Monthly archives: April 2007
The following is an age-old tale of forbidden love, with the same lamentable ending as all the others.
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When old age shall this generation waste,
I wish I could believe Keats was right. I wish that simple formula--Find The Beautiful, Be A Winner--were actually true. But look at the world. The truth is, sometimes The Ugly kicks ass. Microsoft. MySpace. George Steinbrenner. Barry Bonds.
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Confession: I am in love with B.J. Upton.
It was love at first sight. I have yet to lay eyes on Upton on TV (for who watches the Devil Rays on TV?), but here is what I said when I first laid eyes on him in person last August:
..even though Loaiza had Upton befuddled most of the afternoon, striking him out three times, I kinda fell in love with Upton anyway. His swing is so quick and smooth, it's quite a lovely thing to behold. I think he has the most aesthetically pleasing swing I've seen in years.
I saw that swing again yesterday at the Oakland Coliseum. My feelings intensified. I love, love, love B.J. Upton's swing. I think could watch it for days and nights on end. I have not heard anyone else say such a thing about him, so perhaps it doesn't show up on TV, or perhaps it's just the simple blindness of human love and infatuation, but I find his swing to be unbelievably, intensely captivating.
I am a diehard A's fan. I am not supposed to fall in love with a member of a rival clan. This is heresy; it can only lead to pain and suffering. But who can help who they fall in love with? I am Tristan, having drunk the potion to fall in love with the already betrothed Isolde. I am Romeo, in love with Juliet, the daughter of my family's most bitter enemy. B.J. Upton does not play for my team, but I find his swing to be the most beautiful swing I have ever seen.
And perhaps all is well when the object of my affection fails to do any damage against my own clan, but oh, the bittersweet pain when this beautiful swing turns into a three-run home run that sends my own team to defeat:
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B.J. Upton is short and lean and graceful, in a time when baseball players are, in increasing numbers, tall and bulky and powerful. How can Upton compete against men who are seemingly twice his size? Can grace and beauty defeat ugly, brute strength?
Perhaps that's why I've fallen in love with Upton; I want so badly to believe that it can. Evolution has seen fit to wire us, for some reason, to seek out beauty, to prefer it over ugliness. Evolution has the wisdom of millenia behind it; it won't be fooled by sample size. Perhaps ugly only wins in the short term, because that's how ugly fights.
What if Keats was right? What if beauty does win in the end, and that's all you need to know?
Perhaps all these ugly, bulked-up-on-chemicals baseball stars will get their comeuppance in the end. The dealers will squeal, the truth will out, the names will be stained with the word of their sins, and their once-powerful glory will crumble like old, stone ruins in the desert:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
I don't want to know that a lean young man with a short, sweet stroke needs to turn into a monster to survive. I'd rather live in ignorance, to suffer the pains of defeat and betrayal and disappointment, if living with knowledge means living without beauty. I choose to believe that in the long run, only the beautiful will reveal itself to be true, and only the beautiful will be remembered as truth. Beauty is not a large monument proclaiming its own greatness. Beauty is a grain of sand, blowing in the wind.
Friday's Game Summary: Tedium
Blah blah blah bad offense. Blah blah blah lifeless effort. Blah blah blah doomed.
And that pretty much sums it up. The only thing worse than watching the broadcast of the A's go through the motions against the Devil Rays? Seeing it in person. Guess how I wound up spending my Friday evening?
Game 23: Devil Rays 4, A's 1
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Shields (2-0) LP -- C. Gaudin (1-1) S -- Reyes (8)
Went Deep: Crosby (2)
Your Room Temperature Corona Star of the Game: It's hard at this point to tell when a pitcher manages to shut down the A's because he's in top form or because he has the advantage of... well... facing the A's. We'll give James Shields the benefit of the doubt, considering he notched 12 strikeouts in his last start against an Indians team that hits the ball much better than this Oakland outfit. Eight innings of four-hit, nine-strikeout pitching is impressive no matter who you're facing.
The Turning Point: I could point out the bottom of the first, where the A's had runners at the corners with one out, thanks to a blooper-reel-worthy throw by Dioner Navarro, and still came away without a run. But I have hammered on the A's offense too much lately -- certainly more than the A's have hammered opposing pitchers.
So let's look at a pitching staff miscue -- that'd be in the third inning, when the Devil Rays failed to record a hit, and yet, still plated two runners. (Thanks to a pair of Chad Gaudin walks, a double-steal, a run-scoring ground-out to third, and a passed ball.) That put the score at 4-1 Tampa, where it would stay the rest of the evening.
McBeth Traded to Reds
Marcus McBeth is one of the players named later in the trade with Cincinnati for the injured Chris Denorfia. McBeth is a converted outfielder with a rocket arm, who has shot up through the system quickly since his conversion to the mound. He reportedly has a killer changeup to go with his hard heat. So Billy Beane is now trading young players with upside for injured minor leaguers who are about to start the decline phase of their careers? Even straight up, I don't get this one. And there's still one more player to be named.
If I have to make up an explanation, it would go like this:
That's reasonable, I suppose, but I still don't like it.
Look! An Injured Guy! Grab Him!
The Oakland A's today acquired outfielder Chris Denorfia from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for two players to be named later and cash considerations. Denorfia was on the Reds 60-day Disabled List and will be moved to the A's 60-day DL.
Denorfia adds important depth to our disabled list.
Mariners Series Summary: In Which Phil Makes Frowny Faces
Let's just combine both games against the Mariners into one big ol' Game Summary. In essence the Wednesday and Thursday contests were the same game anyhow -- solid performances by all the starters, with Seattle getting key hits and the A's getting... well, very few hits, let alone key ones. At least at an hour and 47 minutes, Wednesday's game had the advantage of getting to the undesirable result much quicker.
One disastrous writeup for two disastrous games, coming up, after the jump...
Cut And Paste
The A's just got mini-swept by the Mariners. Now the Tampa Bay Devil Rays come to town. I thought I'd just cut and paste a few things. Please to enjoy.
Melhuse Gets Screwed Over
I suppose if you're like Melhuse, and you don't make a major league roster until you're 28 years old, you're grateful for any opportunity to spend time on a 25-man roster, even if you're stuck behind an iron man catcher like Jason Kendall. But Melhuse has talent, and I find it terribly unfair that he's hardly had any chance to see what he can do with it. He's only had one year (2004) where he was given over 200 at-bats; he put up an OPS of .772. For a catcher, that's damn good. Production like that could get you a starting job on probably 10 teams in any given year. The following year, however, Kendall shows up, and ever since, Melhuse has only gotten a handful of at-bats a week. It's hard to keep your timing with that kind of playing time. Maybe Melhuse is washed up now at age 35, but how could anyone tell?
There's something terribly wrong with a system that allows a team to send a 35-year-old man to the minor leagues, without giving him any choice about how to manage his career. The MLBPA needs to do something about this in their next collective bargaining agreement; all minor league options should expire once a player hits a certain age, say 31 or 32. Every player should get at least one shot during his peak free-agent years to avoid falling into the Hall of Could Have Been by mere circumstance.
There are plenty of teams (the Yankees come to mind) that could use a solid backup catcher like Adam Melhuse. He deserves a chance to play, and a chance to cash in on his talent, and the opportunity to find a team willing to give him that chance. He deserves to be a free agent.
Free Adam Melhuse!
Game 20 Summary: Screwgie!
So I had this whole big Broadway production number planned about the history of the screwball in honor of surprise A's starter Dallas Braden, only to discover via the Chronicle's game report that the rookie hardly even used the screwgie. So now what I'm supposed to write about? Nick Swisher's hamstring? I'll take a pass, thanks.
So instead, here's an up-close-and-personal look at the pitch Dallas Braden didn't throw all that much of. I'll be damned if I unearthed my copy of The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers for nothing.
Rob Neyer concludes his chapter on the screwball by writing, "when you see one, treasure the moment. Because it may be your last." A's fans have actually seen a bit of the screwball in recent years -- before Braden came along, Jim Mecir relied on the pitch, though I'm not sure Jim Mecir on the mound is a moment that any A's fan should be expected to treasure.
I also happened to live in Los Angeles during the height of Fernandomania. I was but a lad at the time, though I remember two things about Fernando Valenzuela's screwball: 1) He learned it from Bobby Castillo, which is undoubtedly Castillo's greatest accomplishment in baseball; and 2) Every time Valenzuela threw the screwgie, my father predicted dire arm troubles were in his future.
Turned out my old man was right. Indeed in his Guide to Pitchers chapter, Neyer lists some of the great screwball specialists in history, noting that really only Mike Cuellar pitched effectively into his late thirties. Christy Mathewson, Carl Hubbell, Fernando -- all of them kept pitching to one degree or another, but they all became fairly average pitchers as they hit their early- to mid-30s.
It is not so hard to figure out why screwball pitchers don't enjoy Satchel Paige-like bouts of longevity, according to Neyer:
If you don't believe that throwing a screwball puts a strain on your arm, I want you to conduct a little experiment (don't worry, it'll take just a few seconds and doesn't involve a Bunsen burner).
So that's one reason you don't see that pitch much these days -- it hurts like hell over time and there are other pitches (the split-finger fastball, its cousin the forkball, and the circle change) that more or less do the same thing with the added benefit of not crippling you. Also, Neyer points out, it's not the easiest pitch in the world to learn.
Now how Dallas Braden picked up the pitch given all these obstacles, I do not know. But I'm hoping those details emerge the longer he sticks with the club. I also hope to see just how big a part of his repertoire the screwball actually is -- might be worth a trip out to the Coliseum Sunday to see for myself.
In the meantime, as Ryan noted in February, the A's are amassing themselves quite the impressive army of gimmick pitches -- screwball-tossing Dallas Braden, side-arming Jay Marshall, and Kaz Tadano and his amazing, stupefying eephus pitch. Quick -- someone teach Chad Gaudin to throw the hesitation pitch or Justin Duchscherer to toss one of them Bugs Bunny one-two-three-strikes-yer-out slowballs, and we'll be assured of having the most colorful pitching staff in the league, if nothing else.
Game Summary Interlude: Got To Be a Nation's
We had some guests over on Sunday for something my wife has dubbed Pie Fight Club. The idea is that we grab four similar pies -- strawberry, in this particular case -- from pie shops and diners from around the area, remove them from their boxes, and hold a blind tasting to determine whose pie reigns supreme. This is a very serious business, I might add, with millions of dollars in pie sales and the reputations of eateries across the Bay Area at stake.
Anyhow, the event was in full swing as the A's went about blowing Sunday's game to the Rangers. And, considering the fact that we had company, I think I held my emotions in check, except maybe for the moment when Nick Swisher struck out looking for the second out of the ninth, and I interrupted the conversations going on around me by shouting out, "Damnit, Nick, you've got to swing the [especially filthy expletive deleted] bat." You can imagine this was quite a shocking thing to hear for one of our guests, also named Nick, who is a lovely fellow who would never, ever strike out with the bat on his shoulder and the tying run in scoring position. I apologized profusely to Nick, explaining that my outburst was not aimed at him, but rather an entirely different Nick playing a game thousands of miles away from my living room, making him unable to hear me, even though my voice carries very well.
So that was kind of awkward, yeah.
But otherwise, Pie Fight Club was a success, with the strawberry pie from Nation's Giant Hamburgers taking top honors, just ahead of Marie Calendar's offering. (You can read the blow-by-blow account here.)
Nation's, as you may or may not know, is a radio sponsor of the A's. Indeed, in an especially appropriate twist, I heard a Nation's commercial on my way to the local Nation's to pick up what turned out to be the winning pie. Which is when I discovered that not only has Bob Geren replaced Ken Macha in the A's dugout, he's also usurped the silver-haired one's role as the Nation's spokesman. In fact the commercial I heard -- not the one linked to in the preceding sentence -- featured the exact same copy Ken Macha used to read in his clipped Western Pennsylvania staccato. ("People say I have a great rotation, but it's nothing like the rotation they've got at Nation's... and just when you think you've got them figured out, they throw you a curve.")
To me, this the cruelest twist of all to Macha's ouster. Yes, you can assail his bizarre pitching moves or his passivity on the bench or his frosty relationships with players. But there is one thing about Ken Macha's managerial career in Oakland that is beyond dispute -- he loved those Nation's hamburgers. In that one ad where he runs through the signs -- "A pat on the stomach means it's time to head to Nation's!" -- you could tell that this was not merely an act. In fact, I bet the A's did have a sign for a Nation's hamburger run when Ken Macha was manager, which would explain all those botched bunts.
It seems cruel to take that away from him now, just because he's not the A's manager. Surely some arrangement could have been made -- Geren gets the manager's gig, but Macha gets to keep the Nation's spots. Yes, you'd have to rewrite the ad copy somewhat ("Hi, I'm Ken Macha. When I'm not cursing Billy Beane's name, I'm biting into a delicious Nation's pie. The only taste sweeter will be my eventual revenge.") but I have confidence that the copywriters can rise to the challenge.
And I hope on the next A's broadcast I don't hear Bob Geren touting the merits of Comcast-on-Demand or Fitzpatrick Hummer -- otherwise, it will just be too humiliating for poor Macha if Geren winds up with every one of his old sponsorships.
And speaking of that Hummer ad... it's my considered opinion that particular radio spot was what fractured the relationship between the former A's manager and Mark Kotsay, who was among the most vocal critics of Macha's interpersonal skills. If you remember, the ad features Macha and Kotsay extolling the virtues of Fitzpatrick Hummer -- Macha notes that he was allowed to drive on the test track, which Kotsay reacts to with a mixture of incredulity and disdain. "They let you drive on the test track, Skip?"
I imagine that the director yelled cut, and, as everyone was congratulating each other on a job well done, Macha turned to his outfielder and demanded, "What the hell was that about?"
"What do you mean, Skip?"
"That business about me being allowed to drive on the test track. How dare you."
"Look, Skip, I'm just reading the script here..."
"You're dead to me, Kotsay!"
And, of course, the situation just deteriorated from there.
So my message to A's advertisers is this -- promote your product however you want, but please stop sowing discord among A's players and management. I sure don't want to be listening to a game in the next few days when an ad for Kaiser Permanente comes on featuring Brad Halsey and Bill Beane. "If you'd only have sent me here in early March, I'd be pitching for the big club by now," Halsey would say. "I sure hope Kaiser has facilities in Durham," Beane would retort. "Because I've just traded you to the Devil Rays." That would be too, too awkward for everyone.
Game 19 Summary: I Got It, You Take It
Woefully, woefully behind on the game summaries. Part of the problem is, like many of the A's, I've suffered an injury -- a recurrence of a foot problem I've been battling since November. I should be able to avoid any time on the DL, but I hear Ken might call up the Game Summary writer from Midland in a few days.
Also, I've taken some time off to finish my first one-act play. I call it "The April 23rd Game Between Oakland and Baltimore," and I share it now with you. Enjoy.
The curtain rises on a baseball field in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Baltimore enters from stage right. Oakland enters from stage left.
Baltimore: Greetings, good sir. I bid you welcome to my baseball stadium.
