If there was any doubt the A's got a big win on Tuesday -- as if seeing the words L: J. Santana in the box score weren't proof enough -- the magnitude of Oakland's victory became crystal clear the second after the last out was recorded and my phone started ringing. My father was on the other end of the line, and he was referring to the Oakland Athletics as "we."
Understand, my father never uses the first person plural when talking about the A's. He's strictly a third-person kind of guy -- they, them, and their. In fact, after particularly devastating losses, I'm pretty sure he would use the fourth person, if such a thing existed, just to further distance himself from the team. But Tuesday's game? "Big win for us," the old man says.
But just to establish that it was my father and not some impostor trying to gain my trust, my dad quickly changed the subject to what I've come to call the "Huston Street: God's Cruelest Joke" portion of our conversations in which my father spends 10 minutes outlining the many ways the A's reliever has personally wronged him. So it was Tuesday: a stirring denunciation from my father of Huston Street's closing ability, followed by a rebuke of Ken Macha for repeatedly summoning him from the bullpen, concluded with a plea for common sense to prevail and Justin Duchscherer to assume his rightful place at the top of the pyramid. It was quite the stemwinder from my father, but it seemed a bit out of place, given the circumstances.
"To listen to you," I said, "a person would never guess that the A's had just won a playoff game."
Indeed, that's kind of been the theme of the first two playoff games for me: muted contentment. I've avoided most news reports and A's fan sites, lest I get too caught up in the moment. People calling me up to congratulate after Game 2 -- honestly, folks, I had very little to do with the victory -- were treated to a subdued string of cliches that would have made Nuke LaLoosh blush. I will celebrate, I keep telling people that I will celebrate when the last out of the last inning of the clinching game is in the books.
Part of this is because of the way the first two games have shaken out. Yes, the A's have had their moments -- Barry Zito's great start in Game One, the Frank Thomas Show, Marco Scutaro justifying my gushing words, the non-Street contingent of the bullpen that pitched Wednesday. But the story of the series thus far has really been the Twins' poor play. Think the Minnesota lineup swinging at pitches out of the strike zone in the first game and Torii Hunter doing his best Eric Byrnes impersonation in the second, along with Nick Punto finishing up the research phase of his PhD dissertation on The Merits of Sliding Into First. I wouldn't go so far as to say that the Twins are handing Oakland this series, but they're certainly leaving out there in plain sight and within arm's reach, and the Athletics, conscientious fellows that they are, are snapping it up. You have to wonder how long that will continue, or, at the very least, whether Oakland can make this series less about Minnesota's failings and more about its own accomplishments.
Finally, there is that 800-pound elephant in the room that everyone seems to want to talk about -- the fact that the A's have been in this situation before, up two games to none, and yet, each time, I've wound up burning my ALCS tickets. Noted baseball historian Torii Hunter seemed unaware of recent A's playoff history, but he may be just about the only person. (And if you can't cite the A's record in clinching games, just tune into the ESPN telecast today, and you'll be reminded roughly 746 times by the third inning.) That kind of recent history would take the strut out of all but the most foolhardy A's fan.
Yet, in the effort to maintain an even keel, there's the risk of not enjoying the moment for what is. All season long, I've had to remind myself that at the end of the day, I like watching baseball -- true, I like it a hell of a lot more when the A's win -- and that taking pleasure should be more important than the outcome of any one game. It's been especially critical to remind myself of that this year, thanks to the A's Jekyll-and-Hyde act for most of the year: Don't get hung up in wins and losses. Enjoy the moment for what it is.
Hopefully, I've mastered that particular life's lesson enough so that I won't have to get a bitter reminder this afternoon when I'm at the game. I'll be in section 202 -- feel free to stop on by. I'll be the fellow in the A's cap with the look of hope darkened ever so slightly by the pain of experience.