the point of Wonka's artistry. In return, Wonka can't, or won't, listen to anything Teevee says. Art can't be explained in the language of science; it makes no sense. "Stop mumbling!" Wonka says anytime Teevee opens his mouth.
(This is not unlike the statheads vs. Joe Morgan conversations: neither side makes any sense at all to the other.)
The biggest change, however, is that Willy Wonka gets a backstory. We learn why he is so eccentric, and why he came to be such a genius at making candy.
This has a couple of positive effects:
The ending is different, but the moral is the same. Impatience is the disease of our high-tech age. All the kids who sought instant gratification in the chocolate factory ended up suffering the consequences. The one kid who held onto the old-fashioned values, who truly believed and trusted in them enough to wait for them to pay off, ended up owning the whole factory.
Who is the A's MVP?
ESPN.com's baseball page has a poll up on the A's MVP. The choices are:
It's an interesting question, since the A's don't have a hands-down obvious MVP. Harden is leading the vote with 43%. Are the voters correct?
Let's look at the current top 10 A's players in VORP:
From this view, it looks like the voters have things right. Harden has a better VORP than Zito, even though he missed several weeks with an injury.
Here's a surprise: Blanton is tied for third in VORP! I never would have guessed would have been ahead of anybody on that top 10 list except Saarloos. I guess I better start giving Blanton some more love.
VORP doesn't take defense into account, though. With the A's leading all of baseball in defensive efficiency, we can give Chavez, Crosby and Johnson some extra props. But even so, Harden's VORP lead is pretty big, so he's still probably the team MVP.
The fun part of this poll is the state-by-state breakdown. Where are people not going for Harden?
The poll results are shifting from minute to minute, but as I write this, the electoral standings would look like this:
Street leads in Louisiana and Vermont, and is tied in Texas, Mississippi, and Maine. You gotta figure he'd be popular around Texas, where he's from and his dad is a hero...but Vermont and Maine?
Chavez leads in Alaska, and is tied in Nevada, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Mississippi. I guess they go for Eric in the less densely populated areas that aren't along the Canadian border (where Harden rulez).
Even though Zito is second in VORP, the only state where Zito even gets above third place in this poll is in Utah, where he leads. Why Utah, of all places? Do they love Zito there for some odd reason, or do they dislike Harden? I won't dare to guess.
On The Couch
Doc: How do you feel?
Me: When I woke up this morning, I felt calm, relaxed, and well-rested.
Doc: How do you feel right now?
Me: Right now, I feel like I want to tear out my hair. I want to throw a chair through a wall. I want to smash my baseball bat through my computer screen and watch the glass fly.
Doc: Why the change? What happened?
Me: I went Sunday's game against the Royals. It was easily the most frustrating, embarrassing, aggravating loss I have witnessed in a long time.
Doc: What was so frustrating about it?
Me: The A's could have gained a game on their closest competitors, since the Angels and Yankees both lost, but they wasted a three-run lead.
Doc: Why was it embarrassing?
Me: Coming into this series, the Royals had lost 19 in a row. Then they beat the A's twice, and the A's looked like the team that had lost 19 in a row. It was as if the A's went out of their way today to prove Scott Long's point: if the A's are a playoff quality team this year, then this year's playoffs stink. Playoff caliber teams don't lose games and series like this to teams like the Royals.
Doc: Why was it aggravating?
Me: They didn't make the worst team in baseball beat them; instead they beat themselves.
Joe Blanton came out of the game leading 3-0 after 7, having thrown only 99 pitches. He could have easily gotten another out or two, particularly since Ken Macha later demonstrated the willingness to bring in Huston Street in the eighth.
Instead, Jay Witasick came in and walked the first guy on four pitches. Why Witasick and not Justin Duchscherer? How did Witasick earn the eighth inning job over Justin Duchscherer, anyway? What did Duchscherer do to lose that job? I have no idea. Witasick's been a useful reliever throughout his career, but he's also been wildly inconsistent; he's not the guy I'd want as my #1 setup guy.
Then Eric Chavez rushed a double play throw and pulled Marco Scutaro off the bag at second. Should have been two outs, none on; instead there were two on, no outs. Then Witasick hit Mike Sweeney in the helmet. Bases loaded, nobody out, and not a ball hit out of the infield.