Oakland: Thank you, hospitable stranger. It is indeed a lovely ballfield.
Baltimore: You honor me, sir. As a token of my appreciation, please accept this five-run lead on behalf of my shaky starting pitcher.
Oakland: That's awfully kind of you. But really, I didn't bring anything for you...
Baltimore: No matter, sir. You are a guest here.
Oakland: But still, I feel quite the ill-mannered baboon. I know! Here's a run for you! And another! And two more still!
Baltimore: Sir, you embarrass me! I insist that you have this insurance run. Surely, the game is decided, so this extra run I give you is meaningless.
Oakland: Not so, my fine fellow. Not if I give you this fifth run and allow you back into the game with this six...
Baltimore: Halt, scoundrel! You try my patience. I will not accept your sixth run, even if it means running my way out of the inning and calling for an inexplicably ill-timed bunt.
Oakland: If you insist. I fear that I have offended you. I will be on my way. Good day to you.
Baltimore: And good day to you.
Oakland exits, stage left.
Baltimore: Aw, crap.
Game 19: A's 6, Orioles 5
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- D. Haren (2-2) LP -- E. Bedard (3-2) S -- H. Street (5)
Went Deep: Swisher 2 (3), Roberts (1), Huff (2)
Your Eco Domani Chianti Star of the Game: Nick Swisher, for his two home runs, equally important to the outcome and from opposite sides of the plate.
The Turning Point: If you were watching the videotape footage of the final inning when Brian Roberts singled off Huston Street with runners on second and third and one out, you were treated to a curious sight -- Corey Patterson, the runner on second, running counter-clockwise on the bases. As the ball trickled past Street and into center, Patterson can clearly be seen darting back to second instead of bolting toward third. This hesitation clearly cost Baltimore the tying run -- Patterson scores easily if he doesn't hesitate -- and ultimately the game. And if there was a reason for it, other than good old fashioned brain-lock, I don't know what it could be. Even if Bobby Crosby manages to field the ball, he's running away from third and would probably try for the out at first -- Patterson would be safe at third easily. I hope Corey Patterson isn't taking this observation as criticism -- the play worked out swimmingly for me.
Besides, the batter that immediately followed, Melvin Mora, didn't do Baltimore any favors when he decided to bunt, apparently on his own initiative. On the bright side, he certainly had the element of surprise; on the down side, Patterson was among the surprised. He stuck close to third while Huston Street fielded the bunt and threw Mora out. (We should add that Street's throw was rushed, and it took a pretty sweet play from Todd Walker at first to secure the out.)
You don't often see a team shoot itself in the foot like that on successive plays, but I don't think the A's should feel obliged to grant the Orioles a do-over.
Le Affaire Halsey: There's a decided backlash brewing against Brad Halsey, the erstwhile fill-in starter turned disgruntled AAA rotation filler, for loosing his venom on the A's after the team either forced him to pitch on a bum arm until it came time to pay him a Major-League salary (Halsey's take) or passed him over on a promotion to the big club in favor of a more deserving candidate (Billy Beane's version). There's been a predictable amount of we-keep-you-alive-to-serve-the-ship-row-well-and-live talk directed at Halsey from some sections of the fanbase. One thing that's hard to overlook, for me anyhow: if the facts of the matter are as Halsey outlines, dude's kind of got a legitimate beef.
All in All: I TiVo'ed the game, fully expecting to enjoy it in all its time-shifted splendor. And I was certainly on my way to doing just that, with the A's up 5-1, when I happened to browse over to the wrong Web site and notice the 6-5 final score. "6 to 5?" I said out loud. "How on earth did the game get that close?" So I kept watching to see how things unfolded, which allowed me to watch the ninth inning with a certain detachment, since I knew things would turn out A-OK. It was easier on my nerves a little bit, though not as much as you might think.
Buddy, Can You Spare A Centerfielder?
The number of injuries the A's suffer every year is ridiculous, and when they cluster at one position, you have to think there's some cruel joke going on. Right now, Mark Kotsay is on the DL, Milton Bradley is on the DL, Bobby Kielty is unavailable with a sore calf, and Travis Buck is out with sore wrists. So, of course, in the top of the first inning of today's A's-Orioles game, Nick Swisher strains his left hamstring, and has to leave the game.
So with no available outfielders left on the bench, Marco Scutaro replaced Swisher in the lineup, and went into right field. Danny Putnam, who is primarily a corner outfielder but has played a few games in center in the minors, moved over to center.
Anybody care to give up a centerfielder for Brad Halsey?
Bradley, Harden to DL
Well, you knew going in that this was inevitable, just like you know that at some point this season, Bobby Crosby will get hurt, too. It's just the way things are.
The A's added two new players to the 25- and 40-man rosters, Dallas Braden and Danny Putnam. Mark Kotsay goes to the 60-day DL to make room for one, and Scott Dunn was released to make room for the other. Dunn was a minor-league off-season signing who didn't make much of an impression this spring.
Braden is one-trick pony, a left-handed screwballer. Kevin Goldstein in a Baseball Prospectus chat said about him:
Set your way-back machine to 1981 and Fernando-mania, because Braden's best pitch is a screwball that minor league hitters have NO CLUE how to hit. Braden is certainly no Fernando because he lacks the velo to back it up, and I think big league hitters will be able to either read or lay off the pitch. I'm not overly optimistic about him, but as a 24th round pick, he's already well-exceeded expectations.
So even if Braden isn't good, he'll at least be interesting. He'll start Tuesday. Putnam seems similar to Travis Buck--corner OF, can take a walk, doubles power--only not quite as good, and a year older. Your typical A's backup outfielder. Not much to be excited about, but if he gets anywhere near that 1.001 OPS he had in AA Midland, I'll reserve the right to change my mind and get excited later.
I suppose if you're into soap operas, Brad Halsey ripping the A's organization about being passed over for this assignment are worth getting excited about. How's this for juicy:
"It's all just a business decision, because if I came up and pitched Tuesday and then had an MRI and had to go on the DL, they'd have to pay me major-league DL money. It's such a mom-and-pop organization."
Hmm...how does a Jose Capellan-for-Brad Halsey trade of disgruntled minor leaguers sound to you, Doug Melvin?
Game 18 Summary: Inarticulate Grunts Edition
Today's game summary is brought to you with the able assistance of Susan Slusser's game report in the San Francisco Chronicle:
[The A's] held a two-run lead in the eighth inning, but the Rangers scored three runs against Oakland's top two relievers, Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street, to rally for a 4-3 victory and the series win.
Game 18: Rangers 4, A's 3
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- W. Eyre (1-0) LP -- J. Duchscherer (1-1) S -- Otsuka (2)
Went Deep: Stewart (2)
Your Nation's Strawberry Pie Star of the Game:
Street, who had retired the first hitter he faced in all nine of his appearances this year, came in and got two strikes against Hank Blalock. Blalock then fished for a changeup down and away, and one-handed, dunked it into right to drive in two runs.
The Turning Point:
Duchscherer lost his signature control and put Mark Teixeira on, and followed that with a bases-loaded walk to Sammy Sosa.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting:
Before the game, [the A's] learned their most talented pitcher, Rich Harden, will miss his next start. During the game, Milton Bradley left with a recurrence of the hamstring strain that cost him a week on the last homestand and that could now land him on the disabled list.
[Inaudible gurgling noise]
Chad Gaudin continued a remarkable run for the A's starting pitchers, who have not allowed more than three runs in a start for the past 16 consecutive games.
All in All:
"Everything was up,'' Duchscherer said. "I wasn't making pitches, I was getting balls up, I was getting behind in the count. You can't pitch like that, obviously. I just made bad pitches. Sometimes, you go out there and you don't have what you need to get people out."
Game 17 Summary: Radio Silence
It was my wife's birthday, Saturday so just like the last time someone in the Michaels household officially hit the mid-30s. We spent the day in Monterey frolicking with otters and eating our way through the Alsace region, so we missed most of the A's game. In our defense, so did the Oakland batters, apparently.
While it seems a bit churlish to complain about a bad offensive night less than 24 hours after the A's scored 16, how can you be anything but churlish when an A's runner only gets past first base in the sixth inning? And as nice as Friday's performance was, the A's have had a lot more games like Saturday's this season. It isn't too hard to figure out what the outlier is.
Equally aggravating, neither of the A's flagship stations reach the Monterey area with any clarity -- 106.9 FM sort of came in, but it was completing for space on the FM band with a Latin music station, so most of Vince Cotroneo's play-by-play was backed by a saucy beat, when it wasn't being drowned out entirely.
"Travis Buck steps in, 0-for-2 on the night to face Wils... Mi amor robó mi corazón... ball two, inside...."
I had forgotten to check on the A's broadcast affiliates before leaving town, so I wasn't sure which station in the Monterey area picks up A's games. (KRKC 1490 AM in King City, I guess.) And as we got past Gilroy, the regular A's stations started coming in stronger. Just in time for me to hear the Rangers put away the game with five runs in the eighth, lucky me.) But while scanning the dial, I came across the broadcast of the Angels-Mariners game coming in clear as a bell. Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo may be broadcasting from a boat anchored out in international waters, but Rory Markus and Terry Smith are apparently hovering over my car no matter where I travel to. Again -- lucky me.
One of these days, Lew Wolff is going to announce that the A's new broadcast deal is to have Ken Korach talking on the other end of a tin can and string or Robert Buan standing up on top of Mt. Davis signaling the play-by-play with semaphore flags, and I will not be the least bit surprised.
Game 17: Rangers 7, A's 0
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- K. Loe (1-0) LP -- J. Kennedy (0-2)
Went Deep: Kata (2)
Your King Estate Pinot Noir Star of the Game: Apparently this was Kameron Loe's first start of the year, and 5 1/3 innings of shutout baseball is a pretty good way to solidify your place in the rotation. Then again, C.J. Wilson did put down the A's only offensive threat of the night by striking out Eric Chavez and Milton Bradley with the bases loaded in the sixth.
Hmmm. Loe or Wilson? Wilson or Loe? What say you, Dalls Morning News?
... this night was all about Loe, who proved he was ready to start when his turn came.
Fair enough. They saw the game, after all. I was busy eating beef rouladen.
The Turning Point: You don't have to watch the game to know that having your two big hitters strike out with the bases loaded is not a recipe for winning baseball games.
A less obvious moment occurred in the Rangers half of the seventh, when Texas had runners on first and second with one out. Alan Embree wound up walking Gerald Laird and his formidable sub-.200 on-base percentage; that would allow Nelson Cruz to score on Jerry Hairston's fly ball, putting Texas out in front 2-zip. I suppose a two-run lead in Texas is hardly a secure one, but the way the A's were swinging the bats Saturday, it's about as close to secure as you are going to get. Just to be sure, the A's coughed up another five runs in the eighth. Sheesh.
Dreaded Jamie Reed Sighting: Pitching with a seven-run lead in the ninth -- had to get his work in, I guess -- Eric Gagne had a back spasm, requiring a visit from the Rangers' trainer.
I just wanted to see what it felt like to write one of these things without mentioning Larry Davis. Kind of weird, actually.
Phil's Not-So Phun Phacts: Heard this from Ken Korach during the warm-up for Sunday's game: apparently, this is the second time in A's history that the team has followed up a 16-run outburst by getting shut out the following game.
All in All: Every time the A's score 10 or more runs, I usually mutter something along the lines of "save some for tomorrow." The A's never seem to take my sage advice.
Game 16 Summary: Other People's Ballgames
The A's ensured that I would be unable to use my "This offense just doesn't score enough" macro by ringing up 16 runs against the Rangers. Indeed, the A's offense -- which, this season, tends put up a crooked number early and then take its foot off the gas -- scored eight in the second, two in fourth, and six more in the eighth for an honest-to-goodness laugher at the expense of former third-base coach Ron Washington.
Naturally, the game wasn't on TV back in the Bay Area so the home-town fans have no video evidence of this rare offensive outburst.
In fact, this was the first game of the season that I was completely shut out of -- no TV, no radio, only a fleeting glimpse at the Web and then the out-of-town scoreboard at Phone Company Park to keep me apprised of the situation in Arlington. Yes, I spent Friday night at the Giants-Diamondbacks game, watching San Francisco's 4-2 win in the lap of luxury.
My company, you see, has a handful of tickets in the Club Level at Phone Company Field. These are the seats where, when the action on the field fails to entertain, you can repair to the lounge where an assortment of hand-carved sandwiches and tomato bisques and beverages, alcoholic and un-, await your consumption. Or if you prefer, you can dispatch one of the ushers to fetch you an order of garlic fries, lest you miss a single at-bat.
Most of the time, these seats are allocated to Important Men discussing Important Deals. "So it's decided," one of them will declare. "Johnson will control the molasses trade west of the Mississippi and McShane will agree to extend political protection from the judges he controls. Now let us cement this new understanding with some chocolate sundaes from the Ghirardelli stand. Garcon!"
Anyhow, the Important Men don't always use these seats -- when you're out doing Important Things, you don't have time for such trivialities of baseball -- so sometimes these seats are distributed amongst the peons. And there is no one more peon-like than me. So I grabbed the free ticket and sat among the swells. And I enjoyed my hand-carved barbecue beef sandwich while watching a strange version of baseball in which the pitcher is forced to bat. And I spent a good deal of the Giants game watching the out-of-town scoreboard and hoping that the inning number would flip to "F" before Texas mounted one of those comebacks that is oh-so-common at the Ballpark at Arlington No Longer Named After Ameriquest.
Looks like I got my wish.
Sixteen runs, and what do you get?
You score sixteen runs, and what do you get?
-- - --
Brandon McCarthy in April 2007: 10.20 ERA, 2.07 WHIP, 15.0 IP, 25 hits, 17 ER, 6 BB, 7 K
Esteban Loaiza in April 2006: 8.35 ERA, 2.13 WHIP, 18.1 IP, 30 hits, 17 ER, 9 BB, 6 K
Fair comparison? McCarthy is not this bad, and will rebound. It's nice to get a W in the launching pad at Arlington, though. Oakland went 5-5 on the road against the Rangers last season.
-- - --
And now, some trivia about past games in which Oakland has scored 16 runs:
The last season in which Oakland scored at least 16 runs was way back in 2005, when they did it twice. Many still fondly recall the 16-0 beatdown of the Giants in June -- a game in which a fresh-off-the-DL Rich Harden gave up one hit and the A's banged out 23.
The last time the A's scored 16 was at a game I happened to have attended. Oakland was in Kansas City to visit the Royals in the midst of another headlong rush at 100 losses. The one and only Jose Lima pitched, and Dan Johnson knocked out the 10th homer of his rookie season. Oh, and current Sacramento River Cat Donnie Murphy made an error for his then-employer Kansas City.
-- - --
With a double, home run and three walks, Travis Buck now leads the A's with a .440 on-base percentage. That puts him at 9th in the American League among all players with at least 50 plate appearances, while his OPS of 1.004 places him 8th in the AL. Pretty good so far for a rookie that came into the season with exactly zero at-bats above the double-A level.
