Monthly archives: September 2005
Brown hills rise beyond the eastern walls;
I went to the A's final home game today, to say my goodbyes to the 2005 Oakland Athletics.
The game itself was not memorable at all, except perhaps for an absolutely Kingmanesque home run by Nick Swisher. That thing went way, way up in the sky. If Mount Davis were located just behind first base, the ball might have cleared it. It eventually came down, with just enough distance to clear the right field fence.
Otherwise, the game had less energy to it than a spring training game. Barry Zito didn't look like he had his mind in the game, as he threw some sloppy pitches that got whacked for home runs. That mattered little, as the A's offense--without Crosby and Chavez--did almost nothing besides Swisher's moonshot. I think Hiram Bocachica could face Bartolo Colon fastballs for weeks on end, and still whiff on every single one of them. He looked completely overmatched.
The outcome (7-1 Angels) didn't matter, really. We were there for the last at-bat, to give one final cheer for this team, as thanks. Mark Ellis gave a valiant effort as the last man standing, fouling off about six Brendan Donnelly pitches before finally striking out. Standing ovation.
Ellis' at-bat personifies this year's team: a brave battle that fell short in the end. Last year's A's fell just short, as well, but they were far less likable. The 2004 A's were an aging team that fell apart. The 2005 A's were a young team that came together.
As the Angels shook hands, they posted this on Diamond Vision:
Next A's Home GameI hadn't really accepted the season was done until I saw that. But that struck me. April. It seems so far away. What to do, where to go, in the meantime?
This may be the most boring offseason in the history of the Oakland A's. A right-handed power bat in left field would probably top my wishlist, but Billy Beane doesn't really *need* to do much at all except let his players mature.
The players cleared the dugouts. The groundskeepers started grooming the field.
I stopped behind home plate, and looked out over that green grass one last time. Then I climbed the steps, walked out the tunnel, crossed the parking lot, got in my car, and drove away.
Gallery Of Elimination
For Immediate Release
(Alameda, CA. Issued via: Toaster Public Relations Agencies, LLC.)
The K.M. Arneson Gallery, the world's largest and most comprehensive collection devoted to the paintings of the leader of the Toasterrealists, is proud to announce it has become even larger and more comprehensive, with the acquisition of the "Elimination Day: 2005" series of paintings, purchased from a private collector for ß1,500,000,000.
The "Elimination Day: 2005" collection includes such revered works such as:
Bloop Falls In
Kotsay Runs Out Of Room
Harden Auf Pen
Hope, Or, What Might Have Been
Injury To Insult
The Final Swing
Dance of the Angels
The K.M. Arneson Gallery is proud to add these magnificent and revered works of art to its collection, and is looking forward to exhibiting them in the near future.
Before I Go Down
I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
The Giants and A's were living parallel lives. They both finished one game out last year. They both started four-game series tonight, trailing their opponents in the standings by four games. They both pretty much needed a sweep to avoid elimination. They both need a miracle.
*Click*. Eric Chavez homers. The A's enter the ninth inning trailing 4-3.
*Click*. Bob Dylan explains how he studied other musicians, trying to figure out what made them so good, what they all have in common. He says there's something in their eyes, something that says, "I know something that you don't."
*Click*. The top of the ninth is taking forever in Oakland. A walk, a hit, and a pitching change drags things out. Huston Street gets Juan Rivera to pop out to shortstop, to keep it a one-run game.
*Click*. Flip to the Giants game. The Giants also trail by a run entering the ninth. Trevor Hoffman is in. He gets two outs, runner on first. One out to go.
Then the Giants get their miracle. Randy Winn hits a ball to deep center. It lands in Brian Giles' glove, but when Giles hits the wall, the ball jars loose. Winn ends up on third base. After Omar Vizquel walks, J.T. Snow singles to right, and the Giants lead, 3-2.
*Click*. Will the parallel lives continue? Can the A's get a miracle too?
No such luck. The A's and Giants paths suddenly diverge. K-Rod sets down the A's, 1-2-3.
*Click*. Armando Benitez needs one more out. Ramon Hernandez grounds out to Vizquel.
The Giants' hopes are still alive. The A's are hanging on by the slimmest of threads.
I've been considering going to Tuesday's game. But now that the A's have lost, do I really want to witness the Angels clinch the division? And on the A's home turf? Why set myself up for that kind of pain?
*Click*. Dylan is explaining why he was so prolific in those days. He felt he was exploring something new, something he had never done, nor anyone else.
I will not go down under the ground
Indeed. See you at the Coliseum.
A 72-Year Drought Ends
They're partying in Sydney, like it's Boston 2004.
The Sydney Swans of the Australian Football League broke a 72-year championship drought yesterday, defeating the West Coast Eagles 58-54 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. They say it was one of the best Grand Finals ever.
In 1999, I went to an Australian rules football game at the MCG, as they call their sport's most hallowed ground. It was awesome, a really entertaining sport. Here's a "footy" primer, if you're not familiar with the rules.