Then Matt Stairs hit a fly ball to center that Mark Kotsay lost in the sun, and it became a ground-rule double. The A's should have been out of this inning at this point, but instead two runs had scored, there were runners on second and third, and there was still nobody out. A couple of productive outs later, and the A's trailed 4-3.
The A's tied it up in the eighth, but went on to lose in the 12th. I could go on about that, but it would probably make me barf.
Doc: What would your mother say about how you are reacting to this?
Me: Det är barnsligt att oroa dig över ett spel.
Doc: And how would you feel when your mother said this?
Me: I'd feel like I want to tear out my hair. Like I want to throw a chair through a wall. Like I want to smash my baseball bat through my computer screen and watch the glass fly.
Doc: Are you saying that your feeling about the A's are really projections about your relationship with your mother?
Me: No, bozo, I'm saying that it doesn't matter what my mom thinks; it still pisses me off when the A's lose like this.
Doc: Let's think positive for a minute. What good things happened today?
Me: Um, we got there in time for my kids to get the free Bobby Crosby backpack. And, uh, I ran into an old co-worker at the game who said he could probably get me a job if I wanted one. Oh, and Joe Blanton pitched really well; I'm really starting to dig his throw-strikes-and-let-'em-hit-it approach.
And I'm still highly optimistic about the future of the team. It wasn't the young guys on the team who #&(*ed up the game today, it was the veterans.
Doc: Good. Now let's think back to the last time you didn't feel frustrated, embarassed, or aggravating. Picture yourself in that place.
Doc: Are you in that place?
Doc: Good. What is in that place?
Me: A lighthouse. And a ship.
Doc: And what are you doing there? Are you steering the ship?
Me: No. I'm just watching the boats go by, waiting for the sunset.
Doc: Just like the lighthouse?
Me: Just like the lighthouse.
Doc: You are the lighthouse.
Me: I am the lighthouse.
Doc: Standing tall, giving support, in even the worst of weather.
Me: Exactly. I am the lighthouse.
Doc: That's the spirit! That's how a baseball fan should act, too, don't you think?
Me: And if the guy steering the boat still drives it aground even though I'm shining my light at the dude, and I'm blowing my #*&@($*ing foghorn like a madman, I'm gonna think, what the heck am I standing out here in this damn weather for, if you're still gonna drive like an idiot?
Me: I mean, what's the point? You do your job, and their job depends on you doing your job, but that still doesn't mean they're not going to screw it up.
I don't want to be a lighthouse, Doc! I wanna be a billboard. You can sit there, watching the cars go by, and nobody depends on you to make sure the cars don't crash. A billboard! Now that's the life...
Doc: A billboard? Well, OK, good. I think we've made some progress here. Perhaps you can try thinking about billboards the next time something makes you feel like throwing a chair. Our time is up.
Me: Ok, thanks Doc. Wow, I feel better already. I don't know how you do it, Doc, but you're good. You're good--a genius!
I am not overly concerned
My friend assures me it's all or nothing
Ok, so the A's have had a crappy week or so, and our web servers have had a crappy week or so...but I spent the last week looking at scenes like this:
Worries? What worries?
Now it's back to a real world that isn't quite so picturesque. A's vs. Royals today: I'll be at the game. Let's see if we can get this team back on track...
Not Thinking About Baseball
What? The A's have lost five of six? Don't bother me; I'm on vacation.
You can find me somewhere on this natural map of the United States:
Blather, Wince, Repeat.
I didn't see the A's lose their third straight game, but from what I read, it seems awfully similar to their second straight loss.
Beware the One Bad Inning!
I'm not worried yet. These things happen. If the A's lose to Kansas City this weekend, then I'll start worrying.
Well, at least the Angels and Yankees lost, so the A's didn't lose any ground to their closest competitors.
Had to figure the A's were overdue for a losing streak. The A's aren't an .800 team. They lost tonight to Baltimore with one of those everything-goes-wrong innings: hit batsmen, 15-foot singles, blown double-play grounders.
Oh, well. That's baseball.
One thing to note is that the A's hot streak coincided with the entire roster being healthy. But recently, they've started to look a little banged up. Mark Kotsay and Bobby Kielty have been battling bad backs. Scott Hatteberg has had a rib cage problem. Nick Swisher is on leave to attend his grandmother's funeral. And Eric Chavez made an extremely weak throw from deep behind third today, which made me think that his shoulder is really bothering him.