Oddly enough, the last A's rookie to get on base five times in one game was Dan Johnson, in the aforementioned 16-1 win over the Kansas City Royals. Johnson had two hits and three walks, including a homer. Someone needs to warn Buck about the dangers of sunscreen in your eyes, and soon.
The Catfish Stew Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence
With no game to summarize and the prospect of talking about Dan Johnson's hip too dreary to contemplate, let us turn our attention to the always riveting subject of fantasy baseball.
As readers who've committed every word ever posted on this site can tell you, Ken has a Yahoo-based fantasy baseball league; both Ryan and I are participants, and you do not have to be proficient at math to realize the implications of this -- every member of the Catfish Stew Galaxy of Bloggers is participating in this fantasy league.
Along with some other people. I guess. But it's the participation of the three of us that's piqued my interest.
Fans of 1890s baseball will remember the the Temple Cup, the trophy presented to the winner of an ill-considered post-season series between the winner of the National League and the runner-up. I recently read Where They Ain't, a nifty little history of the original Baltimore Orioles, and the Temple Cup figures prominently in the book, as the Orioles always seemed to be losing it every year. The problem with the Temple Cup is that pennant winner was usually uninspired -- and hung-over -- after winning the prize that mattered, so that the second-place team, more often than not, took home the trophy. And who wants to see second-place teams constantly beating out the clubs that bested them during the regular season? The post-season series withered on the vine and took the Temple Cup with it.
(Mini-review of Where They Ain't: Painstakingly researched, it paints an excellent picture of the times and it's a pretty good read if you can get past the author's unfortunate decision to adopt the turn-of-the-century patois. Pitchers become twirlers, fans become cranks, and passages like "[The Orioles] had come to Savannah expecting a cherry pie" and "Best of all was the Orioles' snap and ginger" dot the prose. Folks who are interested in old-timey baseball, the Orioles, the Brooklyn Dodgers (who feature prominently in the narrative) or Baltimore of the 1890s will find it a worthwhile read.)
So back when Ryan joined the league, I proposed a Temple Cup-like trophy be awarded to whichever Catfish Stew blogger finished ahead of the other two. Since neither Ken nor Ryan responded, I interpreted their silence to be assent. And so I set out to find an appropriate totem, something that, like the Temple Cup before it, would represent the majesty, the pride and the ultimate insignificance of this accomplishment.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is that trophy.
This handsome devil is Cesar Izturis, currently of the Chicago Cubs, but formerly of the Los Angeles Dodgers. One lovely June night in 2005, the Dodgers decided to honor him with a bobblehead. Maybe it was because of his 2004 Gold Glove award or his .302 on-base percentage in 106 games of the 2005 season or the fact that he's a nice fellow who probably pays his fair share of taxes. Nevertheless, he gets a bobblehead as a testament to how much the Dodger organization valued and appreciated him, at least until Greg Maddux became available as a rent-a-player. The tale of how I came into possession of this bobblehead follows after the fold.
And so, at the end of the 2007 season, this bobblehead of Cesar Izturis will be removed from its place of honor in my office, where Cesar currently looks down from a bookcase and nods in approval at all my wise decisions, and presented to whichever Catfish Stew writer finishes with the best record in Fantasy League play. As of this writing, that would be me -- I'm not only ahead of Ken and Ryan, but leading the whole damn league. I mention this not to boast but because I will soon be plummeting back to earth. This week, Ken's team is facing mine in head-to-head competition, and he's currently making like King Arthur to my Black Knight. This doubtlessly begins my inexorable slide to the cellar, so I might as well get my boasting in now because in a few weeks it's going to be, "Fan-tas-see baseball? I am unfamiliar with this game."
Game 15 Summary: Raise Your Hand If You Want to Go Faster
The A's set aside the Angels with such rapid dispatch on Thursday that I had hardly finished the writeup for Game 14 before Game 15 was in the books. This is what happens when you pair up two teams who aren't very good at hitting the ball. (The Angels are currently batting .200 with runners in scoring position; the A's, .212.) In this particular series, the resistible force overcame the moveable object, and while the view from above .500 is certainly better than the view below, let's not fool ourselves into thinking this is a very good team right now. Except for the pitching, which is very, very, very good.
Game 15: A's 3, Angels 0
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- D. Haren (1-2) LP -- J. Lackey (2-1) S -- H. Street (4)
Went Deep: Oakland's streak of games with home runs ends at 2. A shame, too, since the A's are currently last in the American League in slugging percentage.
You Coca-Cola Star of the Game: Seven innings of four-hit, shutout baseball earn Dan Haren the top prize. That he was able to outpitch noted A's killer John Lackey -- 9-2 with a 2.89 ERA in 18 starts against the green and gold -- and thus spare the Coliseum crowd the sight of an infuriating Lackey victory dance is just another testament to Haren's fine afternoon.
The Turning Point: Not a whole lot of choices in a fairly uneventful game, but I'll go with the Nick Swisher force out that plated Jason Kendall with the first run of the game. You won't see this in the box score, but the 4-6 force out probably should have been a 4-6-3 double play. (My memory has Orlando Cabrera bobbling the transfer, but I was at work so my memory could be faulty.) A double play would have meant two down in the inning, and the Angels almost certainly would have escaped the third by conceding only a run; instead with one out, and runners at the corners, Eric Chavez hit an infield single that scored Marco Scutaro, and the A's had all the runs they would need for the afternoon.
The Angels' defense was absolutely terrible in 2006. That trend appears to be ongoing into 2007.
Names Is for Tombstones, Baby: Going by Ken Korach's description on the radio, I guess that the legal name of Anaheim's starting right fielder on Wednesday is The Speedy Reggie Willits. (Though perhaps he'll have to change that to The Poor Baserunning Reggie Willits as he was retired on a 1-2-5 force out in the sixth that helped snuff out a runners-at-the-corners-one-out rally for the Angels.)
My favorite instance of this phenomena -- where a player's name takes on a series of adjectives -- was in 2003 when you could not refer to a once-promising member of the Athletics outfielder without referring to him as Disgruntled Outfielder Terrence Long. To this day, I still call him by that name -- "Hey, did you see where Disgruntled Outfielder Terrence Long is now playing for the Yankees?" I observed last year -- just like Charlie Liebrandt will always be Crafty Left-Hander Charlie Liebrandt. Is there any baseball player in your world who's been saddled with a similarly unwieldy name?
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: As quickly as he returned to the starting lineup, Mark Ellis disappeared. Milton Bradley remains out of the lineup, but Bob Geren promises that he'll be in Friday night's lineup or your money back. (Offer not valid to anyone who pays money to attend Friday night's game in Arlington.)
From the same Chronicle story linked above, Sacramentans (Sacramentities?) should brace themselves for the twin wonders of Esteban Loaiza and Dan Johnson will be making rehab appearances in the state capital by the beginning of next week.
Phil's Phun Phacts: Stole this one from Ken Korach, actually: The last time an A's starter gave up more than 3 runs in a game was the second game of the year against Seattle, when Joe Blanton coughed up four runs.
Here's a stat I came up with on my own: The A's swept the two-game series against the Angels in roughly the same amount of time (4 hours, 26 minutes) it took them to complete Saturday's 13-inning loss to the Yankees (4 hours, 25 minutes). This is largely because of the extra frames and not just because the Yankees play a particularly slow, deliberately paced brand of baseball.
All in All Thank goodness for the performance of the pitching -- the starters especially and the bullpen as of late -- because the A's offense continues to sputter. I'm as happy to be above .500 for the first time in 2007 as the next guy, but unless the A's start hitting and plating runners with something approaching consistency, it's going to be a short stay on the winning side of the ledger.
Game 14 Summary: The Hurrying-to-Catch-Up Edition
I'm writing these notes for Game 14, as Game 15 plays on my MacBook Pro through the courtesy of RadioShark. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep the two games straight and not start talking about Dan Haren when I mean to be talking about Chad Gaudin.
Game 14: A's 4, Angels 1
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- C. Gaudin (1-0) LP -- Jr. Weaver (0-1) S -- H. Street (3)
Went Deep: Crosby (1)
Your Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Free Cone Day Star of the Game: You could make an argument for Bobby Crosby, whose three-run home-run in the fourth put the A's comfortably in front and silenced the increasingly vocal critics, at least for a day. But I'm going to go with Chad Gaudin, who pitched the longest outing of his career and might have blanked the moribund Angels' offense if not for a wind-aided Maicer Izturis double to score Reggie Willits in the eighth.
Funny thing about Gaudin -- when the A's hustled him into the rotation to fill in for the injured Esteban Loaiza, most people figured that it was a roster move the A's would be fortunate to endure. Christina Kahrl was particular critical of the move in this Baseball Prospectus Radio episode. And not only have Gaudin's three starts gone well, you could argue that he's probably turned in the best performance of any of the A's starters over the past few weeks. Maybe he won't be able to sustain that, but certainly, once Loaiza's ready to return -- and assuming Rich Harden doesn't miss too many starts -- you'd have to think that Gaudin will have secured a spot in the rotation.
Oh, and my free cone at the Jack London Square Ben & Jerry's was Turtle Soup, thanks for asking
The Turning Point: Again, not to give Crosby the short-shrift here by overlooking his home run, but let's talk about the plays that followed. With two outs, Travis Buck hit a catchable ball that Garret Anderson turned into a two-base error. Jason Kendall immediately followed up with a run-scoring single. The A's ended up not needing the extra run ultimately, but the four-run margin probably helped the remaining four-and-a-half innings progress without too much fuss.
Often, the difference between a loss and a win -- particularly when you've got an offense that isn't firing on all cylinders -- is the ability to take advantage when the opposing team gifts you extra at-bats. For one night, at least, the A's were able to do that.
Hooray, Aggression: One of the things that irritates me -- and you've probably guessed it's a very long and substantive list -- is when a relief pitcher comes in with a comfortable-yet-not-insurmountable lead and proceeds to nibble around the strike zone instead of forcing the batter to put the ball in play. Note to timid relief pitchers: player development programs have yet to produce a player who can overcome a three-run deficit by hitting a solo home run. But it's a heck of a lot easier for your opponent to come from behind when you're handing out free passes. Suggestion? Throw strikes.
Huston Street did exactly that last night, putting 11 of his 13 pitches in the strike zone. Neither Erick Aybar nor Casey Kotchman -- the last two batters of the ballgame -- saw a pitch that was called a ball. This makes me unspeakably happy.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: Mark Ellis returned to the lineup after missing the last two Yankee games thanks to a Brian Bruney pitch to shoulder blade. And Rich Harden's semi-annual shutdown injury has yet to become official -- no major damage, the MRI declares! -- though he will miss his next scheduled start this Saturday against the Rangers. On the radio broadcast I'm currently listening to, Ken Korach says there's a chance Harden could pitch next week in Baltimore.
With Milton Bradley out of the lineup again last night, we can officially move from speculation about when he'll return from the hamstring pull to who will replace him on the active roster once he's inevitably placed on the DL.
With Vladimir Guerrero out for this series thanks to an errant Josh Beckett pitch, we can excuse Angel fans for not exactly feeling much sympathy over our assorted owies.
All in All: For the second time in three games, the A's bunched all their scoring into one inning. This time, they were able to hold onto the lead, facing perhaps the one offense with even less pop than their own.
Crosby To Scutaro: I'll Keep My Job, Thank You
"Hey, Marco, I can hit game-winning three-run homers, too, ya know! Watch this:"
OK, so that wasn't quite so dramatic a shot as Marco Scutaro's home run on Sunday, but it'll do fine. I'm frankly getting pretty weary of high drama in every single baseball game the A's play, so getting the big home run much earlier in the contest is quite a welcome sight. A nice, quick relaxing victory is just what the doctor ordered.
I also figured out how to break my 974-consecutive-loss streak when witnessing the A's play the Angels in person: show up late. My daughter had soccer practice until 7pm, and I had to drive her home, and then drive out to the Coliseum, where both the A's and the Warriors were playing this evening. The parking lots were long since full by the time I got there, so I ended up quite a hike away on the other side of the freeway. I didn't get to my seat until the bottom of the second inning.
It was a very windy and bitter cold evening. Large waves rippled through the tarps on the upper decks. Fortunately, it was a very fast game. Chad Gaudin had little trouble with an unimposing Vlad Guerrero-less Angels lineup.
Jered Weaver, coming off the disabled list for his first start of the year, was also effective for the most part, although he wasn't quite as impressive as I've seen him in the past. His fastball was around 86-89mph, with the occasional 92mph, which is about 4-5 mph slower than I recall him throwing before. He was getting the A's out with slop, which is fine, I guess, but it sent visions of Frank Tanana dancing in my head...one day you have a very effective, totally overpowering pitcher, and then there's an injury, and the next day, you're left with an effective junkballer. Effective is effective, I suppose, but all things being equal, you'd prefer the guy with the big heater. Make a mistake with a 96mph fastball and you can usually get away with it, but hang a curveball, and the Bobby Crosbys of the world can beat you. Still, it was just his first start, so there's probably little cause for Angels fans to panic. About the pitching anyway.
That lineup, on the other hand, without Vlad in the middle of it...Guerrero was out after getting plunked yesterday in Boston, and tonight Howie Kendrick got plunked, as well:
That had to hit something pretty solid to bounce that far up in the air in the other direction. Kendrick stayed in the game for a while, but got pinch-hit for his next time up. The Angels offense is pretty weak to begin with, but no matter how good their pitching is, the team can't survive too long without Vlad, Kendrick and Juan Rivera. Those are their three best hitters, and it's possible they may all be out tomorrow, and who knows how much longer?
But what am I worrying about the Angels for? Let's hear it for Bobby Crosby, who had quite the jittery start to the season, but was the hero tonight. It looked for the longest time that the game was going just a little too fast for him to keep up with, as he returned from his injured back. But the last few games has started to make better contact at the plate, and his defense, still rocky as of just two days ago, tonight looked much better, as well. The best sign that he might be catching up to the speed of the game came on a slow bouncer up the middle that he had to charge. Earlier in the season, he probably would have rushed an off-balance throw towards first, but tonight, he calmly took his time, set his feet, and make a good throw to first base with time to spare.
Belated Weekend Game Summaries, Brought to You by Crushing Deadlines
Not content with scoring three runs in the first inning of Wednesday's game against the White Sox and then taking the rest of the afternoon off, the A's offense pulled off the same feat against the New York Yankees Saturday. Only this time, instead of eight innings of futility, Oakland treated the home fans to 12 innings of goose eggs.
Because these things tend to happen in threes, the A's did the same thing on Sunday -- score at will in the first and follow that up with a multi-inning nap. Things turned out much better this time, as you may have heard.
Here's the abbreviated summary for both weekend editions of "Whaddaya Mean First Team to Three Runs Doesn't Win?" in advance of tonight's Angels game, which I entertained thoughts of attending but which I will probably wind up watching from the comfort of my couch.
Since Marco Scutaro joined the A's in 2004, he's had no less than eight "walk-off" events -- that is, he's won the game in the last at-bat for Oakland eight times in three years.