Footy fans are intense. The match I went to was just an ordinary weeknight regular season game, and there were almost 30,000 people in the stands. Each team has a fight song the fans all sing, and they wave flags and banners all through the match. Here's a picture from my visit:
Saturday, the Swans had to hang on tooth and nail for their long-awaited victory. They were leading by just five with a minute left. (If you kick the ball between the middle goal posts, you get six points, so the Eagles trailed by only one score.)
The Eagles almost scored a game-winning goal, twice. Once, they got a one-pointer (which you get if the ball goes between the pair of posts on the side). And then...well, just watch the last minute of the final here.
Wow, that was an exciting finish! That's what the Red Sox victory should have been like last year. That four-game sweep was so anti-climactic. The Red Sox should have had to fight with everything they had to defeat their ghosts.
That's the proper way to break a curse! Although, hearing the Notre Dame fight song as they celebrated was kinda weird. Still, that's way better than watching Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore running around on the field.
I suppose, though, that beggars can't be choosers. If the price for breaking Cal's 66-year Rose Bowl drought were having to watch Adam Duritz run around naked on the field, I'd probably pay it.
And I wonder, what's the price for winning an ALDS series?
Ah, That Day
The Angel of Death flew into Oakland Wednesday, disguised as Michael Cuddyer.
Block: No man can live with Death and know that everything is nothing.
* * * * * *
Death takes possession of the agenda. It is time to discuss business.
Agenda Item #1: Death hits a home run.
Behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke.
* * * * * *
You can tell you don't have your best stuff today. But you deny there is a problem. It is only one run. There is plenty of time.
You grind. You fight. You battle.
You give Death a wound, a foul ball off the shin.
* * * * * *
You have an opening now, a good position to negotiate. Your odds are better now, right? Surely, Death cannot harm us, with only one leg to stand on?
Death gets up. He does not answer your question. He states only, in a matter-of-fact voice, "Your time is growing short."
And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the LORD when I lay my vengeance upon thee.
* * * * * *
Agenda Item #2: Death doubles.
Some good-for-nothing--who knows why--
* * * * * *
Life is a pleasant illusion, a hidden gift decorated in agreeable geometries. Love. Joy. Hope. You only see the surface. You notice only what you want to notice.
Piece by piece, Death unwraps the package. Death does not tolerate delusion. Death demands the truth.
The truth makes you queasy. The truth is unsettling. The truth is sickening.
The truth is this: you cannot stop the truth. You cannot disguise the truth with shiny distractions. Any victory is temporary. The truth will out.
Whack its shin, and Death will put on a shin guard. Death will have its day.
Behold, therefore I will deliver thee to the men of the east for a possession, and they shall set their palaces in thee, and make their dwellings in thee: they shall eat thy fruit, and they shall drink thy milk.
* * * * * *
Agenda Item #3: Death slides ahead of the throw. Another double.
There are blows in life so violent--Don't ask me!
* * * * * *
And you scream, "No f@#%ing way! Get a new f@#%ing scouting report on this guy! Nobody else has a problem getting him out! This ain't f@#%ing happening!"
But the truth is this: Death means business.
Behold, therefore I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the heathen; and I will cut thee off from the people, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries: I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD.
* * * * * *
The truth is this: Your time is running out.
You turn to the past, asking questions, looking for an answer that maybe, maybe can get you out of this mess.
What went wrong?
Each question opens up a wound.
Whose fault is this?
To ask the question, you must relive the pain, over and over again.
What should have been done differently? What should we do now?
The questions are fruitless, and the answers don't satisfy.
Why? Why now? Why us?
Death provides no answers, only the next bullet point.
Agenda Item #4: Death beats the throw home. Scores standing up.
I ache now without any explanation. My pain is so deep, that it never had a cause nor does it lack a cause now. What could have been its cause? Where is that thing so important, that it might stop being its cause? Its cause is nothing; nothing could have stopped being its cause. For what has this pain been born, for itself? My pain comes from the north wind and from the south wind, like those neuter eggs certain rare birds lay in the wind. If my bride were dead, my pain would be the same. If they had slashed my throat all the way through, my pain would be the same. If life were, in short, different, my pain would be the same. Today I suffer from further above. Today I am simply in pain.
* * * * * *
You're on the edge of life now. The Light is fading, the Darkness getting stronger. This game, this season...the odds of staying alive are dwindling each second.
The only tool left in your kit is a prayer. Your only hope now is a miracle. You don't really believe in miracles.
You begin to accept that there is little left to do now but to pour salt on your wounds. It's OK. This is Life. A six-run deficit. A three-game deficit. Let's play the last plays. Let's get it done.
Agenda Item #5: Another standup double, another RBI.
When we win it's with small things,
A's beat Liriano
Bryan Smith has a nice run through some top prospects who pitched last night over at Baseball Analysts. Here's what he says about Francisco Liriano, whom the A's beat last night:
Simply put, Liriano was just too hittable yesterday. It did not look like the Francisco I saw at the Futures Game, the point in time in which his tear really took off. Still, there was a smell of dominance in the air, as despite struggles in his 3.2 innings of work, Liriano managed to strike out six hitters. Few pitchers have no-hit stuff (3 good pitches, none under 85 mph) as consistently as Liriano, who even amidst a bad performance showed why he is top dog in a loaded Minnesota minor league system.
