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Tempting Fate
2006-09-24 10:30
by Philip Michaels

So I went to Friday night's game, which featured the return of Krazy George. That's all right, I suppose. I never really got into the guy, but the majority of the folks in the crowd seemed thrilled by his return, and I'm in no position to argue with them. Me, I'd get more geeked over the return of this guy. But if a guy banging a drum is what does it for you, more power to you.

What I am less sanguine about is The Wave, which Krazy George claims to have invented and which brought him to Oakland on Friday as part of a 25th anniversary celebration of The Wave's debut. (Just so that I'm clear here: The Wave gets its own silver anniversary celebration at the Coliseum, but the actual folks who won the division title in 1981 do not? Got it.) I do not like The Wave because it seems to occur without rhyme or reason. Home team is at bat? Do The Wave. Home team in the field? Do The Wave. It seems to be less a spontaneous display of excitement and interest in the game on the field, and more of a "Hey, look at me! Look at me!" move by whatever bored fan tries to get The Wave started. Still, other folks seem to like it, and, the last time I checked, nobody appointed me The Arbiter of All That Is Right and Good About Fan Behavior. And so when The Wave winds its way toward me, I just sit and my seat and keep my focus on the game, which is sort of the reason why I'm in the stadium in the first place.

What I also do not like is that, more often than not, The Wave seems to be a harbinger of very bad things -- almost inevitably, once the fans begin a wave, the team they root for experiences some manner of meltdown on the field. Indeed, that seemed to be the case Friday night. Krazy George came out to lead the fans in The Wave in the bottom of the sixth, right after the Angels had tied up the score by plating two runners and nearly scoring a third had Vladimir Guerrero decided to slide into home to avoid Jason Kendall's tag. (Nice to see that play work in the A's favor for once.) It should surprise no one that as The Wave worked its way around the stadium that Oakland went quietly in the sixth and that Howie Kendrick led off the seventh with a homer to give Anaheim a short-lived 3-2 lead. Now, I'm not so superstitious as to believe that The Wave actually caused these things to happen. But it sure does make people look foolish when they do happen.

Future A's promotions: Nick Swisher will break a mirror before every at-bat. A giant ladder will be erected over the A's dugout, forcing Oakland batters to walk under it on their way to plate. Stomper will be replaced by a black cat. And every Wednesday is Indian Burial Ground Desecration Night brought to you by the good people of BART.

No, as a rational man, I will acknowledge that The Wave plays no role in the outcome of a baseball game. But you know what does? Sending your closer out for a fourth game in as many days when you have a perfectly acceptable alternative already on the pitcher's mound. More juvenile rantings about that after the jump.

That'd be Justin Duchscherer who induced a Garret Anderson ground ball to end an Angels' threat in the eighth. Duchscherer had thrown all of 10 pitches facing Adam Kennedy and Anderson, and when he walked out to the mound at the top of the ninth with the A's up 4-3, it seemed as if Ken Macha had broken free of the Thou Shalt Always Pitch Your Closer In the Ninth, Be He Rested Or Not mentality that enslaves so many managers. Alas, it was just a stall to get Huston Street more time to warm-up; Duchscherer was lifted before he ever threw a pitch in the ninth.

The switch didn't work out for Oakland. Howie Kendrick singled. Erik Aybar also hit a ball that would have been scored a hit, but it hung up too long in the outfield, forcing Kendrick to linger at first -- he was forced out by an alert Jay Payton. A Chone Figgins pop-up later, Maicer Izturis hit a liner to left that Payton couldn't come up with; when the ball squirted past him, Aybar scored all the way from first and the game was tied. It couldn't have been worse -- a Street error on the throw from Payton allowed Izturis to reach third. But for an Orlando Cabrera strike out, the A's could have come to the plate in the bottom of the ninth trailing in a game they should already have been celebrating as a win.

Could this all have been avoided? I think there are three numbers that suggest that it could have been.

11, 10, 12.

Those are the number of pitches Street threw in anger on the three days preceding Friday night's game. Not included in that total is the number of warm-up pitches, including tosses of the "Oh God, foolishly let Jay Witasick pitch in a game where the outcome was still in doubt. Get ready! Get ready now, damn you!" variety. I don't know too many pitchers who can appear in four consecutive games without any drop in quality. I do know that Huston Street isn't one of them. So why put him in a situation where he's less likely to succeed?