After last night's dinger against one of the greatest closers of all time, Marco is responsible for an astounding nine walk-offs in just 380 games. Since 2000, the much heralded David Ortiz leads the world in walk-offs with 15, but there's an underrated utility player in the East Bay that's charging up behind him. From 2004 to date, Marco has nine walk-offs, while Big Papi has ten -- in almost 100 more games played.
Here's the complete list of Marco's miracles:
Slideshow: Yankees @ A's, 15 April 2007
Wow. I'm not sure if this was the most happily shocking ending to a ballgame I've ever witnessed in person--after all, I saw Ramon Hernandez win an extra-inning playoff game with a bunt single--but it's certainly not one I'll ever forget.
I'm still wading through my photos from today's game, but here's a little something to tide you over:
More photos here.
Well. That was unexpected.
Game 11 Summary: At Long Last Homers
So I had this bit planned Friday afternoon that I never got around to writing -- I was going to predict the outcome of all three A's-Yankees games. And of course, the predictions were going to be ridiculous exaggerations on the A's inability to score runs -- my favorite gag was going to be where New York activates Chien-Ming Wang from the DL and he ends up retiring the A's on 27 ground outs, 20 of which were hit by Jason Kendall. The point -- at the risk of beating an already thin premise into the ground -- is that the A's are so inept the plate that even a debilitated pitcher could set them down with ease. Ha ha ha.
Kei Igawa isn't debilitated, but I'm not sure he's very good either. Yet, through five innings, he had surrounded just one hit and the only run he gave up came as the result of a three-base error and a run-scoring ground out.
"Damnit, it was supposed to be a joke," I screamed at my TV set. "You guys aren't supposed to be that horrible at the plate in real life."
Fortunately, the A's weren't that horrible, at least for the remaining six innings of the ball game. Oakland overcame a 4-1 deficit to win in extras, even hitting a pair of home runs in the process. And, for a day at least, they relegate my visions of supreme offensive ineptitude to the realm of satire. For now.
Game 11: A's 5, Yankees 4 (11)
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- H. Street (2-1) LP -- B. Bruney (0-1)
Went Deep: Chavez (1), Swisher (1). According to Steve Kroner of the Chronicle, Chavy's homer in the sixth off of Igawa ended the longest homerless period since a nine-game drought in September of 1983. You knew I'd be honor bound to look up the particulars of that streak, didn't you? On September 13, 1983, Mike Heath hit a solo shot off of Texas pitcher Frank Tanana in he fifth inning of an A's 6-5 win in Oakland. The A's wouldn't homer again until September 25 against the Blue Jays, when Dan Meyer -- no, not that Dan Meyer -- hit a solo shot in the second inning off Dave Steib. Meyer's homer was his first of the season and the last of the 86 home runs he hit over a 12-year career. The '83 homerless streak came as the A's were completing a lackluster 74-88 campaign that saw them finish 25 games behinds the White Sox; not even Steve Boros' Apple II computer could stop the slide. Let's hope things work out better for this punchless crew.
Your Gordon Biersch Marzen Star of the Game: A lot of back and forth on this. Sentiment would dictate Travis Buck, who hit the triple that set up the A's win and had the added bonus of annoying Johnny Damon in the process (more on that below). Of course, without Nick Swisher's homer in the eighth off Kyle Farnsworth -- I don't know what the Bronx Banter folks are so upset about; I love watching Kyle Farnsworth pitch for New York -- then there are probably no extra innings in which Buck can triple. Kiko Calero and, to a lesser extent, Justin Duchscherer acquitted themselves nicely out of the bullpen.
But in the end, I'm going to have to give it to Eric Chavez. The A's were dead and buried after a three-run Bombers outburst in the top of the sixth -- at least, they were pronounced dead in buried (quite profanely, I might add) in the Michaels home. So when Chavez followed up Piazza's one-out double by cranking an 88 mph Igawa pitch to right, it got Oakland back in the game. Throw in a nifty little catch of a Doug Mientkiewicz foul ball to quash a potential Yanks rally in the 10th -- off the glove, in the palm, nothing but an out! -- and I can't think of an Oakland player who contributed more to Friday's comeback.
The Turning Point: Two that I can think of: in the aforementioned top of the sixth, the Yankees had the bases loaded, nobody out, and two runs already home when Mientkiewicz stepped up to the plate. One pitch later, Alan Embree induced a 4-6-3 double play; sure, Jason Giambi, Dark Lord of the Sith, scored on the play, but it turned out to be the last run the Yankees would score that inning and for the rest of the game.
And the other turning point? That would be in the eighth when the Yankees again had the bases loaded, this time with one out, and it looked for certain that at least New York run and a ninth-inning appointment with Mariano Rivera was in Oakland's future. That's when Mientkiewicz came up again and hit a looping little ball back to the pitcher's mound. Duchscherer fumbled it, but was able to recover quick enough to force Alex Rodriguez at the plate. A 4-3 grounder from Melky Cabrera later and the A's were again out of a jam.
I don't know what the Bronx Banter folks are so upset about; I love watching Doug Mientkiewicz bat for the New York.
Johnny Damon Does Not Appreciate Your Candor, Young Man: Buck made no secret of his plans to try for a triple the minute he saw Johnny Damon attempting to field his 11th inning gapper. Says the AP:
"I basically made that decision coming out of the box," said Buck, whose father grew up a Yankees fan. "Damon doesn't have that strong of a throwing arm. I wanted to test it. ... Crossing the plate with the winning run to beat the Yankees ... I'm still trying to calm down."
The AP article goes on to say that "Damon wasn't worried about Buck's comments," but you'd be hard-pressed to reach that conclusion based on the quote from Damon:
"I think he was kind of lucky the ball did bounce off the wall," Damon said. "He would have been out. He's a young kid. He'll learn."
He'll learn what exactly? To quake in his boots at the mere thought of your noodle arm? To stop in his tracks and admire the beautiful arch of one of your parabola-shaped tosses back to the infield? Or that Bobby Abreu probably should have fielded that ball instead?
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: We were promised when Milton Bradley sat out Wednesday's game that he would be ready to go on Friday. And yet, Friday came with Milton Bradley not being ready to go. He's now listed as day-to-day.
A Kind Word about Ray Fosse: I've said some less-than-charitable things about the A's TV analyst -- nothing too untoward, I hope -- because of his increasing penchant for littering broadcasts with a lot of rah-rah-home-team commentary. Basic fairness requires me to point out that Foss gave an excellent breakdown of Swisher's home run -- how he was able to drive the pitch and so forth. And that's why I'm probably tough on Fosse -- I know what he's capable of when he doesn't resort to incessant boosterism.
Everyone Who's In the Starting Rotation Step Forward... Not So Fast, Kennedy: That last link up above also unveils the A's plans to skip Joe Kennedy's spot in the rotation due to all the off days this week. Kennedy's next start won't be until the end of April, either against the Rangers or the Orioles; instead, Chad Gaudin, who wasn't even in the rotation plans until the last week of spring training, will pitch on turn.
I'm no soothsayer, but I'd say this bodes ill for Kennedy's continued presence in the rotation once Esteban Loaiza returns from the DL.
Day Becomes the Night: Saturday's game starts at 6:05 p.m., the first of six Saturday night games at the Coliseum this year. I don't have the official numbers to verify this, but trust me -- that's a lot, particularly compared to the A's schedules of my youth when Oakland always played its weekend home games in the afternoon.
The reason, of course, is television. Fox blocks any games from airing between 12:55 p.m. and 4 p.m., so if you're not on the schedule, you might as well bump your teams games to the evening to enjoy some local TV revenue.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the A's typically have a substandard TV schedule, so anything that gets more games on the tube is probably a good thing, especially for me and my Attend Fewer Games in Person This Season policy. Plus, I've fought a 35-year battle against my arch-nemesis the sun, so if I do wind up going to a game, at least it won't be slathered in eight coats of SPF-5000. (And as I write this, it's pouring rain, so an afternoon game today would be in danger of getting rained out.)
But... weekend baseball games should be played during daylight hours. I'm sorry but they should. I have nothing to bolster this argument except for sentiment, so I'll just move on.
All in All: Any Oakland fan have a problem with beating the Yankees after trailing by three runs? Didn't think so.
Game 10 Summary: Let Us Never Speak of the Ninth Inning Again
Wednesday's scheduled Athletics-White Sox face-off -- "game" does not seem an appropriate word choice as that suggests that some amount of pleasure is involved -- is a tricky one to write up, seeing as how it was not on TV and contested during work hours. Nevertheless, we will endeavor to do our best, which is more than can be said for the A's offense from the second inning onward.
Game 10: White Sox 6, A's 3
Your Pitchers of Record: WP: D. Aardsma (1-0) LP: H. Street (1-1) S: B. Jenks (2)
Went Deep: Dye (1)
Your Coca-Cola Star of the Game: Jermaine Dye, whose two-run eighth inning blast tied up the game to set up the chain of events in the ninth where the wheels fell of the Oakland wagon. Why, Jermaine, why? And after I came to your defense, too. You know what I say to that, Jermaine?
The Turning Point: We'll go with those two ninth-inning pitches that Huston Street through the thrice-damned A.J. Pierzysnki that could have been called strike three but weren't. Street says in the funny papers that the calls, while not necessarily bad ones, could have gone either way, and since I only have Ken Korach's accounts and descriptions of the contest, I'll have to take Street's word for it. But since the calls went the way they did, the A's went from having two outs and a runner on first to one-out/two-on situation, and Street lost his control from there on out.
"I'm Chris Hansen with Dateline NBC. What Are You Doing Here at the Coliseum?": By far my favorite commercial -- and by "favorite," I mean the one I openly mock -- playing during A's radio broadcasts is the one for the A's Kids Club in which a harried father tells his son that he can only pick out on souvenir to commemorate his trip to the Coliseum; no worries, pops, the kid says -- he's a member of the A's Kids Club so he gets all the loot he needs. And after an announcer lists all the merits of membership, the father asks his son, "Can I join the A's Kids Club?"
The question is absurd on its face -- of course, you cannot, old man. Which one of you has custody of the other one? Which one of you drove to the park and sprang for tickets? Do those sound like the sort of claims someone age 14 and under could make?
Nevertheless, the kid in the radio ad comes up with a much more polite response: "Sorry, Dad. Kids only." If I wrote ad copy, the rejoinder would be, "No way, you creepy weirdo." Which is why I'm not in advertising.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: Watching Tuesday's game, I noticed Milton Bradley walking somewhat gingerly after he scored the tying run in the ninth and opted to ignore it. Bradley strained his hammy as it turns out and, with the Thursday off-day, the A's opted to give him two days of rest in advance of the Yankees series. So the well wishes and intricate spells holding the easily-injured Bradley together appear to be working, more or less.
A head's up from Susan Slusser: Bobby Crosby's off-day on Wednesday was pre-planned and Shannon Stewart will likely be out of the lineup Friday. We mention this so that no one thinks either player suffered some severe injury, which is a natural assumption when anyone in an Oakland uniform is out of the lineup.
The Lesson As Always -- Listen to Phil: I've been squawking about Jason Kendall's lofty position in the batting order for longer than I care to (see this summary for the most lucid rant), and it's nice to see that Bob Geren sees the same things I see. Even better, if this post from Slusser is anything to go by, it sounds like this move is not of the temporary nature. I don't know if Shannon Stewart is necessarily the answer -- I think he'll eventually come around, but I have nothing to base this on rather than gut feeling and a momentary bout of optimism -- but I like him getting four or five at-bats a game more than I like Kendall doing it.
It's just as well the game wasn't on TV. When the lineups were announced with Kendall in the eight slot, we might have been treated to a shot of Ray Fosse in the booth with a single tear running down his cheek, a la Iron Eyes Cody. With the game only on radio, Foss could take the time to compose himself off air.
All in All: Much will probably be made of Duchscherer giving up the game-tying homer to Dye and Street completing the come-from-ahead loss in the ninth. Indeed, in my bout of post-game glumness, I ruminated that perhaps Huston Street is not so reliable when asked to pitch on consecutive days -- certainly on a day game after a night game. But I have no evidence of that, and it seems kind of fruitless to start looking at this point. Sometimes guys just don't get the job done. The A's bullpen did its duty on Sunday against the Angels and on Tuesday against the Sox; that they couldn't repeat the feat Wednesday is just one of those things. No sense looking for any larger meaning in what is probably just a blip in a 162-game season.
What I do have evidence of is the A's inability to hit the ball consistently over the course of a nine-inning game. We've got 10 games in the books now, and Oakland's bats have really come through in only one of those. Wednesday repeated the pattern: set aside the three-run outburst in the first inning, and the A's only notched a hit and a walk for the remaining eight frames. Bash Duke and Street if you want, but those guys can at least point to delivering at some point over the first 10 games. How many A's batters can say the same thing?
Game 9 Summary: That's Using Your Head
All that's been said about Tuesday's game has already been said, in words and pictures. But when has that ever stopped me?
Game 9: A's 2, White Sox 1
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- H. Street (1-0) LP -- B. Jenks (1-1)
Went Deep: The Went Deep space is now looking for advertisers to fill this space, since it will apparently go unoccupied by A's homers.
Your Gordon Biersch Marzen Star of the Game: Todd Walker. Some may argue that Mark Ellis deserves our mythical honor, since he did, after all, provide the killing blow. But with the bases loaded with Athletics and Bobby Jenks more or less forced to put a pitch in the vicinity of the strike zone, the odds were tilted more toward Ellis coming through than they might be otherwise. Besides, if Ellis' ball lands in Scott Podsednik's glove instead of on his head, we're just going to extra frames; if Todd Walker fails to deliver, the game is over and the A's are 3-6. Plus, Todd Walker was asked to deliver a hit after sitting on the bench for 8 2/3 innings -- that deserves some sort of recognition, I'd think.
The Turning Point: I'd say the Walker at-bat, chronicled ably by Ryan below. But let's not let this opportunity to opine at length pass without mentioning the post-Walker RBI-hit decision by Ozzie Guillen to throw four wide ones past Travis Buck in order to face Mark Ellis. As reader doppelganger noted in the comments to last night's waste of subjects and predicates:
I can see the lefty-righty thing, but
Originally, I surmised that Ozzie ordered the walk because he didn't want the right-handed Jenks pitching against the left-handed Buck. But then I looked at Jenks' career righty-lefty splits. Righties hit him for a much better average (.279 vs. .182) and for much more power than lefties do. So I'm stumped particularly in light of the fact that Guillen enjoys a not-undeserved reputation for craftily handling his bullpen resources.
I can only assume that the Sox skipper remember that Buck had tripled earlier and that Ellis had looked miserable at the plate (particularly with runners in scoring position) and acted accordingly. Either that, or his minded was clouded by thoughts of Jay Mariotti.
Head Games: John Shea's description of the game-winning hit in the dead-trees edition of the Chronicle:
Following an intentional walk to Travis Buck that loaded the bases, Mark Ellis singled to deep left, and the A's went from stranding runners all night to almost strangling Ellis in a celebratory scrum.
From the Contra Costa Times:
Ellis had failed to get Buck home from third base with nobody out in the fifth, and the A's second baseman was thrilled to get another chance. He made the most of it with a single off the wall in left-center field.