Liriano's "stuff" was indeed impressive. But except for one at-bat against Mark Kotsay, he never really had the A's fooled: when he got them out, he simply overpowered them. It didn't look like he had mastered the art of deception yet.
Still, if I were a Twins fan, I'd be excited about him. A pitcher can't learn to overpower, but he can learn to deceive.
He's very reminicient of Rich Harden when he first came up. Harden at first relied primarily on overpowering people, and was very inconsistent as a result. If his control was off, he'd struggle, walking people or throwing fastballs down the middle. That's what happened to Liriano last night.
Harden spent about a year in the majors before he learned to combine his electric stuff with deception. When that clicked for him, Harden become one of the best pitchers in baseball, and he could win even without pinpoint control.
Until he started pulling muscles, that is, but that's another story.
With pitchers like Harden and Liriano, this seems to be a natural process. You overpower people all the way up to the majors, where the hitters make you make an adjustment. It probably takes pitchers like that a year or two to figure it out.
Unless you're Felix Hernandez, of course. He might be an exception, although he did get roughed up a bit in his last outing. Still, from what I've seen of him, he showed up in the major leagues with both electric stuff and ace-like deception at the age of nineteen. Remarkable.
The Twins have had a rough year, but when Liriano figures it out, and pairs up with Johan Santana, the Twins will be competitive again, I'm sure, just from those two guys alone.
Today, the A's go for a sweep. I'll be at the ballpark. Pictures later...
the Oakland Athletics' deficit in the AL West at the time of this posting.
One-and-a-half is a self-referential Google query. One-and-a-half is waiting for Googlebot to become recursive.
One-and-a-half is a confusing artifact that is difficult to recognise.
One-and-a-half is in the archive just now. One-and-a-half is from The Chronicles of Narnia. One-and-a-half is the oldest document in the National Archives of Scotland and is one of our treasures.
One-and-a-half is wounded. One-and-a-half is always sick and going to the doctor.
One-and-a-half is putting a good face on it, since (if I remember right) the "one" had obviously undergone major modifications and less-than-successful repairs before it was lost for 500 years.
One-and-a-half is now considered too high for all breeds, and one-and-a-quarter is the current requirement for most breeds.
One-and-a-half is the standard spoken-English way of expressing this number, and it is written as "1 1/2".
1 1/2 is half of three. 1 1/2 is calculated by dividing 3 by 2. 1 1/2 is almost a two. 1 1/2 is the raw, irrational version of "two".
1 1/2 is not equal or better. 1 1/2 is sometimes meant as a precise measurement or count and sometimes as a vague approximation or rhetorical exaggeration.
1 1/2 is available as a byproduct of energy metabolism.
1 1/2 is a torrent of activity - really a happy kid with a drooly face and big round brown eyes full of mischief. 1 1/2 is not allowed on the new carpet.
1 1/2 is the same as one point five.
One point five is one of those cinematic offerings that is filled with people who are neither angels or devils, and consequently feel all the more genuinely human for being so. One point five is actually the same movie as X-Men with more features on dvd.
One point five is spread over two discs. One point five is Wim Wenders, number two is Fassbinder.
One point five is a ménage-a-trois, and half a sock is "Don't open the door! Don't look at me! Don't look at me!"
One point five is a big deal, right?
One point five is an insignificant event save for the inclusion of a spell checker by default maybe, but it is also a fine-tuned release of a great email client.
One point five is written 1.50, one and one-quarter is written 1.25.
1.50 is a dialectical approach. 1.50 is utilised for teaching, lecturing and tutorials. 1.50 is the same arbitrary scaling factor currently applied to the base risk weights, to give the granularity scaling factor ("GSF") actually used for the calculation (Basel, 2001, paragraph 457).
1.50 is more in the ball park. 1.50 is not such a bad place to be.
1.50 is a haven for nature lovers, for families who want to get away from it all and for the lovers of history who enjoy exploring the fascinating wartime defences.
1.50 is based at Grimsby. 1.50 is technically in Holm, and the Italian Chapel, the relic of the builders of those marvels, though within the parish, is more associated with its own small island, Lamb Holm (pronounced holm).
1.50 is again evidenced per the purchase price of a second bride.
1.50 is not called and half, it is called half of three.
Half of three is what I call it.
Half of three is probably right. Half of three is VERY new. Half of three is not bad. Half of three is fine. Half of three is acceptable also.
Half of three is fine and dandy for the drivers, but it can be hell for members of the media who are trying to cover the action, or lack thereof.
Half of three is a good-sized dose for me. Half of three is a little bit too much. Half of three is certainly too much -- but does not seem way out of line.
Half of three is still ahead of us. Half of three is the end.
Half of three is still too much.
A's Clinch Heavyweight Title
The Oakland Athletics are the winners of the Heavyweight Of The Year title for the 2005 regular season.
The Heavyweight of the Year goes to the team that wins the most title bouts throughout the regular season. The A's have won 27 bouts, seven more than Toronto, their closest competitor.
The competition treats baseball like boxing, where if you beat the champion, you become the new champion.