As a result, the team hasn't looked very sharp in recent days. The Jay Payton acquisition has helped to cover that problem, but it's still a problem. When fully healthy, the A's are one of the best teams in the league. But that's not the case at the moment, so they may just have to grind their way through this period.
Just hang close to the Angels until it's time to play them again. Those seven remaining games between the two teams will decide the AL West. The A's just have to hope that the other teams in the league don't get the same scouting reports that the Mariners had on Vlad Guerrero this weekend. Seriously, just walk the dude.
As promised, I've posted my photos from Saturday's Eck's number retirement ceremony.
Photos from Saturday's game are here.
Game Photos: A's vs. Twins
I went to the A's-Twins game Saturday. The A's retired Dennis Eckersley's #43. I'll post some photos from that ceremony tomorrow.
But first, check out this slideshow from the game. I happened to get a really great shot of Justin Morneau hitting his mammoth home run. Plus a close-up of Jay Payton's homer, too.
Wolff Lifts Veil on Ballpark Plans
The details are starting to filter in on Lew Wolff's presentation to the Coliseum Joint Powers Authority.
KRON has the best photos, although they're small.
NBC 11 has the best video. (It only works on IE for me, not Firefox.)
And of course, Marine Layer is staying on top of it all.
My five-year-old daughter decided early in the season that Jason Kendall was her favorite player. I'm not quite sure why, but she kept telling everyone who would listen that Kendall is "fast for a catcher." That piece of trivia really fascinated her, for some reason.
She didn't get her cues about her favorite player from me. Kendall has probably been my least favorite A's player this year. All those weak grounders to third and one-hop throws to second have really grated on me. Early in the season, I blurted out in my daughter's presence that Kendall was a "double play machine", and I still feel bad about it.
* * *
MLB.com authentic customized Jason Kendall jersey made of comfortable and resilient polyester: $189.99.
Home-made Jason Kendall jersey, made with a roll of paper, some tape, and a pen: priceless.
* * *
How many things in life are better than helping your kid become a baseball fan?
Very few, so I better not blow it. It's not right for a kid to have a favorite player, to decide on her own to replicate a jersey, and then later find out that her dad thinks that player sucks. I need to learn to love Jason Kendall.
I've been trying to appreciate what Kendall can do well--get on base, call a game, and make good decisions--and accept his weak arm and powerless swing. But it isn't easy to turn a reasonable argument into an emotional reality.
That's where a play like today's game winning run helps. Kendall's been in the center of the two most memorable plays of this magical season, the tag of Soriano at home in Texas, and today's mad dash home off Francisco Rodriguez. They were both unlikely, game winning plays where Kendall's instinctive, quick-thinking and aggressive style won a game for the A's.
That's something I can appreciate. Hey, maybe that kid's OK.
Bill King Sums It Up
"That's one for the books! Holy Toledo!"
That's one for the blogs, too. Wow. More soon...
Don't Look Down
The house was almost full. Over 40,000 people showed up on a Tuesday night for the battle for first place between the A's and Angels.
The crowd was buzzing. Up in the stands, everyone seemed excited. The game started. The first pitch:
And that was the end of the good news. All the bad breaks, crazy bounces, and unfortunate mistakes that the A's had been avoiding for two months suddenly showed up all at once in the first two innings. The A's had double-play balls in each inning that resulted in no outs. There was a strikeout that didn't get an out. Rich Harden's a very good pitcher, but it's hard for even the best pitchers to hold down the opposition when he has to get 11 outs to get through two innings.
It left me shaking my head. It felt just like one of those playoff losses where the A's lost, not because the other team beat them, but because of the most bizarre, uncharacteristic plays you could imagine.
Looking down on the field quickly went from exciting to depressing. I decided to look up instead. The sky was much more interesting than the game.
There was a small moon over the Arena:
And a colorful sunset over the parking lot.
Good night. See you tomorrow.
Angels vs. A's, Or, What You Will
There's a scene in Twelfth Night, where the siblings Sebastian and Viola, who had feared each other dead, finally discover the other is alive.
Yet, they don't immediately start celebrating. ("Viola, you're alive!" "Sebastian! Thank God!") Instead, (partly because Viola is dressed like a man) they proceed as if it is impossible to believe such good news without first providing each other with overwhelming proof:
SEBASTIAN: ...Were you a woman, as the rest goes even,
That's what this upcoming three game series with the Angels is like.