From the AP:
Mark Ellis singled off the wall in left with the bases loaded in the ninth after pinch-hitter Todd Walker tied the game on an RBI single, lifting the Oakland Athletics past the Chicago White Sox 2-1 on Tuesday night.
No, no, and no. With an understanding nod toward the constraints of filing game stories on tight deadline, it was quite clear that the ball never hit the wall, but instead landed square on Scott Podsednik's head.
We don't mean to pick on Podsednik -- kinda, sorta, OK, we do -- since most fielders wouldn't have been fast enough to be a position to make a play on the ball, let alone give it the Maradona-treatment as they sprawled helpless into the left-field fence, but we so rarely get a chance to see highly-compensated professional fielders take a header, we should not allow mere deadline pressures to rob us of this moment.
Jose Canseco has been dining off his skull-aided home run for years. (Well, that and the steroids.) That's the first thing people think of when they think of Babe Herman, even though he was insistent that he never let a fly ball hit him in the head. ("Once or twice on the shoulder maybe...") Let's not deny Scott Podsednik his own place in baseball immortality.
(I see that the online version of John Shea's story now recognizes Podsednik's skull's contribution to this historic occasion. Kudos.)
Speaking of Scott Podsednik and immortality, you still have the opportunity to think up a fitting nickname for the one-two tandem of him and Darin Erstad. (Think Bash Brothers or M&M Boys, only without so much offense.) Whoever offers the winning suggestion will be properly feted by yours truly.
Cheap Shot I Should Have Included Yesterday: From Shea's account of opening day:
[A's owner Lew] Wolff watched Monday's 4-1 loss to the White Sox from his seat behind the A's dugout, alongside his guest, Oakland mayor Ron Dellums.
Yes, but Wolff only invited Dellums to ask him about the quickest routes out of town.
Because Phil Is a Demanding Master: It's seems mean to dwell on this, what with the come-from-behind victory and all, but dwell we shall on the aftermath of Buck's triple to lead off the fifth inning. That potential rally-sparking moment was immediately followed by a feeble grounder to Jon Garland from Mark Ellis, a grounder to Garland of equal or lesser value from Jason Kendall, and a who-the-hell-cares-how-Shannon Stewart-made-the-third-out-it's-not-like-the-run-would-score-on-a-fly-ball from Shannon Stewart.
Failing to produce with runners in scoring position happens from time to time; it just seems to be happening a lot with the A's in 2007 (.173 batting average headed into the ninth). Yeah, the players aren't robots, and, yeah, sometimes, the pitchers get the best of a showdown (even the Jon Garlands of the world), but someone or someones in green and gold needs to know that they're going to be called to account if this nonsense continues, improbable walkoff win or no.
All in All: Hey, really dramatic half-inning at the end there -- and with a particularly pleasant result. I'm not sure that it should entirely obscure that offensive ineptitude that came before it, but we'll take the Ws we can get until we figure this "timely hitting" thing out.
Todd Walker and the Pinch Hit of Destiny
Last night Todd Walker earned his white shoes and Bob Geren made his first great managerial move.
Instead of batting the flailing Bobby Crosby with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against Bobby Jenks, Geren inserted his best lefty hitter off the bench -- Walker.
Last season Walker hit .302 against right-handers, while Crosby managed just a .242 mark. In their careers, they have a combined three at-bats against Jenks, and both are hitless.
Here's Walker's at-bat, the biggest moment of the game:
Out of Town Report, Brought To You By The Out Of Town Report
The other day, Cliff posted a picture of his pregame meal, and I thought, hey, that's a cool idea. I think we should make it a Toaster tradition. If you eat out on your way to the game, you have to post a picture of your meal.
Here's mine. I'm in San Diego with family, and on the way to the Giants-Padres game tonight, we stopped at the Chicken Pie Shop, an old diner that's been around forever. It's just a few blocks from where Ted Williams grew up, so you can bet Ted Williams probably ate there.
I loved it. Not the food so much, which was pretty straightforward, or the decor, which looks like a diner straight out of the forties (and perhaps some of the decor really is from the forties), but the name. I love names that say what they are. Chicken Pie Shop. I'll have the chicken pie, please.
We left the Chicken Pie Shop, got in our Minivan, and headed for The Baseball Park. I had no rooting interest in the game, and the pitching matchup wasn't anything special (Matt Morris vs. Clay Hensley). The Giants took an early lead, and the only drama was whether the atrocious Giants bullpen would give it all back before the Padres ran out of outs. They held on with one out to spare.
I suppose even Padres fans found the game somewhat boring, since it appears that they entertain themselves by counting the days until Tony Gwynn gets inducted into Cooperstown. I entertained myself by watching my kids play in the sandbox beyond the right-centerfield fence, and by keeping one eye on the scoreboard, to see what was going on between the White Sox and the A's.
Even the scoreboard watching was boring. Inning after inning passed by. OAK - 0. OAK - 0. OAK - 0. "Oh for heaven's sake, score some runs!" I shouted at one point, to no one in particular.
Then Armando Benitez came in for the Giants, with a three-run lead in the ninth. The out-of-town scoreboard said, "CHW 1, OAK 0, B9." With two outs, Benitez served up a two-run homer to Adrian Gonzalez. The lead was down to one. Fireworks. Scoreboard flashing. Happy music.
Once the noise settled, the out-of-town scoreboard got back to work. I looked up, and instinctively blurted loudly, "YEAH! WOOHOO!" The scoreboard, to my utter surprise, now said, "CHW 1, OAK 2. F."
Ahhhhhh. It's such a good feeling to leave the ballpark with a tough, hard-fought victory, isn't it?
Game 8 Summary: Home Sour Home
Man. I wish I could be in San Diego on spring break so that I could miss games like Monday night's drubbing at the hands of Chicago. Hell, a few more games like that, and I might wish I was in National City on spring break.
White Sox 4, A's 1
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- Contreras (1-1) LP -- Harden (1-1)
Went Deep: Thome (2), Podsednik (1). I'm sure an Oakland player probably hit one out in BP.
Your Louis Jadot Beaujolais Star of the Game: Jim Thome. There might be an outcry for Scott Podsednik to win this, given his uncharacteristic offensive output. But it's Thome who came up with the crushing blow to tie the game in fourth, and the RBI single to put the game out of reach at 3-1. You know the old saying: "If the A's are down by two/chances are your game is through."
The Turning Point: Two moments, one following right after the other, stand out in my mind. In the third, the Eric Chavez works a six-pitch walk from a struggling Jose Contreras to load the bases with two outs. Contreras throws two consecutive balls to Nick Swisher. Ah, but the 2-0 pitch finds the strike zone and Swisher looses a less-than-optimal swing -- resulting in a pop-up to left.
Jim Thome leads off the fourth for Chicago and finds himself on the happy end of a 3-0 count. Rich Harden throws what seems like a get-'em-over strike that, unfortunately, Thome chooses to mash to straight-away center.
In the span of two batters, the A's went from blowing the game wide open against a struggling pitcher to watching Jim Thome slowly circle the bases and tie the game. If that's not a momentum-shifting chain of events, I don't know what is.
Jay Marshall Watch: Things did not work out so well last night for My Magnificent Lefty Sidearmer. Oh, the seventh went well enough, in which my favorite Rule V draftee needed 13 pitches to retire the Sox in order (including getting Enemy of the People A.J. Pierzynski to hit a feeble and giggle-inducing comebacker.) Ah, but with two left-handers leading off the eighth, Bob Geren got a little bit greedy and left Marshall out there. Podsednik singled, Erstad bunted him over and that pretty much consigned the A's to leaving Marshall in until Thome's at bat. We've already mentioned how that turned out. Two runs were charged to Marshall, lifting his ERA from 0.00 to 4.15 and doubtlessly cementing his status as a one-inning kind of pitcher. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Pods and Ersty, and For Runs We Are Thirsty: The White Sox fielded a lineup featuring Scott Podsednik (on-base percentage of .343 in 2,548 career plate appearances) and Darin Erstad (.341 in 5,803 PAs) in the top two slots. Perhaps this is a poorly timed observation seeing as how Pods went 3-for-4 last night with a double and a home run (only two more to match 2006's output!), but man, that's a lot of outs at the top of order. (Indeed, for as good an evening as Podsednik had, Erstad looked terrible against Harden, striking out in both his at bats. He was able to get that aforementioned sacrifice down. No one makes an out like Darin Erstad.)
I think, before all is said and done in 2007, Podsednik and Erstad will make a historic one-two... well, punch isn't the right word. How's about a one-two light slap? Anyhow, I think they need a nickname. Just as McGwire and Canseco were the Bash Brothers, just as Clark and Mitchell were the Pacific Sock Exchange, just as Maris and Mantle were the M&M Boys, so too do Pods and Ersty need a joint moniker.
Me, I favor "And With Two Gone, Here's Paul Konerko," but I recognize that's not exactly pithy. My one-time blogging compatriot Jason suggested "Grit and Grittier," which is not without its charms.
But I throw this question out to the vast Catfish Stew listening audience: What nickname should the Podsednik-Erstad lineup combo have? Please place your suggestion in the comments; the winner will have the distinction of being named Star of the Game sponsor for the Wednesday get-away game against the Sox. Who knows? Maybe Pods or Ersty can take home Star of the Game honors that day.
Seems unlikely, but it would be fitting.
Phil's Not-So-Phun Phacts: With two home runs, the A's find themselves at the bottom of the American League in that category. And I don't really see how that position is likely to change much during the year. Who on the A's would you say is a safe bet to top the 30-homer mark this season? Nick Swisher, probably. Milton Bradley, if he remains healthy and that's a skyscraper-sized if. Piazza, I guess, though I have my doubts. At any rate -- not a lot of sock in that lineup, and there'll be even less if a frustrated Swish starts swinging wildly like he did in the sixth last night.
And while we're on that subject... while the A's can't hit for power, they're certainly swinging like it -- they lead the A.L. in strikeouts. On the Action 36 telecast, otherwise known as Happy Talk with Glenn and Ray, Glenn Kuiper dismissed that stat by noting that 12 of those came off of Felix Hernandez in a single game and that thing would eventually even themselves out. He may well be right. Of course, it's one thing to have King Felix strike you out; it's another to make Mike MacDougal look unhittable.
Stuff That Probably Reflects Poorly on Me: So... backstory: Back in my college days, my pal Wrenn and I were tooling around San Francisco when we happened to come across a guy wearing a Boston Bruins jersey bearing Cam Neely's No. 8. Mr. Hockey Jersey was... well, we shall charitably say he did not cut the same dashing figure that Cam Neely did in his prime. Hey, few of us do. Nevertheless, Wrenn was moved to observe, his voice quavering with sincere concern, "Man, Cam Neely looks terrible." And in the ensuing 15 years, whenever I encounter a similar physical specimen, I imagine Wrenn saying that and enjoy a private chuckle.
Anyhoo... last night the Action 36 cameras are panning the stands, when they happen upon a silver-haired gentleman with a handlebar mustache looking as stricken over the goings-on as the rest of us.
"Hey, cheer up, Rollie Fingers," I said out loud to the TV. That this was probably my lone source of amusement all evening is not a good sign -- for the A's or for me.
You Stay Classy, Oakland: The boos that reign down on Ex-Athletic Jermaine Dye every time his name is announced confuse and irritate me. "Take that for breaking your leg in a playoff game," the idiot boobirds seem to be saying. "Take that for signing the ill-advised contract extension that Billy Beane offered you. And how dare you sign with another team when Oakland had no interest in retaining your services? Boo! Booooooo!"
Dye served the A's honorably and as best he could under the circumstances. He never acted like a jerk when he was on the team or after he left. If one cannot applaud politely, then the next best response is to sit silently. Booing Dye for no reason other than the fact that he's wearing a different colored shirt makes the rest of us look like chumps.
Now, A.J. Pierzynski you can boo.
All in All: It's still early yet -- I figure we can trot that chestnut out for another week -- but the current manifestation of the A's are doing the one thing that's worse than losing: being unspeakably boring while doing it. Scoring a run or two each night and hoping your pitchers can do prevent the other team from doing likewise is not only a poor recipe for success, it's also unlikely to leave the paying customers entertained.
Here's what Bob Geren told the Chronicle, post-drubbing: "You don't want to have a disappointing game, but these guys played hard. We just didn't get the big hit." The way things are looking right now, Geren ought to just type up that statement, Xerox it, and hand out copies to the press after each game -- it might save him a lot of time.
Better than expected so far:
Worse than expected so far:
The Anatomy of a Busted Play
Saturday night, the A's were down 2-1 to the Angels, had runners on first and second and no one out in the seventh inning, facing John Lackey. Then they proceeded to blow their opportunity by having five different people make awful mistakes on the very same play:
And then, when the Angels escaped the inning unscathed, Lackey walked off the field with one of the ugliest, most uncoordinated, unrhythmic celebration dances possible. Pure salt in the wound. I thought Jason Kendall's fight with Lackey last year was completely unjustified, but I wouldn't have begrudged him for punching Lackey out for whatever-that-thing-was. No human being should ever be subject to such a wretched sight.
Game 7 Summary: Oh, What a Relief It Is
I spent the day out at my parents' back 40 in Danville, where Fox Sports Bay Area Plus is but a rumor. This is either because my dad cheaps out on things or because Comcast's basic tier offerings are wanting -- having seen evidence of both the former and latter, I'm inclined to say it's a little from Column A and a little from Column B.
Ah, but your correspondent did not spend the day in a cone of silence. Rather, I made periodic trips outside, much like a common hobo, to listen to the game on the radio. It is these sorts of sacrifices that have made me the 45th most popular A's blogger on the Internet. Watch your back, unattributed wire copy -- I'm gunning for you!
A's 2, Angels 1
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Blanton (1-0) LP -- K. Escobar (1-1) S -- Street (2)
Went Deep: In a trend that partisans of either team could find alarming, nobody.
Your Cameron Hughes Lot 27 Syrah Star of the Game: Could have been any member of the law offices of Embree, Calero, Duchscherer & Street, who combined to hold the Angels to one baserunner -- on a piddly little infield hit, mind you -- in 3 2/3 innings of relief work. This is how teams with less-than-robust offenses steal games from their betters.
In the end, the Star of the Game Panel casts its lot with Kiko Calero, who not only had to overcome the burden of two gruesome outings, but also had the task of facing the top of the Los Angeles of Anaheim lineup, including Athletic-killer Vladimir Guerrero. Mr. Calero's results: strikeout swinging, strikeout swinging, pop out. Welcome back, sir.
The Star of the Game Panel is as alarmed as the rest of you that four of the first seven Star of the Game honors have been sponsored by makers of frou-frou wines. We vow to either drink a wider variety of beverages in the coming week or, at the very least, a cheaper class of plonk.
The Turning Point: And here is where the limitations of periodically checking in via the radio come to the fore. Between fielding questions designed to register my parents' ongoing disappointment with my life choices and showering my nephews and niece with just enough attention so that any appearance I might make in a future memoir will be a positive one ("Easter 2007: Uncle Phil spends most of the afternoon in his Subaru, listening to the radio and muttering darkly about Jason Kendall; it is then that I resolve to violently overthrow the U.S. government."), I didn't really get a good feel for the narrative flow of the game. Oh, I can give you the broad details and perhaps even a particular here and there. But as to the play that the game turned on? I'm just guessing.