Seattle and Toronto, the two last teams with a chance to catch the A's, were eliminated yesterday when the Mariners lost to Texas. Toronto will have no more title bouts, while Seattle can have at most six, not enough to catch the A's.
Another prize goes to the winner of the crown after the last day of the regular season. Six teams were eliminated from that competition yesterday, as a result of Seattle's loss: the Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Royals, Tigers, and Twins. All National League teams were eliminated earlier this summer.
For current standings, and possible bouts remaining in the season, look at the sidebar.
Congratulations to the A's!
Danny The Wabbit Woses To Wed Sox
I witnessed something truly sublime yesterday.
sublime. adjective.I am not a particularly religious person. I'm a confirmed Lutheran, but I don't attend church anymore. I don't believe the universe operates on willpower. Like Jon Carroll, I don't believe that everything happens for a reason.
And yet I experience moments that feel religious. These moments usually involve something sublime, something heavenly, when you know that this is as good as it gets.
It's a weird paradox. One part of my brain rejects the conventional idea of God, yet another part knows God. Perhaps this will be explained one day by neurotheology or maybe neurogastroenterotheology. Until that happens, I'll just have to live with the mystery.
* * *
There's an art to vanity plates. There are good ones and bad ones, and usually we can tell the difference. What makes a good vanity plate? I'm not sure. What makes any artwork great? The very best vanity plates are clever and funny and say something about both the owner and the vehicle. I remember thinking that VOGON was a pretty good, but not great. VOGON belongs on a Hummer or a monster truck or something. But this one was on a luxury SUV. It ruined the effect. The owner was no Vogon.
* * *
Alas, my sublime experience yesterday did not happen during the A's-Red Sox game. The A's suffered their second straight late-inning loss; the Angels got their second straight late-inning victory, and the A's fell 2 games out.
Two games out is OK. With four games left against Anaheim, a 3-1 series victory gets them tied. Until they fall three games out...
These two losses didn't really bother me. They were two well-played games, where the balls just didn't bounce the A's way.
Danny the Rabbit pitched a good game, but suffered the Wrath of Manny, who drove in the winning run for the second straight day.
The A's don't have a Manny, or a Papi, or an ARod, or a Vlad. Having a player like that is like a tennis player having a big serve. Every now and then, they get you some free points. The A's have to get all their points the hard way.
* * *
After the game, I loaded up the kids in the car, and we headed out to dinner at a local restaurant. As I signed my credit card receipt, I had a strange urge to write a note on the napkin, and leave it for the waitress. I wrote this:
So long, and thanks for all the fish.
* * *
As we got in the car to drive home, I noticed a Volkswagen Rabbit convertible had parked in the space opposite mine. It had a vanity plate.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the perfection of an art form. The ultimate license plate. It doesn't get any better than that. Sublime.
The 11th Stupid Utopia
This recent article entitled The Ten Stupidest Utopias! brought back memories. If the author had read the final paper I wrote in my Utopian Fiction class at UC Berkeley back in 1987, I'm sure my utopia would have easily cracked the top 10.
The final exam for the class was to write our own utopian (or dystopian) short story. Mine involved a global thermonuclear war breaking out during a Super Bowl. The only human survivors of the war were 80,000 football fans watching the game inside a concrete domed stadium.
The civilization that emerged from this catastrophe used the NFL as its cultural foundation and economic model. Everybody lived in domed cities (to keep the radiation out), cities were organized into divisions, and divisions were assigned industries in which they would compete economically. Only the NFC East cities would make, say, beer, while only the AFC West cities would make, for example, clothing.
Any profits the cities earned were invested in the football team. The more efficient your economy, the better your football team. What better economic incentive is there than that?
Now, that's clearly a stupider utopia than Plato's Republic, or William Gibson's Neuromancer, wouldn't you say?
I thought about using baseball as a model instead, but the sex and violence of football just makes for a better story.
I dug around in my old papers, and tried to find the story. I found my first draft, but not my final paper. Dang. Where did I put it? I gotta do some cleaning up around here. My house is dystopianly disorganized.
A's All Square; Macha Irregular Polygon
A's win; Angels lose; the AL West is all square.
That's the good news.
The bad news is this quote from Macha in the SF Chronicle about bringing in Huston Street with a four-run lead (emphasis mine):
"He had two days off and I'm not playing a statistical game right now," Macha said. "There's only one statistic and that's to win the game. You've got to go with your best guy, and for me, tonight, that's a save situation."
I wasn't so much bothered by bringing in Street; if a runner gets on, he's gonna have to get up in the pen anyway. What bothers me is that I was right about Macha yesterday when I said this:
Macha is choking. He's changing his managing style, just because it's September. Perhaps we should call him Maucha.The A's are where they are today because they play a statistical game. Now Macha has declared that he's suddenly throwing statistics out the window, and he's going to manage however the hell he feels like, logic be damned. All of a sudden, the A's have Dusty Baker in the dugout.
Worked great in Cleveland, dude. Way to improve our odds of winning.
Are you watching, Pittsburgh? This is the real Ken Macha, giving the middle finger to sabermetrics when it counts the most. Macha must know he's outta here. He must be figuring, this could be my last shot, so if we're gonna lose this time, we're gonna lose my way.
