Sweeps, Sports Bars, and the Return of Fragile Mark
by Philip Michaels
I do not have fond memories of Mark Redman's one-year tenure with the Athletics. About halfway through the 2004 season, I started calling him Fragile Mark, not because he was prone to injury, but because any turn of events that didn't go his way always seemed to precipitate some on-field meltdown. Case in point: this game against the White Sox, which found the A's trailing 3-2 in the seventh with one out and a White Sox on first. The next batter hit a grounder to Bobby Crosby, a probable inning-ending double play. But Crosby couldn't get a handle on the ball and wound up just stepping on second for the out, rather than risk uncorking a wild throw to first. This displeased Fragile Mark who threw up his hands in the air in the universal symbol of frustration. If you guessed that Mark Redman followed that display up by serving up a gopher ball that Aaron Rowand promptly mashed for a two-run homer, then you are either Mark Redman's biographer -- Seasons of Mediocrity, coming soon to a bookseller near you -- or you are familiar with Fragile Mark's delicate sensibilities.
Say what you will about Jason Kendall -- his lack of pop, his propensity toward hitting into double plays, his outrageous Cam Bonifay-inflated contract -- but the fact that his arrival in Oakland allowed the team to unload both Fragile Mark and Enemy of the People Arthur Rhodes might qualify him for a statue outside the A's planned stadium in the South Bay. "The Great Liberator," the statue could read, or "A Tribute to Ill-Advised Personnel Moves..."
Anyhow, while listening to the A's-Royals game Saturday evening, I found myself in the rare position of benefitting from Mark Redman's sensitivity to the world around him. Redman and the Royals had played the A's even for most of the game -- it was tied 2-2 heading into the seventh -- though both Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo noted that Redman and his catcher John Buck seemed to be having trouble getting on the same page, with Fragile Mark shaking off signs and stepping off the rubber to regroup on several occasions. Indeed, in that seventh inning, the wheels finally came off -- Redman gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning, and then, when fielding a Bobby Crosby bunt, heaved the ball into the outfield, allowing Jay Payton to score the go-ahead run. Three more runs would score that inning, and the A's were on their way to a comfortable 7-2 win.
No word on whether Redman threw up his hands in frustration after fielding Crosby's bunt.
The return of Fragile Mark couldn't have come at a better time for the A's, who found themselves in the unfortunate position of having to win on Saturday and Sunday just to salvage a split of a four-game series with lowly Kansas City. Oakland dropped bothends of a doubleheader to the Royals on Friday -- an awful enough result without even considering that the sweep allowed both the Angels and the Rangers to pick up 1.5 games in the standings.
I watched the second, more maddening loss at a local sports bar within staggering distance of my home. I was joined by my friend and co-worker Curt, who is one of the last surviving Royals fans released into the wild. If there is one way to take the sting out of a loss -- or two -- to a team that the one you root for really oughta beat, it's to watch that loss -- or two -- with a long-suffering fan of that terrible team. Whatever disappointment you may feel over your team gacking all over itself is somewhat mitigated by watching a friend of yours who hasn't known pure joy since Reagan's first term in office delight in a stirring come-from-behind win for the franchise he inexplicably continues to root for.
I'm starting to think Curt can watch these Royals-A's games by himself from now on.
The pain of watching the A's squander an eighth inning lead to a team they need to dispense with in workmanlike fashion was also stemmed somewhat by being in a sports bar. When the action from Kauffman Stadium proved too unbearable, I at least had half-a-dozen other TVs with which to distract my rapidly darkening mood. At one point in the evening, we had our choice of the A's trying to score in a bases-loaded situation, David Ortiz staring down Ron Villone in the longest nine-inning game ever played, and Carl Crawford driving in two runs with a game-winning hit to end a surprisingly compelling Devil Rays-Indians contest. It's times like this you need to have your head on a swivel -- those years of shortening my attention span to that of a magpie who sees something shiny really pay off in situations like these.
If there was a downside to the evening, it was the kid behind the bar charged with the all-important task of keeping compelling content on all the bar's TVs. He had an exceptionally slow trigger finger -- on one TV, the Mets finished off the Rockies with icy dispatch, and yet, no one bothered to change the channel, even after DirectTV cut off the feed. We finally pointed this out to the young man who fumbled with the remote and wound up accidentally turning off the TV with the A's-Royals game on it. That went over real well. Eventually, the kid just gave up trying to find a new game for that TV, leaving it on The Best Damn Sports Show Period -- a simply unacceptable turn of events and, quite possibly, the most overt act of aggression I have ever experienced in a bar.
Mark Redman would have thrown up his hands and spilled his drink. Fortunately, I am made of sterner stuff.