So in that spirit, I'm going to pick the moment when Bob Geren decided that enough was enough and signaled for Alan Embree to replace Joe Blanton with one out in the sixth and runners on second and third. These days, most of a manager's in-game decisions are so obvious that anyone with a passing familiarity with Weaver on Strategy can probably tell you when to bunt or hit-and-run or pinch hit; handling pitching changes is where skippers can really differentiate themselves. And, after a week's worth of games anyhow, Bob Geren seems to be willing to trust his bullpen to bring the win home. It didn't work out so well last Tuesday in Seattle, but it paid off handsomely on Sunday.
But I could well be wrong about Sunday's turning point. Over at 6-4-2, Rob seems to suggest that the game hinged on the Angels' magnanimous decision to swing and miss early often, and I'm not in a position to dispute that.
Phil's Not-So-Phun Phacts: By my count, the A's grounded into seven double plays in four games against the Angels. This how teams with less-than-robust offenses... stay less than robust.
Up until Ken Korach mentioned it on the pregame show, I had no idea Joe Blanton had never recorded a win against the Angels in his 10 previous appearances against our hated SoCal rivals. And it's not like Blanton has been slapped around by the Halos -- his ERA against L.A. Jr. was 3.something or other headed into this game.
All in All: The A's got a split against the Angels, which is never anything to sneeze at, even as my seasonal allergies kick in. And with the team headed back to Oakland for the first homestand of the year, who knows? Maybe I'll actually get to watch an inning or two in real time at some point during the next week.
Games 5 and 6: Worst-Case Scenario Edition
It's a new low for the Game Summary department here at Catfish Stew -- not getting around to posting the game summary for Friday night's game until well after Saturday's contest has already been played. My excuse is... well, laziness, really. But also, I woke up Saturday morning, saw Ryan's post, thought to myself "Man, that pretty much covers it, and then went about my day. But in the interest of keeping my streak alive...
Game Five: Angels 5, A's 2
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- D. Mosley (1-0) LP -- J. Kennedy (0-1) S -- F. Rodriguez (3)
Went Deep: Kendrick (1), Guerrero (3)
Your Royal Oaks Royal Rosé Star of the Game: Vladimir Guerrero, whose three-run shot in the seventh effectively made a comeback for the A's popgun offense the stuff of fantasy.
The Turning Point: You would think it would be the Guerrero home run since it both inspired the photo essay linked above and netted Bad Vlad the coveted Star of the Game honors. But it is not.
Instead, I'd like to go back a half-inning to the top of the seventh and the A's still nominally in the game trailing by a 2-1 deficit. That's when Eric Chavez led off with a double in a nifty 9-pitch at-bat that chased the heretofore relatively unhittable Dustin Mosley. Even the most pessimistic A's fan -- hi, everyone -- had to figure that Oakland would tie up the ballgame that inning, even when Bob Geren sent Mark Ellis up there with the low-risk low-reward plan of bunting Chavez over to third.
Ellis immediately fouled off both bunt attempts, putting himself in an 0-2 hole and taking the sacrifice off the table. Ellis battled gamely for another six pitches, but ended up swinging and missing at a ball out of the strike zone. Todd Walker followed with an easy fly to left. And Travis Buck ended the A's scoring threat by striking out, with strikes two and three wafting past him unmolested by any swing.
The inning could not have been more dispiriting to an A's fan if the at-bats had been interspersed with news clips of Lew Wolff announcing that he was scrapping the Fremont plan in order to build a new stadium/housing-development on Mars. Even when the A's engage in what Gregg Easterbrook would doubtlessly call a mincing fraidy-cat play like a bunt and play for one run, they are (more likely than not, it seems) unable to get it. That's not the sort of play that inspires the Faithful to free up their calendars late into October; hell, it's not the sort of play that really inspires them to stick around through July.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: After a quiet couple of days, the Injury Bug made up for lost time. First, Milton Bradley got yanked from the lineup post-BP, thanks to the achy side that's been flaring up since the last week of the exhibition season. Then, Bobby Crosby departed after the bottom of the sixth, after back spasms flared up when he slid into second in the fifth inning or when a stiff breeze brushed up against him or something. Crosby's departure inspired the Chronicle's A's blog to come up with this aimed-at-inspiring comments headline: Crosby: Too Brittle or Too Much Battle? I admit that when I read that in my bleary-eyed state this morning, I thought it said "Brittle or Much Too Brittle?" I kinda like my headline better.
Turning Singles Into Outfield Assists: Mike Piazza looked like he was going to get the A's going in the fourth, with a shot down the left-field line that screamed double. Of course, Piazza's knees also screamed "Aging Ex-Catcher," and Garret Anderson was able to gun him down trying to leg out a double. It's plays like this where it's easy to see how Piazza earned the distinction of being the slowest player since 1900.
Oh Me Arm: Forget rosin stains on the ballcap -- Hangin' Judge Watson appears to be. Angels fans should be less concerned about Francisco Rodriguez's cap and more concerned that his arm will come flying off before Memorial Day. This was the Angels' fifth game of the season -- K-Rod's pitched in four of them, throwing 14, 27, 20, and 23 pitches, respectively.
Hey, I'm no master strategist like Mike Scioscia, but it seems to be that a 5-2 lead against a punchless Oakland team is about the time you leave Francisco Rodriguez in the bullpen and see if someone else is up to the task. As it turned out, Scioscia called on K-Rod, who promptly allowed the tying run to come to the plate for righting the ship.
His annoying little victory dance seemed less peppy than usual.
Uncharitable Comment of the Night: Jay Witasick enters the ballgame in the seventh with the A's down 2-1. "I guess we're conceding," I said to my wife. Four batters later, we pretty much did.
All in All: If you're an A's fan, chances are you said something like this prior to the start of 2007: if we can stay healthy and get some contributions from the offense, we can ride our pitching to victory. None of those three things came through Friday, which -- taking into account that this is just one game -- is nevertheless worrisome.
Game Six: Angels 2, A's 1
Yeah, didn't watch this one. The wife commandeered the TV set, and I was busy with both yard work and pan-searing an ahi tuna. It sounds like I didn't miss much.
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Lackey (2-0) LP -- D. Haren (0-2) S -- S. Shields (1)
Went Deep: No one.
Your Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Star of the Game: In the absence of a breakout offensive performance, we'll go with Lackey who continues to impose his will on Oakland every time he pitches against us.
The Turning Point: We'll defer to our good friends at The Associated Press:
With the Angels leading 2-1, the A's blew a big opportunity in the seventh. Eric Chavez led off with a double, and after Nick Swisher was hit by a pitch, Mark Ellis failed to make contact while trying to bunt a 2-0 pitch that appeared to be out of the strike zone, and Chavez was caught off second base.
Has anyone ever witnessed Mark Ellis bunt without mishap?
All in All: The ahi turn turned out deliciously, if that makes any of you feel any better.
That Was Less Than Pleasant
I'll keep this short, since I've never been one to dwell on the reasons for a loss for too long.
There were two things I distinctly didn't care for in last night's game.
One, the weird strikezone:
The pitch on the left is a called strike that hit the corner of the plate. Good pitch. The pitch on the right is a called strike that missed my about a foot and a half outside. What the hell?
The second thing that I didn't care for in the least was Jay Witasick's continued inability to do his job any better than that lady down at the DMV who gave my aunt's blind friend a driver's license.
That is not where you want to miss on a hanging slider to Vlad Guerrero with two runners on base. Here's a doctored image of where you want to miss with Vlad:
That should be just outside his strike zone...
Game 4 Summary: Already Covered By Others Edition
Unlike the previous magnum opi, we'll keep this one short and sweet, as the salient points about Thursday's win over the Angels have already been made by Ken (hooray, Mike Piazza!) and Ryan (boo, horribly conceived relief counting stats!). Let's go crazy, bullet points-style.
Game Four: A's 4, Angels 3
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Duchscherer (1-0) LP -- F. Rodriguez (0-1) S -- H. Street (1)
Went Deep: Guerrero (2), Anderson (1), Piazza (1)
Your Bushmills Irish Whiskey Star of the Game: Piazza, for sending a ball into the Los Angeles of Anaheim night air. As you doubtlessly read in this morning's Chronicle, that's the first home run hit by Piazza in that Angels Stadium -- 40th ballpark he's gone yard in over the course of his career. (The only ones he's played in sans homer? The Metrodome and the newly opened Busch Stadium, says The Associated Press.
The Turning Point: After Kiko Calero's second disappointing outing in as many appearances this week, the Angels loaded the bases in the seventh with just one out and the A's clinging to a one-run lead. Enter Justin Duchscherer, who got Gary Matthews Jr. to hit a sac fly to center and induced a harm pop out from Orlando Cabrera. The A's lost their lead, but Duchscherer kept the damage to a minimum, setting the stage for Piazza's heroics in the ninth.
Kind of unfair then, that the limitations of baseball's scoring system demand that Duchscherer be saddled with the blown save for allowing one of Calero's runs to score on an out-making play. Yes, as pointed out in the comments to Ryan's post, Duke gets a vultured win. But the blown save leaves sort of a lasting statistical impression that he fell down on the job, and I don't see how you can reach any such conclusion having watched him pitch. Every one of the five batters Duchscherer faced failed to reach base safely; a stat that fails to recognize that kind of performance is BS all right, but I'm not referring to the abbreviation.
Hey, Hey, Jason K., How Many Runners You Strand Today?: Four, according to the box score, including two runners in scoring position when the Oakland catcher grounded out to third to end the eighth inning. All in all, Kendall went 0 for 5, bringing his average to a sizzling .100.
I understand that we are dealing with less than a week's worth of sample sizes and that Kendall historically posts a respectable, though not exactly eye-popping, on-base percentage. But as my one-time newspaperin' colleague Jonah Keri explains quite ably in this podcast, you really should stack the upper part of your lineup with the guys you want getting the most at-bats in any particular game. So I open the floor to this question: Is Jason Kendall really one of those guys? I kind of think not, but I'm admittedly blinded by rage.
Thou Shalt Not Leave Early: Thursday's game coincided with Maundy Thursday, and I missed the first three-and-a-half innings while at church. Services ran a bit long, and I needed to pick my wife up from the ferry, so I wound up ducking out a little early, before the pastor wrapped things up. I got to my car and flipped on the radio just in time to hear Vladimir Guerrero smash a Chad Gaudin pitch all the way to Fullerton. And before I had even driven half-a-block, Garret Anderson hit another homer to about the same spot.
The lesson I'm taking away from this: God is very, very wrathful and hates it when you leave church early.
All in All: A nicely contested early-season game between two rivals with three of my favorite things contributing to the happy ending: 1) An A's win; 2) the killing blow coming at the expense of Francisco Rodriguez, sparing us the sight of his victory spasms; and 3) Mike Scioscia small-balling his way to loss column.
I have no idea whether the ongoing hubbub over SmudgeGate caused my favorite closer to lose focus long enough to serve up a mashable pitch to Mike Piazza. But it certainly didn't hurt the A's chances to scratch home a run against K-Rod.
So I say, we turn up on the heat on Francisco Rodriguez. Let's find more stuff that he could have possibly, conceivably may or may not have done. And while it's all well and good to have photos and an in-depth knowledge of the rule book to buttress my case, I'm kind of pressed for time today. So I'm just going to throw some things out there and hope they stick.
There. That oughta do it.
Of Saves and Holds
This is the pitching portion of the boxscore from the A's 4-3 win over the Angels on Thursday night:
What stood out to me in that snippet of statistics was that Calero was credited with a Hold while Duchscherer was given a Blown Save. Huh?
At first, I thought that I was reading it wrong. Calero got one out while giving up a run on two hits and a walk. Duchscherer pitched an inning and two-thirds and gave up nothing at all. How does that bestow a Hold on an ineffective pitcher and brand an effective one with a Blown Save? It's all in how the arbitrary stats were designed.
To get a "Hold", all one must do is enter the game with a lead and record at least one out without surrendering that lead. Even though the run that tied the game belonged to Calero, it didn't cross the plate until he was already hitting the showers.
Duchscherer came into a one-out game with three of Calero's gifts on the basepaths. He got a fly-out and a pop-up to end the inning, allowing only one of the three inherited runners to cross the plate. He blew the save by having the bad luck to follow Calero, basically.
This is just the latest example of a lengthening string of evidence that Holds and Saves are among the more overblown stats in all of sports. Sure, pitching effectively in the ninth inning of close games is something to be noted, but is the save rule -- in its current form -- the best way to accomplish that? Isn't it more telling to just use ERA, WHIP, batting average against and inherited runners to measure reliever effectiveness?
I tend to disregard save totals for the same reason I tend to ignore win-loss records; it's a pitching stat that depends heavily on the score of the game, as influenced by the pitcher's offensive teammates. That element tends to taint what we're trying to measure in the first place -- pitching effectiveness.
How would you change the save and hold rules? Or would you keep them as they are? Get rid of them entirely?
..And After the Love Boat...
"Da plane, Boss! Da plane!"
If Ray Fosse were Hugh Hefner, Thursday's A's-Angels game would be the Centerfold of the Year. One old catcher hitting a game winning homer, and another throwing out a base stealer to nail the final out? Mmmmmm...oh, yes! OH, YES!
I'm not Ray Fosse; I'm not going to fantasize about Jason Kendall's arm, but I do fantasize about games like this. This A's-Angels rivalry is getting better with every game. They're rarely boring; nearly every game is nine innings of grinding tension. Frankly, it's rather exhausting watching these two teams play. By Sunday, after the fourth game of this series, I'm probably going to need a vacation.
I certainly don't have a good read on Mike Piazza yet. I missed his first at-bat, where he doubled. In his next at-bat, he came up with a runner on third and one out, and struck out. He looked awful, all out of sync. But then, in the ninth, he took a not cheating K-Rod deep, with one of the trademark right-center blasts that will land him in the Hall of Fame.
A few more of those, and I might be making a call to Ricardo Montalban about Piazza myself.
Game 3 Summary: Wasn't Watching Edition
I turned 35 yesterday, which means a couple things: 1) I'm no longer under warranty, so anything that breaks down at this point is going to be a very costly repair. And 2) I was out being feted and therefore missed most of Oakland's first win of the season.
When the A's are in town on my birthday, there usually isn't conflict -- my wife and I go to the game. But when they're out of the town and my wife asks me, "So how would you like to celebrate your birthday," an answer like "watching the A's game on TV and muttering darkly about each turn of events" really doesn't cut it. So we high-tailed it to our local German restaurant where I enjoyed the sauerbraten. (Apropos of nothing, my wife and I are currently in between Italian restaurants after a string of poor meals and spotty service at our long-standing favorite, so if anyone out there has any suggestions for an Italian eatery in the 510 area code, we'd love to try it out and round out our arsenal of Axis Powers dining establishments.)