Stupid Stupid Macha
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHH! Macha has cost the A's two games in this series with stupid stupid stupid pitching decisions. (Well, the game isn't over yet as I write this, but I need to rant.)
Last night, he took Kirk Saarloos out too soon. Tonight, to make up for that bonehead mistake, he leaves Barry Zito in way too long.
What the **** is Macha watching? Zito had control over nothing--nothing--but his fastball. He seemed afraid to throw his changeup to the Indians power hitters. His curveball was hanging all night long.
He did well to get to the seventh with the game tied, given his lack of stuff tonight. Zito tiptoed through the heart of the Indians order all night long. He should have left after six, and let someone else face that part of the batting order. Or perhaps you let him face the first two batters, and take him out after facing the lefty Travis Hafner.
But Macha decided to keep playing with matches. He left Zito in to face switch-hitting Victor Martinez with two on and no outs. Zito got lucky: Martinez swung at ball four and struck out.
At this point there's one out, still two runners on. It could easily have been bases loaded, no outs. Zito had thrown over 120 pitches, there was a right-handed batter (Ronnie Belliard) coming up. Anyone with eyes can see that Zito is out of gas, but Macha goes out to the mound, and somehow leaves Zito in the game!
And so Zito, of course, hangs a curveball to Belliard, who parks it over the left-field wall for a home run. 6-3 Indians.
Gggggggggahhhhhhh! I need a Ken Macha voodoo doll, pronto. I need to throw it across the room. I need to smash it onto the wall. Otherwise, I'm certain to break my remote control.
Macha is choking. He's changing his managing style, just because it's September. Perhaps we should call him Maucha.
* * *
If there's any consolation to these bonehead moves, it's that Mike Scioscia keeps matching Macha, dead brain cell for dead brain cell.
You keep on playing Steve Finley every day, Mike. You keep letting Erstad face those lefty pitchers. It's our only hope.
Macha's Got Some Splainin To Do
Why why why did Ken Macha take out Kirk Saarloos from Tuesday's game? It makes no sense:
Vanover was calling pitches six inches off the ground strikes. Cleveland manager Eric Wedge got himself ejected complaining about it. Rightfully so.
The umpire was giving the A's a huge advantage. Saarloos could just keep throwing the ball right at the hitters shoetops, and they'd either swing over it, pound it in the ground, or take it for a strike.
Ken Macha took that advantage out of the game, at least one full inning before he really needed to. Witasick came in (these days, he's starting to give me the heebie-jeebies every time I see him warm up), and the game fell apart immediately. Boom, boom, 5-2 loss.
Unless Saarloos was hurt or something, I don't get it. At all.
* * *
I figure the wild card is pretty much out of reach now. The wild card will go to the Indians or Yankees. If the A's somehow play well enough to pass both those teams, they'll play well enough to pass the Angels, too. The A's playoff hopes are all about the division title now.
Miraculously, the Angels lost again tonight. I was monitoring the game on my computer until the Angels loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the ninth, tied 1-1. At that point, I gave up and went and did something else. Somehow, though, Seattle escaped that jam, and scored in the bottom half of the inning to win the game.
Whew! The A's are still a game out.
* * *
The AL West pennant race seems pretty exciting to me, but obviously, it lacks the quality of the AL East. We're second-class citizens out here, so we make do with what we have.
(Link via Pearly Gates.)
Where is Warren Bankston When You Need Him?
When was the last time you tried to Google something, and the information didn't seem to exist online in any format?
The A's are cursed, and here's the proof: not only are the A's 0-9 in their last nine chances to clinch an ALDS game, they are also 0-9 in their last nine playoff coin flips. Odds against that? 1 in 262,144.
I remember when I was a kid, the Oakland Raiders had a coin-flip specialist, Warren Bankston. He would get visions of the coin flip during the week, and then proceeded to call correctly about 17 coin flips in a row.
Anybody else remember that story? It was a long time ago. I'm not sure if I remembered it correctly, so I tried to Google it. I found nothing, except the fact that Bankston correctly called the coin flip in Super Bowl XI.
Wherever Bankston is, the A's should look him up and hire him. He's gotta be better than whoever it is they have calling their coin flips now.
Then again, if they're cursed, I guess it doesn't matter.
Fat Don't Matter, Kid
My five-year-old takes one look at C.C. Sabathia last night and bursts out, "Man, that pitcher is fat!"
Sabathia pitched well, but lost to the A's, 2-0. Whatever was wrong with Dan Haren last time out got fixed in a hurry. Indians lose, Angels lose to Seattle...the A's still have a heartbeat.
* * *
Two hours later, same daughter gets her first look at Barry Bonds this year and says, "Whoa, Bonds is fat, too!"
Fat don't matter, kid. Bonds looked like Willie McCovey at the end of his career, his knees barely supporting his huge frame as he slowly hobbled around the field, but the dude can still swing the bat. That 11-pitch at-bat for a double was amazing stuff.
Sign that Bonds is not Bonds, Barry Bonds: the Padres pitched to Bonds in the seventh, then intentionally walked Ray Durham. 2001-2004: that never happens.