The A's have miraculously survived a shipwreck of a May to come back and reach a first-place tie with the Angels. It's miraculous--could there be a happy ending in store for us?
But there's that one little thing that holds us back, that makes us gather more and more evidence before we can believe it: we've been here before. We've seen more tragedies than comedies. We've seen the A's have miraculous streaks; have big leads; make big comebacks; take the lead in playoff series...only to have our dreams crushed at the end in excruciating fashion by cruel fate.
Tonight, there's a most wonderful buzz in the air. The excitement is building around us and within us. Our greatest hopes are right there, in front of our very eyes, but it isn't quite enough to fully let loose. We need to know just a little bit more, just one more piece of evidence before we can truly accept that this is for real.
So as I head out tonight to the Coliseum, that's what I'm seeking: the right combination of events, that extra line in the play, the perfect circumstance of place, time and fortune to demonstrate that A's are indeed a championship-quality team.
Bill King = Orson Welles?
Tonight, I somehow managed to surf my way to Orson Welles' famous Frozen Peas rant, where he complains about the copy he's supposed to read for an advertisement.
Listening to the mp3, there was something about the rant that really reminded me of Bill King.
It wasn't really Welles' voice; that sounds more like Jon Miller than Bill King. It was something else, and I'm trying to put my finger on it.
In particular, when Welles said:
"You're such pests!"I almost felt Welles and King merging into one.
Perhaps it's in the pronunciation, the dialect. I immediately noticed the way Welles fully enunciated the "ch" and "s-t-s" in "such pests". The intonation of that phrase also struck me as similar to King's.
Or perhaps it was simply the unusual mix of emotions you get when a well-educated master of the English language refuses to suffer fools gladly. A well-phrased, well-delivered and well-deserved insult is quite satisfying to listen to, but there's also a underlying sense of intimidation: not one where you fear for your physical safety, but one where you fear for your self-esteem. If a man of that stature decides you're a fool and lets you know about it, you'd probably want to crawl into a hole and disappear.
And on that note, I better stop right here. If King doesn't like the comparison, he may channel Welles and put me down:
That's just idiotic, if you forgive me for saying so. That's just stupid.and that would be the end of me.
A's In First Place! A's Catcher Homers!
Adam Melhuse could not hold out any longer. Today, he hit the first home run by an A's catcher this year. And he just barely missed a second one--in his second at-bat, he hit one off the top of the center field wall for an RBI double. That leaves Jason Kendall as the undisputed Master of His Domain.
At this moment, the A's are blowing out the Royals for the second straight day, 8-0 in the 4th, heading for a series sweep.
Last night, the A's moved into a first place tie with the Angels. They also moved four games up on the Yankees in the wild card race. Even if the A's don't end up making the playoffs, this is still an amazing accomplishment. IIRC, there was one point this season when the A's playoff odds had fallen below 1%; now it's 71.4%.
The bad news: Mark Kotsay's back looked visibly stiff, and he came out of the game. Thank Beane for Jay Payton.
There are many reasons why people blog. Mine are twofold:
When I have trouble blogging about the A's, it's usually because I didn't see anything that I felt was worth remembering. The last two games against the Twins were like that.
The only thing to note is that Dan Johnson came back home to Minnesota as a major leaguer for the first time, playing in front of large numbers of friends and family, and had a very good series, including an upper deck home run on Thursday. That was nice to see. Good for him.
But otherwise, these were two well-played games by both teams, close until the end. Each team came out with a victory: a fair result, all things considered, but unremarkable. Later, these two games will probably just blend away into the fabric of the season, and disappear.
* * *
But I think I'll remember this day, for personal reasons. It was my half-birthday. Six months left to the big 4-0. My wife's ten-year-old nephew (I'll call him Hermey for reasons that will soon become clear) came over for the day to play with my two kids (8 and 5).
Hermey's pretty much an average kid except for one thing: he's been obsessed with baseball since he was about four years old. The game comes incredibly naturally to him; his left-handed pitching motion is about as smooth as any I've seen at any level of play. Last year, he struck out 40 batters in 19 innings pitched. A couple weeks ago, he threw a no-hitter in an all-star tournament.