Anyhow, by the time I got home, stuffed with spatzle, the A's already enjoyed a 5-0 lead. I flipped on the TV just as Yuniesky Bettancourt's screaming lining landed in Eric Chavez's glove and watched Rich Harden set down Jose Lopez with superb dispatch. And then came the top of the fourth, when Milton Bradley doubled home Shannon Stewart -- both of the A's hits came with two outs. However, when Ichiro led off the bottom half of the inning with a single (more on that later) and, after a double play, Jose Vidro and Raul Ibanez reached on a walk and a single, respectively, I had a heart-to-heart talk with myself.
"Self," I said. "The A's are up 6-nil, and chances for a no-hitter have no evaporated. The only things that can happen to Oakland at this point are bad ones. Do you really want to spend your birthday watching that?
And so I switched over to the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal between Chelsea and Valencia that I had TiVo'd earlier that day, periodically checking in on the A's. I was a lot happier that way, I think, even if Chelsea only managed a draw and -- even worse -- yielded the all important away goal to Valencia, putting the Spanish team in the driver's seat for the return match in Estadio Mestalla next Tuesday.
They can't all be gems, you know? Especially after Rich Harden threw one.
A's 9, Mariners 0
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- R. Harden (1-0) LP -- M. Batista (0-1)
Went Deep: Not a soul. But the A's did hit five doubles.
Your Jones Soda Co. Green Apple Soda Star of the Game: This is the sort of decision that gives your Star of the Game Panel of Experts fits. On the one hand, you have Mark Ellis driving in five runs to contribute to the Oakland cause, all from the bottom of the line-up. Then you have Rich Harden, who simply dominated the Mariners -- only 3 hits in seven innings, none of them for extra bases. It took him only 29 pitches to mow down the Seattle lineup the first time through. And the Star of the Game Panel of Experts refuses to cheapen this honor by naming co-Stars of the Game.
Hmmmm... gonna go with Harden on this one. But Mark, the next time you drive in five runs, Star of the Game honors are yours.
The Turning Point: Easily David Silva's 25-yard strike in the 30th minute to give Valenica the vital away goal and a 1-nil lead until Didier Drogba equalized with his 30th goal of the season early in the second half. By putting Valencia on the board, Silva ensured that the Blues will have their work cut out for them next Tuesday in the second leg.
Oh, the A's game. I'll have to defer to the game log on this one, but I'll pick Ellis' three-run double in the second. Batista had already balked home a run, but Ellis' hit ensured the A's would end the inning by putting up that elusive crooked number.
Rich Harden's Arm Has Been Registered As a Deadly Weapon: During one of the few moments I watched, the Safeco Field radar gun recorded a Harden pitch at 112 m.p.h. Foss and Kuiper the Lesser laughed it off as a technical glitch; I think they should have played it straight. "112? Is that all?" Kuiper could have said. "God help the man who has to stand in and face that," Foss could have added sadly.
Ich-i-ro!: If I were to draw up a list of the non-Oakland players I enjoy watching, the top three would probably be Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, and Ichiro. We may have to work Zito in there, now that he's out of the family. (Curiously, all three of those guys just murder the A's. Huh.)
As to Ichiro's presence on the list, last night was a good example why. After fouling off Rich Harden's absolutely-not-a-false-reading 112 m.p.h. pitch of doom, Ichiro found himself on the business end of a splitter rapidly burrowing its way toward the earth's core. With the pitch down around his ankles -- and with Jason Kendall lunging to block once it hit dirt -- Ichiro swung and ripped a solid single up the middle. He is terrifyingly good, and he can't leave the American League West fast enough for my taste.
Sometimes I Think Susan Slusser Writes Just For Me: After Game Two, I wondered why Bob Geren would pull Joe Blanton at the start of the seventh, when the A's starter had shown no signs of struggling; I also grumbled that the money papers contained no explanation of said move.
From the A's Report in Thursday's Chronicle:
Geren said if the A's had remained behind Tuesday night, he would have had Joe Blanton start the seventh and then brought in Justin Duchscherer. As it was, the A's tied the game, so he brought in Kiko Calero, instead, after Blanton had warmed up to start the inning. Geren said Calero, who allowed three hits and three runs, had plenty of time to warm up properly.
Capital! Thanks, Susan. Your next assignment: ask around the clubhouse and see if anyone has any good lamb recipes. I'm cooking lamb this weekend, and I want to try something new.
Phil's Phun Phacts: The A's are 9-5 on my birthday. Scott Brosius is your all-time Athletics home run leader on April 4 with two, having clubbed both in a 10-9 loss to the Tigers back in 1996. (I spent that birthday having dinner by myself at a Black Angus in Temecula, California, trying to decide whether I would quit my job at the very shitty, now-defunct cowtown daily newspaper that employed me. A month later, I would, and it's been sauerbraten and green apple sodas ever since.)
The A's, perhaps sensing my disdain for the team from the Bronx, are an impressive 3-0 against the New York Yankees on my birthday, having bested them in 1997, 1998 and 2006. That last game was perhaps the most exciting of the birthday games, ending as it did on a Marco Scutaro walk-off single.
For those of you doing math, and realizing 14 ≠ 35, consider that for much of the 1970s and '80s, baseball season didn't start until a week after my birthday.
Philip Michaels, Accomplished Evaluator of Talent: My main man Jay Marshall pitched again. Three up, three down on five pitches.
Strategery: The A's open up a four-game series against their hated rivals from a remote Southern California municipality tonight, and if Derek Zumsteg is to be believed, should Francisco Rodriguez come out to protect a ninth-inning Angels lead, Bob Geren may want to ask the ump to check his cap. (Thanks to Deadspin for hipping us to the link.)
All in All: It's always good to see the A's eliminate the possibility of going 0-162. I just hope they manage to win a game I watch from beginning to end one of these days so I don't develop a complex.
Game 3 Visual Pitching Summary
-- - --
On a night when Rich Harden needed but a single run to secure a victory for the green and gold, the A's poured out nine of them. Dan Haren and Joe Blanton could have used some of those in the first two games of the series, but no one has yet found a way to put runs into a savings account for days like that.
Harden wasn't as dominant as he was in spring training, but we can't expect him to strike out almost 15 per nine innings in the regular season. His current 9.0 SO/9 is perfectly fine by me.
His first three innings were fantastic, but Harden ran into some trouble in the fourth. Ichiro singled, and then Adrian Beltre worked an eight pitch at-bat before grounding into a double play. For some reason, Harden then issued a four-pitch walk to Jose Vidro, the first of two four-pitch walks on the game for Harden.
From the fourth inning on, Harden threw 23 balls. He threw only seven in the first three innings. Over the course of the game, he threw first-pitch balls to nine of the 25 batters he faced.
I don't mean to be overly critical of Harden's outing, though. When you have to break it down that far to find anything, there's not much to worry about.
Game 2 Summary: Call That Relief?
The A's bullpen was one of the main reasons why the otherwise unimpressive 2006 squad was able to leg out the Angels for the division title. When Oakland took a lead into the late innings, they usually kept it. And if the team found itself behind, the bullpen usually kept things close enough to keep the hope of a late-inning comeback alive. The pattern figured to repeat itself in 2007, particularly after so many A's relievers enjoyed very strong springs.
Yeah, well, not so much Tuesday night. Kiko Calero came into a tie ballgame, doused it in kerosene and then became careless with matches. Justin Duchscherer took his sweet time dousing the resulting flames. It happens. That it happened on the heels of the A's getting picked apart by Felix Hernandez only makes it stand out a little more than it should.
Game Two: Mariners 8, A's 4
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- J. Mateo (1-0) LP -- K. Calero (0-1)
Went Deep: Sexson (2, off Blanton in the second), Bradley (1, off Washburn in the sixth), Betancourt (1, off Calero in the seventh)
Your Beaulieu Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Star of the Game: Yuniesky Betancourt. A few different Mariner choices here -- Richie Sexson for hitting his second home run in as many games, Jarrod Washburn for turning in six solid innings and retiring 11 consecutive Athletics, Ichiro for plating two runners and hitting the triple in the seventh that put the game out of reach of the A's popgun offense. But in the end, the prize goes to the guy who broke the tie.
The Turning Point: Pretty much when Bob Geren walked out at the start of the bottom half of the seventh inning to remove Joe Blanton after just 81 incident-free pitches. This will smack of a second guess, I suppose, but why not leave Blanton in to start the seventh, on the condition that you yank him quick at the first hint of any trouble?
I'm not saying there aren't perfectly legitimate reasons for pulling Blanton at that point. Maybe he's not stretched out enough to throw much beyond 80 pitches at this point. Maybe he stiffened up as the A's two-out rally in the seventh continued. Maybe Geren just figured that the bullpen is supposed to be a strength and that he liked his chances with Calero and Duchscherer pitching the next couple innings. Not a flawed strategy, by the way, though the execution didn't pan out.
My point is this: Blanton was not pitching poorly at all and certainly would seem to be safely under the ceiling of where you'd yank him. So where's the doubtlessly logical explanation for why he got pulled? If it was in any of the game reports out there, I must have missed it.
Credit Where Credit Is Due: It is safe to say I'm not a big fan of Joe Blanton. It would be even more accurate to say I'm not a fan at all of Joe Blanton. I've advocated, loudly and obnoxiously, for the A's to trade him to some turnip-truck-riding GM who's easily blinded by gaudy win totals. I snort derisively when grizzled old scouts say preposterous things about him. Whatever positive attributes other people see in Joe Blanton, I just don't perceive.
And yet -- he pitched really well last night. Seven strikeouts in six innings is nothing to sneeze out. Zero walks is even more encouraging. He worked quickly, seemed focused, and had a good demeanor on the mound -- some of the times when he's out there, he looks like a teen-ager who's just been asked to do an unpleasant chore. That wasn't the case last night. And he didn't meltdown at the first sign of trouble -- the Sexson home run or the ball that Bobby Kielty misplayed into a double. We see more performances like this from Blanton, and he'll mind up making me look like a total dunce. And I have no problem with that.
Signs of Despair/Signs of Hope: When the score was still 4-1 Seattle and puttering along to an easy Mariner win over a lifeless Oakland offense, the turning point up above was going to be Mark Ellis' sacrifice fly to plate Kielty for the A's first run of the season. Why? Because too often the A's seem to get themselves in these runners at the corners with one out or less situations and they wind up hitting a sac fly or scoring on a double-play grounder and turning what could be a big inning into a one run -- or, if you remember Travis Buck's leadoff double in Monday's game, no run -- affair.
And then came the top of the seventh: Nick Swisher leads off with a single and moves to second on Kielty's grounder. After a Bobby Crosby lineout, Mark Ellis comes through with the two-out hit to score Swish. Even more impressive, Jason Kendall hits the ball -- ! -- deep -- !! -- to notch a double -- !!! -- and tie up the game. Yeah, it's only two runs, but it's a sustained offensive effort, coming with two outs.
We'll be a lot better off when the A's can put up a crooked number like that and we don't react like it's a pleasant surprise.
Ray Fosse Contemplates His Own Duality: I seem to remember once upon a time that Ray Fosse managed to keep his boosterism in check in the broadcast booth, but in recent years, he's become more... Hudler-esque... in his enthusiasms. Occasionally, however, Foss will say something so blandly positive that even he must take a step back and wonder about the string of words that just left his mouth.
Take Bobby Crosby's first at-bat on Tuesday. Homer Foss feels the need to express a few kind words about Croz, in light of his costly fielding mishap on Monday: "I think it's great just to see Bobby in uniform, and he's going to have a good season if he stays healthy." Broadcaster Foss realizes that sentence is so generic as to be meaningless: "Of course, we say that about everybody."
But don't worry, fans of Homer Foss -- your man was back in fine form by the time Kendall doubled in the seventh to briefly tie up the ball game. "That's a home run maybe in another park," Fosse proclaimed. If we included Little League fields and local softball complexes in our calculations, then that is not an inaccurate statement.
Phil's Phun Phacts: The Mariners have now won as many games against the A's in 2007 as they did in all of 2006.
The AFLAC Trivia question during Tuesday's FSN broadcast was this: Shannon Stewart is the A's eighth opening day left fielder in as many years. Who were the other seven?
I hate questions like this, because I usually lose count after rattling off three or four names, and trivia questions shouldn't be so involved that you need to break out a calendar and scratch paper. But here was my guess: Ben Grieve (2000), Johnny Damon (2001 -- and how many people remember that Damon began his A's life as a left fielder, so that Terrence Long could continue butchering balls in center?), Jeremy Giambi (2002), the aforementioned butcher of flyballs (2003), Bobby Kielty (2004), Eric Byrnes, the other butcher of flyballs (2005), and Nick Swisher (2006).
I was right on everyone but Swisher. Jay Payton got the start in left last year on opening day. Curse me and my swiss-cheese short-term memory.
You win this round, AFLAC duck. But I shall return stronger and angrier.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: Larry stayed in the dugout for nine innings. But cameras did catch the A's trainer seated next to Travis Buck, left out of the lineup in order to let Bobby Kielty have his at-bats against a southpaw. Stay away from him, T-Buck! It will only end in sorrow.
And apparently, Esteban Loaiza's problem is a bulging disk, not a balky trapezieus muscle.
Ungallant Possibly, But No Less Accurate: Two outs, top of the ninth, runners at the corners, and the A's grasping for a sliver of hope when Kendall comes to the plate.
"What it'll be tonight, Jason?" I ask my television set. "Grounder to the right side or grounder to the left side? Or will you surprise us all with the feeble comebacker to pitcher?"
Kendall grounds out to Jose Lopez to end the game.
"Ah, the grounder to second," I say. "Fantastic choice. Way to keep us guessing."
Losing games in the seventh apparently awakens the jerk in me.
All in All: Somedays you eat the bear, and somedays the bear eats you. Hopefully, after Tuesday night's all-you-can-eat buffet, the bear is engorged in sleepy.
No Panic Yet
You know what's more depressing than watching your favorite team start the season 0-2? Watching your favorite team go 0-2 while you're doing your taxes.
I kinda figured that an 0-2 start might be likely when Joe Blanton became the #2 pitcher because of Esteban Loaiza's injury. I also don't like the fact that Bob Geren set up the rotation so that Rich Harden would miss the entire four-game Angels series. The A's might go into their home opener something with a 2-5 record, or worse, just because the pitching matchups weren't lined up well.
Tonight's game is the only game in the entire first week where the A's have the obvious advantage in the pitching matchups. So if you can have a must-win in the first week of the season, tonight's game is it. If the A's lose tonight, my next post will be entitled "Panic NOW!!!"