Ken's scouting report: don't throw Bonds fastballs away. He proved he can hit those. Give him fastballs in, changeups away, until he proves his timing is back. Then start walking him.
A's Last Gasp for Wild Card
The A's didn't get much help this weekend. The Angels, Yankees, and Indians all played contending teams, but only suffered one loss amongst them.
Oakland took two of three from Texas, but still managed to fall one game further back in the wild card and division standings.
In the next seven days, the A's play three games against Cleveland, and four against Boston. The Angels play three against Seattle (and miss Felix Hernandez), and four against Detroit.
That's a recipe for getting buried in a hurry. One losing week now, and the A's are done. The playoff odds chart for the A's could easily take a quick nosedive over the next few days.
BP puts the A's wild card odds at only 2.6%. I imagine those wild card odds will approach zero if they don't sweep Cleveland. The Indians have seven games left against Kansas City, almost automatic wins. To pass Cleveland without sweeping them, the A's would have to blow through their remaining schedule. And even if they do sweep them, the Yankees lurk.
If the A's do somehow play well enough to pass up both the Indians and Yankees, they'd probably end up passing the Angels, too. Their division odds are 28.1%. So at this point, it's pretty much division or bust!. Still, it would be nice to keep those wild card hopes alive, too, by beating Cleveland.
I expect the Angels to go 5-2 or 6-1 this week. The A's need to remain within two games of the Angels by the time they play them again, so that a 3-1 series win would bring them to a division tie.
I have tickets to the last A's home game of the season, against the Angels. Here's hoping it will mean something.
Cubs-Giants Slideshow (9/8/05)
A ticket to last night's Cubs-Giants game fell into my lap. So I hopped on the ferry from Alameda, and headed over to SBC Park.
I was hoping to catch Barry Bonds' debut, but alas, no such luck. Instead, it was just an ordinary September ballgame between two teams that are pretty much out of it.
Nonetheless, I have a photo slideshow here.
The Athletics Zone
*mouth agape, shaking head*
...I just don't know what to say. Words fail me.
Luckily, they don't fail Bill King. When the A's tied the game (and later won it) in the ninth, after entering the inning down 7-3, King described it like this:
The A's offense, just like Lazarus, rising from the dead!
It's amazing how King always knows where to go to describe what he sees. To explain this team, you need to go beyond our normal dimensions, to unlock a door into a land of miracle and wonder, the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge.
You have entered...The Athletics Zone.
I went to the game today. Took my 5-year-old daughter, and my sister-in-law, in town from L.A. Sat with Kenny Louis out in the Blichiros, as my sister-in-law called our right field section, whose demographics today were probably 80% Japanese.
The game was horrible. If you were an alien who dropped in on this game from outer space, you'd think these were two teams out of contention, playing out the string in the last few weeks of the season. There was no energy to it at all.
Dan Haren had nothing, and the Mariners raked him hard. It was the worst game I've ever seen him pitch. He seemed to be out of gas from the first pitch of the game. He left in the third inning, trailing 5-0.
The A's offense did nothing off of Ryan Franklin for three innings. At one point, I screamed out, "This is Ryan Franklin, fercryinoutloud! Get some hits!"
* * *
The A's offense seems to get sucked into a black hole from time to time, disappearing from our universe altogether, and then, out of nowhere, it bursts back into existence in a brilliant massive explosion.
* * *
The A's didn't explode in the middle innings, but they did some nice foreshadowing.
In the fourth, Eric Chavez hit a screamer over the center-field fence for a solo homer. The next inning, Mark Ellis led off with a single.
My daughter asks, "Is Mark Ellis going to stay on first base forever?"
Kenny bursts out laughing.
The way the A's offense has sputtered lately, it feels like Ellis could indeed be stranded at first a long time. But for some reason I reply, "I don't think so."
Instantly, Jason Kendall singled, Mark Kotsay doubled, and the A's had two more runs. But the rally fizzled out when Chavez and Jay Payton followed Kotsay by swinging at bad pitches, even though they were both ahead in the count.
Bah! They were so close to bursting forth, and then they got sucked straight back into that black hole.
The A's did nothing on offense from that point on, until the ninth.
* * *
There are many contradictions in conventional physics. The smallest pieces of matter are both particles and waves, at the same time! How can that be?
String theory helps resolve those contradictions mathematically, by describing the fundamental ingredients of nature as simple tiny strings, vibrating in eleven dimensions.
Our universe, the theory suggests, may be one of many "branes", multi-dimensional membranes floating around an even higher multi-dimensional soup, and every time one "brane" collides with another, we get a massive explosion, a "big bang". One minute you have nothing, and the next...everything.
* * *
And so Oakland enters the ninth inning, trailing 7-3. The A's offense seems non-existent. What a puzzle this team is! So many contradictions: they're unstoppable at times, and completely motionless at others. It's like they're both waves and particles all wrapped into one. They make no sense.
The A's playoff hopes are fading fading fading fading away. But I still retain a feint glimmer of hope. Something starts bubbling inside me. I suddenly felt... clairvoyant, like I have some strange connection to something...I don't know what....
