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Scenes from a Non-Clinching
2006-09-25 00:20
by Philip Michaels

My first thought, as Vladimir Guerrero's blast cleared the fence in center field to give the Angels a 5-0 lead in Sunday's final home game for the A's was, "Well, on the bright side, at least we're giving our playoff opponents a false sense of optimism."

Later, as the Angels plated a few more runners while the A's managed to eek out a solitary run from a leadoff triple, my thought was, "Hold on there, bub... who said we're even making the playoffs?"

There are two ways to view everything that happened after Marco Scutaro's game-winning base hit landed in center field and the smoke cleared from another fantastic post-game pyrospectacular:

The Optimistic View: The A's were facing a worthy dangerous foe with its back to the wall these past two days. While it would have been nice to clinch at home, it's not as if these were do-or-die games for the A's; they were for Anaheim, and the Angels responded accordingly.

The Pessimistic View: It may not have been a do-or-die game, but the A's sure played like it was, in that they failed to win. When was the last time the A's were able to put away an opponent -- the Reagan years? Maybe this team ought to realize that its track record in games where it can put the nail in the coffin of a hated opponent doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

The Optimistic View: John Lackey and Ervin Santana are not exactly chopped replacement-level pitchers. These are quality starters who flat-out pitched great games. Tip your hat to them, and try again Monday in Seattle.

The Pessimistic View: What kind of pitchers do you think the A's will be facing in the playoffs? You think Detroit's going to all of sudden bench Kenny Rogers or Justin Verlander in favor of surprise mystery guest Sidney Ponson? At some point, the A's bats need to come up big, even against quality starters who are making great pitches. Especially against those guys.

The Optimistic View: All we have to do is win the three-game series against Seattle, and this thing is all wrapped up, no matter what the Angels do. And in case you've forgotten, we're 15-1 against the Mariners this year.

The Pessimistic View: Again with Seattle. Are they receiving some sort of at-large bid into the post-season that I'm not aware of?

The Optimistic View: The baseball season is a 162-game grind. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You can't get too wrapped up in a single game.

The Pessimistic View: If you don't be quiet, I'm going to stab you in the eye with this spork.

The Optimistic View: ...

The Pessimistic View: Much better.

Which side of the divide I fall on varies from hour to hour.

This is about the time that Ken would post a fantastic photo or two of the day's events. I'll follow suit after the jump, though I warn you, Ken has much better seats than I do as well as a much better camera.

I can't tell you the specifics of the game situation as this shot was taken, but I'm absolutely certain that the A's are about to do something unspeakably awful.

One other note from today's game, which I'll hide down here because even I am getting tired of my one man crusade against The Wave. ("Coming Soon to a Theater Near You: The Man Who Waved Goodbye -- The Philip Michaels Story, starring David Foley as Philip Michaels, Carrot Top as Krazy George, and Gilbert Gottfried as the voice of the Krazy Krab of Candlestick. This film has not yet been rated.") Right after the Guerrero home-run, some yay-hoo in the second deck Outfield Plaza seats tried to start The Wave. I am not usually inclined to hurl invective at other fans for the way they choose to support the home team, but when that apparently involves cheering wildly after a crushing home run by the opposition, I'm willing to make an exception. Later, the yay-hoo decided to try and start The Wave again -- this time after Brad Halsey came into the game and issued consecutive walks.

At that point, I became convinced that the young man was actually doing this on purpose -- that he was engaging in a form of performance art to point out the absurdity of The Wave. "If I can make A's fans cheer as horrible things are happening to their team on the field," he doubtlessly reasoned, "it will be a powerful statement against The Wave and a warning of the power of the group dynamic."

At least, that's what I'm going to tell myself, just so that I don't have to face the fact that someone dumb enough to lead The Wave immediately after a Vladimir Guerrero home-run probably is licensed to operate an automobile on the same roads I travel.

For your handy reference, here are times when it is especially inappropriate to start The Wave:

  • Just after your opponent has taken a lead of 5 or more runs;
  • When baseball historians start to mention your team and the 1964 Phillies in the same breath;
  • When you miss your second opportunity in as many days to clinch a playoff berth in front of the home fans;
  • At the state funeral of a particularly beloved leader; and
  • Between the hours of 12:01 a.m. and midnight.

2006-09-25 07:42:11
1.   Ken Arneson
I will trade you Sunday's wave for what I had to endure on Saturday. In my section, about 10 rows behind me under the overhang, was a group of about eight loud Angels fans. I don't really mind the "Let's Go Angels" stuff so much, but one of them was this incredibly annoying woman who shrieked a non-stop, extremely high-pitched "Wooooooooo!" for four straight innings. And when I say non-stop, I mean well not exactly non-stop because she had to pause for breath every once in a while. But whether something was happening nor not, she just kept screaming "Woooooooooo! at a pitch so high that if there had been dogs in the ballpark that day, she would have been mauled to death. Someone must have told her to stop, because she quit in about the fifth inning, and good thing for her, because if it had gone on for much longer, there would have been about 250 humans-turned-dog gone to maul her.
2006-09-25 08:17:35
2.   Daniel Zappala
Great post today, Philip-with-one-l. Believe me, us Angels fans are going crazy with thinking what might be if Friday night had been a little different. We're quite a bit more on the pessimistic side than you are.