Game 1 Summary: Crowned by the King
So my plan was to do these post-game summaries for as many games as I could until both you and I became bored with the format for a couple of reasons:
So that was the plan. Then life intruded in the form of work obligations. (Why, Steve Jobs, must you choose Opening Day to make sweeping pronouncements about DRM-free music. It is bad enough that you give your Macworld Expo keynote on the day that the Hall of Fame class is announced -- don't take opening day away from me too.) Anyhow, I came up with a simple enough workaround -- TiVo the game, watch it later, and then threaten co-workers and loved ones with sever looks and stony silences if they divulged so much as a detail about the game. It was nip-and-tuck for awhile -- one colleague IM'ed me to ask what the deal was with Bobby Crosby; having reviewed the game footage I think I've managed to pinpoint what prompted that question -- but I managed to make through my working day without any spoilage. That's when I made the mistake of checking the newswire for any last second stories of interest and saw the headline:
"A's suffer Opening Day loss"
So I'm still doing a game summary, using a combination of Ken's live blog and the judicious use of the fast-forward button on the TiVo remote to get to the critical points in the contest. But we're off to an inauspicious start, and I'm referring to this personal project as much as I am Oakland's season.
Game One: Mariners 4, A's 0
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- Felix Hernandez (1-0) LP -- D. Haren
Went Deep: Sexson (1, off Haren in the sixth)
Your Gordon Biersch Marzen Star of the Game: Felix Hernandez, for pitching eight stellar innings, in which he made the Oakland batters look like they would have had a more productive day sight-seeing at the Pike Place Market. You are doing very well for yourself when your strikeout total (12) doubles the number of base-runners you allow (six -- three hits, two walks, and an error letting Jason Kendall reach), you're doing all right for yourself.*
The Turning Point: A pessimist would say the minute the A's took the field to see Hernandez on the mound instead of, say, Joel Pinero or Gil Meche or whatever else has passed for pitching in Seattle since 2003. But honestly, the game turned in the bottom of the sixth when Bobby Crosby muffed a toss from Dan Haren to turn a probable inning-ending double play into a bases loaded, one-out situation. Raul Ibanez plated Ichiro by flying out two pitches later and then Sexson really made the error hurt with a three-run homer. I'm not a big fan of what-iffing things, but it's pretty clear that if Crosby makes a routine catch, the A's are more than likely out of the inning with no harm done.
Odds and Ends of Interest to Me: Two A's made their Major League debuts -- Travis Buck went 1 for 3, with his sixth inning double posing Oakland's biggest scoring threat and my main man Jay Marshall came in to retire Ibanez to end the eighth.
The A's last won a season opener in 2004 when Eric Byrnes doubled home Erubiel Durazo and Crosby in the eighth for a come-from-behind 5-4 win over Texas.
This is also the first time since 2004 that Bobby Crosby hasn't left an opening day game with an injury. So there's that.
Putting Lipstick on the Pig: The link headline for the game recap in the "A's Update" section of the A's home page is "Haren brilliant in opening loss to the M's." He was all right, solid even. You could argue that he deserved to win. He certainly wasn't to blame for the loss. But brilliant on a day when the guy on the mound for the other team puts down 12 batters? C'mon. What's the headline over on Seattle's Web site: "Hernandez even more brilliant in opening win?" Even TASS knew when it was laying things on pretty thick about the wheat crop.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: Visions of the A's trainer sprinting on to the field to tend to some fallen Oaklander have become a common sight in recent years. So why not get that nightmare vision out of the way early? In the words of the Chronicle's game recap:
While throwing the second pitch to his final batter, Kenji Johjima, Haren slipped, then he did a half-hop on the front of the mound to regain his balance. Geren and A's trainer Larry Davis came out to check on the right-hander, but he declared himself fine after a practice pitch.
You know... just in case you weren't unsettled by the same feeling of impending doom that accompanies me every April through October.
All in All: There are two schools of thought as how to approach a loss like this. The first is to panic about the A's prospects for 2007, lashing out at whomever you consider responsible for Oakland's dimming fortunes -- Bobby Crosby, Billy Beane, Kaiser Permanente, whomever -- and posting ridiculous knee-jerk questions on your weblog like "Are the A's better off without Crosby?"
The other approach is a more reasoned one -- this is one game out of 162. In the course of a regular season, there will be times when you face a phenomenal pitcher who logs an outstanding performance -- not a whole hell of a lot you can do about it, except take the L and plan your fearsome vengeance for the next game.
Me, I'm currently in the second camp, though reading about Dan Haren's tender hip is not making the morning coffee go down any smoother.
* So what's with this Gordon Biersch business? It's a long story, tediously told, so I'll give you the abridged version. When I keep score of a game, I always put a star next to the player who I feel contributed most to the outcome, whether it's an Athletic or one of the villains. Because I'm an extra brand of nerdy, I usually turn to the person I'm attending the game with and announce, "So and so is the X Star of the Game," where X is the name of the frosty beverage I've been enjoying during the contest. This unfortunate habit has translated to the game logs I keep for my online calendar, and now, gentle readers, I share my madness with you.
A's - Mariners Opening Day Liveblog
Game #1: Let's go!
Dan Haren vs. Felix Hernandez. Safeco roof is open.
Top 1: Ray Fosse says King Felix has added a cutter and a slider in the offseason. Yipes!
First pitch fastball, strike 1 to Kendall. Hernandez nails the outside corner on a 2-2 pitch for a called strike three.
My six-year-old daughter just got home from school, missing her front tooth.
Stewart grounds out on a 2-2 pitch. Bradley gets called out for a check swing on a 2-2 slider. I didn't think he got close to going around.
Hernandez has nasty stuff today, but his control isn't sharp. The A's made him work for his 1-2-3 inning.
Bottom 1: Haren's first pitch was a fastball, nailing the outside corner. Ichiro grounds out on the next pitch. Haren almost hangs a breaking pitch to Beltre, but got it inside enough that Beltre doesn't get all of it. Vidro quickly grounds out to Ellis on a grounder that a lesser second baseman doesn't get to. Haren throws 8 pitches, vs. 17 for Hernandez.
Top 2: Hernandez is nasty enough, but home plate is in shadows now, making it even tougher. Still, the A's are making him work. Piazza strikes out in his first Oakland at-bat. Chavez fouls off a bunch of pitches before grounding out, as does Swisher, who walks. Crosby, as I suspected, doesn't follow his teammates working the count, grounding out on a 1-1 pitch. The A's don't have a hit yet, but Hernandez has thrown 36 pitches.
Bottom 2: Haren has good stuff, too. He has another quick 1-2-3 inning. Total pitch count: 22.
Top 3: Travis Buck's first major league at-bat. Gets frozen on some nasty wrinkly thing on the inside corner, and strikes out. Hernandez only needs 11 pitches to get through the inning, thanks to a quick groundout by Mark Ellis.
Bottom 3: Haren hung a splitter to Yuniesky Betancourt, but with that batter in this ballpark, it's just a long fly ball out. Three outs in the air. Eleven pitches for Haren, as well. After three full innings, one one baserunner combined.
Top 4: Shannon Stewart gets the first A's hit of the year. But Bradley grounds into a DP on the next pitch. No patience at all this inning...three outs on five pitches, giving back the pitch count advantage.
Bottom 4: I hate it when Ichiro leads off an inning. It's such a relief when he makes an out, as he does here with a fly ball to left. Bradley and Ellis almost collide on a popout by Beltre. Vidro gets the first Mariners hit. Haren fell behind 2-0 in the count and challenged Vidro, who just served it up the middle. Now Haren has to pitch from the stretch for the first time. He jams Ibanez on an 0-2 inside fastball, and takes a grounder himself to the bag for a 1-unassisted. Pitch count after 4: Haren 47, Hernandez 52. These guys may both go nine.
Top 5: Chavez and Swisher make outs, but I like their at-bats. Conversely, Crosby looks terrible at the plate. He takes two fastballs right down the chute, then swings at a high hard one up in his eyes. Another 1-2-3 for Hernandez.
Bottom 5: Crosby looks terrible in the field, too, whiffing on an easy grounder by Sexson right at him. Maybe taking the bad at-bat into the field with him, losing concentration. But Haren strands Sexson. Travis Buck makes a nice catch down the line for out #3, and throws the ball into the stands. Don't you think he'd want to keep his first MLB putout?
Top 6: Buck gets his first MLB hit, a rocket double over Ichiro's head. Ellis bunts him to third. Kendall strikes out, after taking a 1-0 fastball down the middle. Argh, I hate that. Stewart strikes out, too.
Bottom 6: With one out, Ichiro singles on a swinging bunt. Time for a steal attempt, obviously. And some throws over to first. Beltre breaks his bat, but muscles it into left field for a single. In a pitchers' duel like this, those are the types of hits that win games. ARGH! Crosby drops an easy double-play throw from Haren. Luckily, Ichiro didn't score. Two errors on Crosby already. Bases loaded, and not a well-hit ball in the inning. Ibanez hits a sac fly, and the Mariners lead, 1-0. The way Hernandez is pitching, that's likely enough to win this game. Then Haren serves up his once-per-game homer to Sexson on a slider that backed up and floated over the middle of the plate, and this game is over. But this is all on Crosby. 4-0 Mariners.
Top 7: Hernandez throws a 3-2 slider to Bradley and walks him. Dude, you have a four-run lead. You have a 97-mph fastball. Challenge him. Hernandez is not getting the call on some inside fastballs to lefties, but if he can ever get that thing to tail back over the black consistently, he'll throw more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan. That thing is impossible to hit. Hernandez challenges the next three batters, and A's succumb meekly. Crosby looks like he needs another month of spring training.
Bottom 7: Jay Witasick is in. Throws it right down the middle to Betancourt, who crushes it probably about as far as he can hit it, which means an easy fly out to left. Crosby doesn't flub a grounder. Ichiro strikes out on a ball in the dirt, and Kendall tries to tag him but can't quite reach him. It was cute little chase. Kendall finally gives up and throws him out, instead.
Top 8: Buck isn't going to see any more fastballs after that double last time up. Gets nothing but junk and strikes out. Betancourt flubs an easy grounder like Crosby did earlier, but nothing comes of it.
Bottom 8: Witasick walks the leadoff guy, Beltre. Vidro tries to hit into another double play, and this time, the A's turn it. Jay Marshall is coming in to get his feet wet. The first MLB player he'll face is Raul Ibanez. Throws a fastball strike on his first pitch. Ibanez hits about seventeen foul balls off his feet, then grounds out to Swisher at first on a 3-2 pitch.
Top 9: After eight innings of Felix Hernandez, J.J. Putz must look relatively easy to hit. Milton Bradley slams a leadoff double off the right-center wall. But Piazza and Chavez ground out, leaving Swisher as the last hope. Swisher flies out to Ichiro, and the Mariners win, 4-0.
Conclusion: Haren and Hernandez were both fabulous today. The game was going to be won by either a lucky break, or a mistake. Or in this case, both: the Mariners got two lucky hits in sixth, and then the costly error by Crosby sealed the A's fate.
Both teams leave the game with an ERA of 0.00. Travis Buck and Jay Marshall got their feet wet--Buck got his first hit, and Marshall got his first out.
You can't draw any conclusions about the A's offense when they're facing a pitcher on his game like King Felix was tonight. I didn't like Crosby's play today on either side of the ball, but given his late start in spring training, it's understandable, and the errors are probably not something that's going to repeat itself all season. If you're going to lose a game, I'd prefer to lose a game like this: a tight game that could go either way, as it's a sign that you can compete, even against one of the top pitching talents in the game.
Opening Day Thoughts
The A's start off the season facing Felix Hernandez and the Mariners, which is already a sign of a tougher season ahead than 2006. The A's beat the Mariners 17 times out of 19 last year, a lot of which had to do with the fact that the A's only faced Hernandez once last year, but matched up against Joel Pineiro six times. Pineiro isn't around to pick on anymore.
But the more I think about Travis Buck making the opening day lineup for the A's, and having Todd Walker replace Antonio Perez on the roster, the more optimistic I get about the 2007 season. I like it because it gives the A's a solid, major league player at every position on the field, both starting AND backup. When you look at the Walker/Kielty backup platoon, and realize that when an A's 1B/OF takes a day off, his replacement will have a .350 OBP, while other teams in the division may have half their starting lineups with OBPs under .330, the A's will be competitive every day.
Watching A's starting lineup in recent games, I've been really happy with their batting approach. This team will work the count, and not in a passive way like some of their predecessor A's teams. With the possible exception of Bobby Crosby, whom I haven't seen enough of yet to judge, I'm confident that this lineup will give the pitcher a tough at-bat every at-bat, one through nine. If the starting pitcher doesn't throw strikes, he's going to reach his pitch count limit very early, and if he does, the A's will be taking good swings at them. High pitch counts may not matter much against a team like the Angels, who have a bullpen as deep as the Grand Canyon (as do the A's, particularly if Chad Gaudin isn't pressed into starting duty), but against Seattle and Texas, who have one good reliever each and a otherwise bunch of question marks, a lot of games can be won in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings in this division.
The cause for concern, of course, is the starting pitching, which is taking more of a stars-and-scrubs approach, rather than the deep rotations A's fans have been accustomed to in recent years. Loaiza, Blanton, and Kennedy aren't going to inspire much poetry and song, and neither, apparently are their replacements in Sacramento, should one of the starters go down. It's about quantity over quality. The Sacramento rotation will be five or six deep in starting pitchers who reasonably be considered decent #5 pitchers in the majors. Accumulate enough guys who are capable of mediocrity, and you should be able to find a subset of them who actually provide it. The A's hope they can get .500 ball out of these guys, and then let Harden and Haren take care of the rest. It's not my favorite way to approach the problem, but I suppose it might work, so I'll choose, on this day, to be optimistic about it.
The Buck Starts Here
When trying to decide between Travis Buck and Todd Walker, the A's decided to keep both. Instead, the A's released Antonio Perez.
The A's wouldn't bring Buck up to the roster to be a backup, so this means he's probably the everyday right fielder. Todd Walker and Bobby Kielty will likely share a platoon as the first backup in the 1B/OF rotation. Walker also becomes the third-stringer at 2B and 3B.
I'm a bit surprised the A's couldn't find a trade partner to take Perez off their hands--several teams were rumored to be looking for backup infielders. But I suppose it's hard to find landing spots for players this late in spring training. Perhaps Perez will end up in Sacramento if he can't find a new major league home.
You Won't Have Antonio Perez to Kick Around Any More
Rookie Travis Buck and newcomer Todd Walker make the team; Antonio Perez does not. So says The Chronicle's A's blog. And it's confirmed via press release. The A's add the further detail that Perez has been designated for assignment.
Probably the right move. If you're an A's fan, you probably weren't inspired by spying Antonio Perez's name in the lineup last year, and that was unlikely to change in 2007. Todd Walker can play all the positions that Perez can (plus first) and certainly can't do any worse at the plate. And Buck -- he had a very good spring. All signs and portents point to him being ready for the Bigs right now, though me, personally, I would have had him start the season at Sacramento for some extra seasoning.
In less unexpected roster news, Esteban Loaiza joins Mark Kotsay and Dan Johnson on the D.L. Lenny DiNardo is your 12th pitcher. Brad Halsey would like to hear restaurant recommendations for the Sacramento area.
More from Ken above!
Update: In the time it's taken me to write this, post it, see that Ken has already posted something similar, and update my post accordingly, Joe Kennedy has given up a triple and a home run, and drilled a guy in the foot. It'll be a short stay in Sacto for Mr. Halsey, I'm guessing.
STOP CASTING POROSITY! An Oakland Athletics blog.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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