My daughter asks: "Are the A's going to lose?" And I feel something strange coming on, and odd sort of defiant confidence, that something weird and wonderful is about to happen, so I say:
"No. The A's are going to tie the game. The game will go extra innings. They will keep playing, and playing, and playing, and never stop. Nobody will be able to score. We will have to leave, because your bedtime is 8 o'clock. But no matter, when you wake up tomorrow, they will still be playing. The A's have a flight to Texas, but they will miss it, because this game will never end."
And my daughter says, "That's not going to happen."
And I say, "No, you're probably right. Someone will score before then."
* * *
BLAM! Somewhere, suddenly, two universes collide, and the A's offense explodes into being, once again.
* * *
Nick Swisher singles to lead off the ninth. Mark Ellis gets to a 3-1 count. I say, "Ellis, you better not swing at this." My daughter says, "He won't swing."
He doesn't swing. Ball four. Runners on first and second.
My daughter says, "I want Kendall to hit a home run!"
I say, "No, that's too much to ask for. He can't hit a homer. I want him to single to left field."
Kendall singles to left field.
"He did want you wanted, Daddy. What do you want now?"
I say, "I want a double."
Kotsay hits a double. "He did what you asked for again! Now what, Daddy?"
Chavez comes up. I'm feeling it now. I don't know how, but I know exactly what's going to happen. "I want another double."
She says, "Chavez can hit a double. He hit a home run before."
Chavez hits a double. Game tied, 7-7.
Now I'm getting cocky. I feel like James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams, when he starts pontificating: "Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."
I say, rather dreamily, "They will walk Payton. Hatteberg will bunt. They will put Johnson on to load the bases, and then it will be all up to Ginter."
They walked Payton. Hatteberg bunts, but pops it up to the catcher.
"Be careful what you wish for," I mutter to myself. I was mad I didn't specify that Hatteberg would bunt successfully.
My anger deflates me. The flow of predictions that came from some mysterious dimension within me instantly dries up. The force was with me no more.
Then Johnson hits an infield single, the bases are loaded, one out, and as I had foreseen, it was indeed all up to Ginter.
* * *
My supernatural connection was now gone. I had no idea what would happen next. Would the A's score, and win the game? Or would the game indeed go on, forever and ever and ever, as I originally predicted?
I just watched, holding my daughter up so she could see, and hoped.
* * *
Jeff Nelson replaced Eddie Guardado. Ginter promptly grounded into a fielder's choice, with Chavez thrown out at the plate. Now there were two outs, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, tie game.
Nick Swisher, who had led off the inning, came up again. Like a string looping back on itself, he would close the circle. Either he would win the game, cutting off my paranormal experience once and for all, or he'd send it into those endless extra innings I had foreseen. It was up to him.
He worked the count to 3-2. Nelson threw him a pitch high and away. Swisher took it. Ball four. The game ended.
* * *
For a brief moment this afternoon, I understood. I was "in the zone." I stretched beyond the normal four dimensions we normally look at our baseball teams with, and saw the true nature of the Oakland A's. It was beautifully, beautifully elegant.
* * *
But now that zone is gone. I can't recall a thing about where it is or how to get there. All I'm left with is this nagging feeling that some strangely ironic plot twist awaits just ahead.
A's Lead-Free Lunchboxes
I just found this out: many kids' vinyl lunchboxes are contaminated with lead.
I happened to have a lead-testing kit at home, so I tested the vinyl lunchboxes my kids had been using, and sure enough, the results were positive for lead.
Don't eat lead! Throw out your vinyl lunchboxes! Good ol' fashioned paper bags and aluminum lunchboxes will be back in vogue very soon, I'm sure.
Just so happens, I have a couple of aluminum lunchboxes:
I was thinking that maybe I could make some money selling those things on EBay someday, but instead, my kids start using them tomorrow.
Macha: One Foot Out The Door?
Lloyd McClendon has been fired in Pittsburgh, Ken Macha's hometown.
The door is open now, either for Macha to walk out the door, or for Billy Beane to gently guide him that way, as he did with Art Howe. I guess we'll soon find out how much mutual love there really is in that relationship.
The Pirates may want him. CEO Kevin McClatchy said he wanted an experienced major-league manager.
FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal suggests Jim Leyland and Art Howe are other candidates for the job, but thinks the Pirates should go in another direction.
Frankly, I don't think it matters too much if Macha stays or goes. Whoever Beane hires after Macha will be just like Macha, implementing the philosophy that Beane wants implemented. It would be interesting, as a point of curiosity, to see what kind of philosophy Macha would play with in Pittsburgh, where he'd probably be left to his own devices.
MLB to Pass the Hat for Hurricane Relief
During each baseball game on Wednesday, September 7, Major League Baseball will "pass the hat" (literally!) to collect funds for the Red Cross hurricane relief efforts.
MLB will match up to $1 million of those donations.
Teams playing road games tomorrow will have a separate "Pass the Hat" day in the near future.
* * *
For A's fans, there are two ways contribute to this matching fund program:
Donations can be made by either cash or check. Checks should be made out to "American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund."
* * *
I'll be at the game tomorrow, ready to put my check into the hat. I had been looking for some way to get my contributions matched, but hadn't found one I was eligible for before this.