He studies the motions of every left-handed pitcher he sees, until he can imitate that pitcher with uncanny precision. I worry that he might ruin his great natural delivery some day by copying some major leaguer with worse mechanics than his.
I played some catch with Hermey, and the first thing he did was show me his latest imitation. "Look, this is how Joe Kennedy pitches," he said. Sure enough, suddenly I'm playing catch with Joe Kennedy's shorter twin, complete with Kennedy's straight-kneed, stiff front leg that makes it look as if he's gonna jam his thigh bone up into his hip. Enough of that, I think, let's imitate some better mechanics. "Show me Barry Zito," I say.
* * *
After lunch, we took my oldest kid for a first ever visit to the orthodontist. So many memories I had buried long ago suddenly resurfaced: the scratchy feeling of gauze in my mouth after having teeth pulled, the icky smell of the wet plastic of my retainer, the strange feeling of pressure on my teeth while having my braces tightened, and the even stranger lack of pressure when those braces finally came off.
Obviously, my memories of orthodontics aren't too pleasant. My kid probably sensed that from me, and looked a little nervous going in. But it ended up not being a problem at all, because we had Hermey with us.
Hermey in that dentist's office was like the proverbial kid in a candy store. He was excited by everything: the waiting room, the toothbrushes, the chairs, the mirrors, the computers, you name it. He loved it all. Finally, he just burst out: "Oh man, this is all so cool! When I grow up, I am definitely either going to be a ballplayer or a dentist!"
Now who can be nervous in the presence of such enthusiasm?
* * *
Most of us are lucky if we find one thing we are passionate about in life. Hermey has two. At some point in his life, he'll have to choose between them, to decide which passion is greater. I can see it now: Eight years hence, Hermey is drafted in the first round of the draft:
GM: Why won't you accept our offer?
I think Hermey could genuinely walk away from that contract negotiation and still be happy
Knocked the Blue Jays Off Their Perch
Last night, the A's beat the Twins, 5-2. They could have moved into a first place tie in the AL West had the Angels lost, but Vladimir Guerrero didn't cooperate.
On the other hand, the A's did manage to move into first place in the MLB Heavyweight standings. They equalled the Blue Jays' 20 title bout victories. But since it took the A's ten fewer games to get those 20 wins, the A's now own first place.
The Blue Jays had been in first place by themselves since May 11.
Nothing on the Ants
We humans think we're all hot stuff cuz we got an Advanced Civilization with cool High-Tech gizmos like them Computer Internets that can quickly inform the masses of important information, like the news that They Found Steroids In Rafael Palmeiro's Pee.
Yesterday, I left an open container of sugar on my counter, and in less than 24 hours, not only had every ant in Northern California found out that They Found Sugar In Ken Arneson's Kitchen, they had all physically appeared inside my house to investigate the chemical for themselves.
Until we humans learn to do teleportation, we've got nothing on the ants.
* * *
Question: Which of these news stories on Monday was the most surprising?
A. Barry Bonds declares himself out for the year.
B. Rafael Palmeiro tests positive for steroids.
C. Joe Blanton outpitches Johan Santana.
D. Bomb explodes outside BA, BP Offices in Iran
Gotta be D. I didn't even know Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus had offices in Iran.
* * *
While the ESPN commentators were blathering on about Palmeiro during Monday's A's-Twins game, they completely ignored a really interesting play. Bobby Kielty executed a textbook example of when and how to slide into first base. SS Jason Bartlett threw high to first base, forcing Justin Morneau to leap off the bag to catch it. Kielty reacted perfectly, quickly sliding right under Morneau's tag attempt. If Kielty had run straight through, he would have been out. ESPN didn't even notice what a cool play Kielty made. They didn't discuss it, or even show a single replay. But trust me, go find the tape and put that play in your own personal instructional video. I give it my full en dorse ment.
* * *
Just wondering: why would anybody invest over a million dollars to build robots to mow ads into grass, when you could just use existing first-down-line technology to accomplish the same thing on TV?
* * *
SI.com has a nice photo gallery up on the A's. This picture is the final out from an A's-Phils game I went to. When I saw it live, I thought Johnson missed the tag, and seeing this picture, I still can't tell.
