I've never really thought much of the Bay Bridge series because, well, really, what's the point? The games don't happen at the beginning of spring, so you don't have that "And thus ends six long, dark, lonely months" feel that accompanies early-March tilts. Instead, happening as they do within spitting distance of Opening Day, the Bay Bridge preseason games feel more like something to endure, nine innings of sitting with your fingers crossed and hoping no one gets dinged up in what my wife appropriately calls "fake games." Throw in my general attitude toward the Giants -- benign indifference! -- and the fact that in the Age of Selig, the A's and Giants already play each other six times that count in the standings, and it's not hard to see why these three games have never much mattered to me. I work within a block of Phone Company Ballpark and live across the San Leandro Channel from the Coliseum, but I've never gone to a Bay Bridge game. Fly to Arizona to watch teams scrimmage? Okey-dokey. Go five minutes out of my way to see the same thing? Thank you, no.
At least until last night. My contractor is a Giants season ticket-holder who was unable to attend the first of three meaningless A's-Giants tilts. And so, doubtlessly out of gratitude for the day I bought a home that needs incalculable repair, he offered his tickets to me and the missus. (Actually, he's a fabulous contractor and I'd be happy to recommend him for any job, which is fortunate, as we have him on retainer until 2019.) Since, as mentioned above, I already work within blocks of the ballpark and the price was right, I opted to end my long-standing apathy toward late-exhibition season Bay Area rivalry games.
Oh, it wasn't as bad as all that. Sure, I left after six -- if the A's starters aren't going to stick around for the whole nine innings, why should I? -- and I still managed to witness four of the five Oakland hits in person. That doesn't do much to stoke one's confidence about the A's offensive prospects heading into the '07 campaign. But I did get to see Rich Harden pitch in person for the first time this spring and he was as good as advertised -- provided you were off getting garlic fries for the first two Giants batters.
Dave Roberts led off the first by blasting a no-doubt-about-it triple over the head Charles ("My GM Traded Tim Hudson to the Braves and All I Got Was This Quadruple-A Outfielder") Thomas, and Omar Vizquel followed with a hit-'em-where-they-ain't double down the right field line. After that -- lights out, Canadian-style. Harden set down 12 of the next 13 batters he faced, yielding only a walk to my fellow San Ramon Valley alum Randy Winn in the third. Otherwise: 4 innings pitched, 2 hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. "Electric stuff," Ken Korach enthused on the drive home.
Indeed. Now cover Harden in bubble wrap and stuff him in his Nerf-enclosure until his next start.
In other pitching news, my personal pet project Jay Marshall -- known around the Michaels homestead as My Magnificent Lefty Side-Armer -- pitched decently enough Friday night. He's all but certain to make the team, and what minor wobbles he experienced on this evening shouldn't be enough to give anyone any second thoughts. Marshall pitched the A's out of a Jay Witasick-induced jam in the fifth by getting two ground ball outs (aided and abetted by some stellar glovework by Nick Swisher on a Dave Roberts smash to first). Marshall opened the sixth by getting Barry Bonds to hit a loud out -- a deep, high fly ball to right that fell into Travis Buck's glove well short of the warning track and disappointed the orange-clad patron in my section who leapt to his feet screaming "Gone!" the minute Bonds made contact. Guess the fans need to work out those spring kinks as well.
Marshall didn't fare as well against the next three batters. Ray Durham, hitting from the right-side, smashed a sharp single to left. Rich Aurilia hit a ground-rule double. After that, Marshall gave up a walk to Ryan Klesko -- a lefty, oddly enough. The take-away lesson for Bob Geren, I think, is to use Marshall in situations that he's best suited for -- one- or two-batter outings preferably against southpaws.
Speaking of Bonds -- well, I was a couple of paragraphs ago -- both of his at-bats against Harden came with a runner on second and first base open. In a game that counted, some managers might have been tempted to give Bonds four wide ones; Harden pitched to him and the results were a high pop-out to left and a sharply hit ball to center right at Charles Thomas. National League managers, take note: the only time Barry Bonds will reach base with 100-percent certainty is when you intentionally walk him. At this point in Bonds' career, you're better off trusting your highly-compensated Big League pitcher to retire him without incident.
Other notes from a game that doesn't count:
* The Giants' much-ballyhooed high-definition scoreboard is absolutely gorgeous -- a vast improvement over the Candlestick-era monochrome board that served Phone Company Ballpark the first seven years of its existence. The picture is crisp, the graphics are eye-popping, the resolution is clear -- obscene gestures from the fans during late-season blowouts are going to look fantastic on that screen.
Looking less impressive: the field, which, while not as bad as the Coliseum in September after a Raiders-Chiefs game, still looked brown and patchy in parts. Not exactly what you expect to see at the dawn of April.
The Giants have also opted to begin another season with their wacky morning DJ public-address announcer, a great way to give an otherwise stellar ballpark a Triple-A field. "This season, the Giants and Yankees will play each other in a three-game series for the first time since 1962," the p.a. announcer boomed in an effort to get us to buy season-ticket packages that include ducats for the upcoming Giants/Yankees interleague match-up. Yes, the first time since 1962 -- apart from that other three-gameseries.
* At one point, the high-definition scoreboard had the following message: "The Giants welcome Ross Porter." I have no idea if that was the same Ross Porter who used to call Dodger games -- for all I know, it was an entirely different Ross Porter -- but that didn't stop me from breaking out my Ross Porter imitation: "Interestingly enough, when the Giants put my name on the scoreboard in spring training games, they boast an impressive record of 43-12." My wife laughed politely. The merry-making never stops when I'm at the ballpark, I tell you.