You figure that passing the hat with 30,000 people at 30 ballparks, they would be able to get $1 million, but I'll add my share help ensure the full amount gets matched.
* * *
On a side note, if anybody would like to meet up for the game, let me know...
March of the Injured
Barry Zito wasn't himself on Sunday. It turns out he was pitching with sore ribs. Update: Bobby Kielty hurt his ribcage, too, and may miss a week or two.
How come every time the A's run into a cluster of injuries, they also run into the Yankees?
* * *
I saw March of the Penguins today. Reminded me of this A's season.
You're a bird. You need to lay your egg. Your nesting ground is 70 miles away. No problem, right?
Oh, but wait, we can't let it be easy. Sure, you're a bird, but unlike other birds, you can't fly. You're built to swim! But...you can't swim there, either. You have to walk. Walk 70 miles!?! You barely have legs! Yes, 70 miles...in the snow! But there's nothing you can do about it, so you perservere. You get there. Shortly after you arrive, the sun disappears. It won't be back for several months. It gets even colder. But wait, there's more! There's nothing to eat! You will go without any food through a full winter in the coldest place on earth.
Still alive? Don't count your chicks until they reach the sea.
The weather starts to turn for the better. It starts getting lighter and warmer. You have some hope. But suddenly, some birds that can fly just float right in as if getting to this place is the easiest thing in the world, and start trying to eat you alive.
Life is just one damn thing after another.
* * *
The Yankees took their bite out of Oakland, and moved on. Monday, the A's only have to face Felix Hernandez and the Mariners.
To the sea! It's good to be alive.
A Game of Inches
I went to the game today. The A's lost, 7-0, but the game was much closer than that. Here's the play of the game, in the seventh inning:
If Hideki Matsui doesn't beat out this double play ball, the A's head to the bottom of the seventh trailing 1-0. Instead, a walk, a single, and a homer by Jason Giambi followed, and the game was suddenly out of reach.
I'm not quite sure how that didn't become a double play. Matsui hit a rocket. Perhaps Scutaro was too slow getting over to second base? I don't know, I didn't see a replay. Looking at this picture, I still don't know how Matsui beat it out.
So it goes. More pictures later...
'91 A's vs. '05 Yankees
On September 1, 1991, I had tickets to an A's game. I gave them away, and got married instead. It was the best decision I ever made. I got a lovely wife of 14 years, instead of a wasted afternoon watching the A's lose 5-2 to the Detroit Tigers.
The A's finished that day 71-61, in second place, 8 games behind the Minnesota Twins in the AL West. Coming off three straight World Series appearances, Dave Stewart and Bob Welch had suddenly gotten old, and the A's started scrounging around the scrap heap looking for a few more arms to give them one last shot at glory before the whole thing fell apart. The rotation started getting some very un-A's-like names inserted into it, such as Andy Hawkins, Ron Darling, Joe Slusarski, and Eric Show.
There were days when the old magic seemed to return, and other days when the old bones seemed to creak. The next year, the A's captured the old magic just enough to win one last division title before the generation had run its course. But while the '91-'92 A's were still good teams, they no longer intimidated anyone.
* * *
Tonight, the A's enter a series against the New York Yankees, where they will face Al Leiter, Aaron Small, and Shawn Chacon. They're all decent pitchers, I suppose, but those aren't quite the names you associate with The Yankees(™).
Perhaps there are some parallels to be drawn. The '91 A's weren't done as contenders, and neither are the '05 Yanks. This generation of Yankees may win another title or two, as those A's did. Those '91 A's still had McGwire, Canseco, and Rickey to damage opponents, just as the '05 Yankees still have ARod, Jeter and Sheffield. The A's still had Dennis Eckersley to close games, and the Yankees still have Mariano Rivera.
But like Stewart and Welch in '91, Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina are aging, and you can sense that they only have a year or two of glory left in them before they're done. And the supporting cast around the star pitchers has started to become a desperate revolving door.
At this point, they're still a good team, but they're a good team amongst many, not the intimidating presence they had been in the recent past. The Yankees may come into Oakland and sweep the A's this weekend, but the converse, once seemingly impossible, now seems almost as likely.
Billy Beane learned a lesson from the mistakes made by the early 90's A's, and rebuilt the A's in 2005 without letting the team get too old. The question is this: have the Yankees learned from those mistakes, too, or are they doomed to repeat them?
A's Schedule Disadvantage
Over at Baseball Prospectus, Dave Haller points out that the A's have the most difficult schedule of all the remaining AL contenders.
If that weren't enough of a disadvantage on top of the rash of injuries, there's this: the A's and Angels each play Seattle six more times. It looks like the A's will have to face phenom Felix Hernandez twice, while the Angels will avoid him altogether.
If the Mariners keep a strict five-man rotation, the A's will face Hernandez on the last game of the season. Gulp...
Although the A's currently occupy a playoff spot, the A's nonetheless face an uphill battle to keep it. Their best chance is to beat the Angels head-to-head and take the division. They need to take at least three, and possibly four of the remaining five games against the Anaheimizens. Must win tonight.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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