The great thing about both teams is that they could go to the playoffs and win. They have the pitching to do it! I'd take the A's over the Tigers at this point. It'd be really tight against the Twins. The Yankees scare me, and I hate that they scare me.

Oh, and I'd like to apologize on behalf of any obnoxious Angels fans up there in Oakland. I was never obnoxious when I attended games while living in the Bay Area.

2006-09-25 10:16:07
3.   Ken Arneson
Yeah, Angels fans are generally not-obnoxious, but this shreaking woman took obnoxiousness to a whole new level.
2006-09-25 11:54:28
4.   BlueMamma
This was a great post. Your pessimist-Optimist battle perfectly sums up what every fan on the edge goes through. Is it enough to make it to the playoffs, then count on "baseball is a funny gfame and anything can happen"? Or do you really want to get there only if you have a resonable hope of doing anything once there?

Wait, that's all pretty much on the pessimist side...

2006-09-25 11:55:14
5.   BlueMamma
correct that, baseball is a gfunny gfame.

(that'll teach me to preview before posting...)

2006-09-25 14:09:01
6.   underdog
I'd watch that The Man Who Waved Goodbye movie, actually. I like Dave Foley, even though I hate the wave. And Carrot Top. And Angel fans. Actually, never mind.

Maybe as a made-for-SciFi-channel-flick - it'd be scarier than anything they usually make.

2006-09-25 15:01:47
7.   Ken Arneson
Hmm...I wonder who'd play me in that movie?
2006-09-25 16:55:19
8.   Ghostof64
I attended Saturday's game. The big difference between Blanton and Lackey was that Lackey usually got the first strike. Indeed, it got rather monotonous: first pitch - called strike, second pitch - foul, A's batter now 0-2, usual outcome - out.

On the other hand, Blanton threw a lot of first balls, especially in innings 1, 2, 3, and 6 -- and in those innings he got into trouble with baserunners as the batters had room to look for their pitch. When he threw more first strikes (innings 4, 5, and 7), he had no trouble getting the outs.

I haven't researched the September games, but I suspect that the A's pitchers do much better when the get the first strike.

Also, the A's defense was subpar on Saturday. Although the scorer generously did not award errors, if the A's outfielders had shown more hustle, they may have been able to make the difficult catches (or timely backups) and saved a number of runs. The offense seemed rather listless most of the time.

Hopefully the A's will break out of their funk before things get critical. I don't want to endure another 1964...Unfortunately, Ken Macha seems to channel Gene Mauch in critical play off game situations...

On the other hand, I'm certainly not ready to write off these A's. I'd certainly rather be in their position than in Anaheim's.

2006-09-25 16:55:56
9.   Ghostof64
By the way, I share your disdain for the Wave...
2006-09-25 17:47:23
10.   Ken Arneson
8 I think it's a general truth that all pitchers do better when they get the first strike.

I don't think the ball Payton missed was missed because of a lack of hustle; it was more a lack of judgment. The ball might have been caught if Payton had judged it perfectly off the bat, and ran straight to the right spot, but he didn't, and got caught a bit out of position.

Payton has very good range, but if he has one weakness, it's that he seems to have some trouble judging balls hit directly over his head. He tends to arrive late at times, and seems to lack a good feel for exactly where the wall is.

That's not such an unusual problem, though. If it wasn't, we would have such admiration for players like Darin Erstad and Torii Hunter, who seem to scale the walls with such unusual grace and ease.

But that's neither here nor there. The way Lackey was pitching, the A's weren't going to score much off him. The two-run inning they put up was more the result of some lucky squibbers and choppers that found holes than anything hit hard.

So I tip my cap to the Angels, whose pitching skills are exactly the reason I shall remain nervous about the A's clinching the division until such time that it is actually clinched.

2006-09-26 06:42:04
11.   Philip Michaels
2 Walking across the BART bridge after the game Sunday, my first comment to my wife was, "Can you imagine how we'd feel right now if we had blown the game Friday?" She preferred not to imagine such a scenario.

7 The danger, of course, in casting your part is that I might make a perfectly reasonable suggestion that I consider to be a fine and complimentary choice -- Peter Stormare, for example, who, in addition to being a fine and versatile actor is also a Swede. But then I run the risk that you might not be so flattered by the choice -- "The Nihilist from The Big Lebowski? What the hell are you implying?" -- and just like that, I'm cast out of the Baseball Toaster family and left to wander the wilderness.

So let's just say I proposed that George Clooney play you and leave it at that.

2006-09-26 11:58:05
12.   Ken Arneson
George Clooney! How insulting! I ought to go all Peter Stormare on you and throw you in the wood chipper!

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