* * *
I agree that classical music isn't inherently superior to modern musical genres. Neither, however, is it doomed to obscurity: BBC's recordings of Beethoven symphonies recently became (by far) the most downloaded music recordings ever. The classical art forms still have a role to play in the modern world, but as the times and the technologies and the art forms change, it takes time to figure out what that new role is.
* * *
I was thinking about the Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies this weekend. There's one award for Print Journalism. There's another for Broadcast Journalism. Will there come a time, when we have come to understand the role of blogging in our society, when we see a third award category, for Online Journalism?
* * *
That's it for now. Gotta go run and fight off another wave of ants...
Merry Untradeday To You!
The trade deadline has passed, the Hall-of-Famers have been honored, and now that all those pleasantries are over, it's time to get back to the
Wait a minute! I still have some unresolved rants regarding the trade deadline. It's not nice to try to distract my audience with Big News™. I wasn't done!
Screw it, I'll go anyway:
One relatively heretofore (and heretoday, too, thanks MLB) unnoticed feature of the A's recent string of playoff appearances is the immobility of their AL West competitors come the trade deadline. The A's have been blessed in recent years by a division filled with GMs who do little but twiddle their thumbs in July. It's not just luck that the A's outperform these teams in the second half.
This year, the Angels and Rangers both still have decent odds of making the playoffs, but did nothing to improve themselves. Again.
How tough would the Angels be to pitch to if they had Mike Sweeney batting behind Guerrero and Anderson? That really worried me. I'm relieved it didn't happen. It still could, I guess; can't imagine too many teams would risk taking on his salary with a waiver claim given his history of back problems. But what would change in August that couldn't have happened in July?
The only AL West team that did anything this weekend was Seattle. The Mariners now have Bill Bavasi instead of good 'ol Stand Pat at GM, and Bavasi did a good job of pulling in some talent.
All the Mariner trades look good to me. In particular, the Randy Winn trade really annoys me, both because it improves an A's rival, but because as a fair-weather Giants fan, I think the trade is just plain stoopid, in so many ways.
First of all, the Giants don't need Randy Winn. Without Barry Bonds, the Giants are not going to win anything. With Barry Bonds, they don't need Randy Winn.
Secondly, the difference between Randy Winn (.275/.342/.391/.733) and either of the two men he would replace, Michael Tucker (.260/.338/.399/.737) and Jason Ellison (.276/.331/.385/.716), is small. They're all the same type of player. Is that small difference worth giving up either Yorvit Torrealba or Jesse Foppert? Maybe, but I don't think so. Both? No way.
Third, with Foppert, I think they're making the exact same mistake they made with Joe Nathan. They looked at his year coming off arm surgery and thought he had lost his stuff and was washed up, and traded him. Next year, Nathan's stuff is back, and he's an all-star. Wouldn't surprise me a bit if Foppert did the same thing.
Fourth, and most importantly (to me), I like Torrealba, but Brian Sabean doesn't. I wanted him to be the starting catcher for the Giants before they traded for A.J. Pierzynski and before they signed Mike Matheny. From what I've seen of Torrealba, I think he can be a pretty solid catcher if he got a chance. Not great, but good enough, especially for a minimum salary. Sabean had two chances to give Torrealba a shot at the starting catcher job, but decided to go the far more expensive route instead. I still can't figure out why.
And now, as a direct result of Sabean's distrust of Torrealba, he went and traded for Pierzynski and Winn, giving up not only Torrealba, but Foppert AND Nathan AND Boof Bonser AND (this may be the most painful part of all) Francisco Liriano (go take a look at Lirano's stats this year for the final dagger in the folly of Sabean's dislike for Torrealba)--with, in the end, just the difference in production between Winn and Tucker/Ellison to show for all of that distrust.
Just an awful, awful, awful sequence of events for Giants fans. It will cost them for years to come. There's a thick fog rolling in over San Francisco, and as I look toward SBC Park from across the bay, I suspect it will be a long, long time before this fair-weather Giants fan will be able to see a thing. So long, I may forget they even exist.
My only reminders will come on days like today, when the A's face Joe Nathan's Twins. The A's will probably have to face him and Liriano and Foppert many times in years to come. And each time they do, I will shake my head and remember, knowing that these talented opponents, and those thick gray clouds that block my view to the west, all grew from one brain cell in Brian Sabean's mind, where he stored his inexplicable dislike of Yorvit Torrealba.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Ken: catfish AT zombia d.o.t. com
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