I yield the floor to Ken Macha:

A's manager Ken Macha said he thought Street threw the ball fairly well. Street had said he could pitch Friday and Macha consulted with pitching coach Curt Young, too. Asked why he didn't stick with Duchscherer, who'd thrown 10 pitches, Macha said, "Street's the closer, last I checked."

To which I'd like to retort, "Guh."

First off, a manager's job isn't just to ask how a player's feeling and take him at his word. Unless the player is Charmin-tissue soft, they're going to tell you they're good to go -- your job is to figure out when a player actually is able to play and when he's just putting on a brave front for your benefit. And I don't want to make this post longer than it already is by again denouncing the tyranny of the save stat, but to robotically march your closer out there for all ninth-inning save situations regardless of circumstance isn't managing -- it's a cowardly cover-your-ass manuever to deflect blame in case things go pear-shaped. Macha could have easily left Duchscherer in to start the ninth, retaining the option to go to Street if Duke got himself into trouble. But if that scenario plays out, the onus is on Macha to explain his strategy -- he no longer has the luxury of pointing to Street's failure and absolving himself of any blame. So Street pitches the ninth, even if his arm is being held on by gum and duct tape.

Fortunately for the A's, Macha's managerial gaffes were trumped by his counterpart in the Angels' dugout. You could pick out any one of a number of Mike Scioscia's errors Friday -- sending Jered Weaver out to pitch in the eighth when he was clearly gassed and Scot Shields was at the ready was particularly choice -- but I'm going to have to go with his decisions in the top of the 12th.

Macha, for reasons that are clear to only him and God, brings in Brad Halsey to pitch. Halsey promptly walksIzturis and uncorked a wild pitch to Cabrera, moving Izturis to second. So with the count 1-0, and Scioscia has Cabrera -- the third best hitter on the Angels according to EqA -- square around to bunt. Halsey still can't find the plate -- a ball brings the count to 2-0. Now some people might think, "Hey, I've got my No. 2 hitter at the plate with a runner in scoring position and a pitcher who's put six of the seven pitches he's thrown out of the strike zone. Maybe I let my guy swing away and try and drive in the runner here. Especially since first base is open and Vladimir Guerrero is unlikely to see anything hittable." Mike Scioscia is not some people -- he keeps the bunt sign on, and Cabrera lays down the sacrifice to move Izturis to third. Any thoughts Macha might have entertained of pitching to Guerrero have now vanished; he's walked, and Juan Rivera makes Macha look like a freakin' genius by grounding into an inning-ending, rally-killing double play.

Angels GM Bill Stoneman will get his share of the blame once the Angels are eliminated from the playoff race for failing to land a big-time slugger to augment Guerrero. But Angels fans should save some of those accusatory glances for Mike Scioscia, who seemingly goes out of his way, game after game, to devise ways to reduce his team's chances of scoring runs.

Not that I'm complaining. Mike Scioscia wants to undo all the bad karma generated by Krazy George and his damnable wave, that's all right with me.

2006-09-24 19:58:04
1.   Vishal
i agreed with every single syllable of this post.
2006-09-25 15:44:03
2.   Brent is a Dodger Fan
I can't stand the wave at an actual game, for the exact reason you said: it bears no relationship to watching the game.

I have never seen a wave started, say, after a clutch play just happened (example, a late-inning hit that ties the game/takes the lead). I have never seen a wave started as a way to spur the team into action, say, when a rally needs to get started (example, a late inning situation trailing by 2-3 runs).

Instead, I have always seen the wave performed with no sensible relationship as to what is going on on the field. Call me a traditionalist, but when I spend my time and money to go to a game, I want to... uh... watch the game. And those doing the wave are not only not paying attention to the game, they inhibit my being able to pay attention to the game (by standing up in front of me, mostly).

So I wish Krazy George's web-site had a statement about "the proper use of the wave", or "the best times to do a wave", so at least the perspective of the pro-wavers showed some restraint.

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