I turned 35 yesterday, which means a couple things: 1) I'm no longer under warranty, so anything that breaks down at this point is going to be a very costly repair. And 2) I was out being feted and therefore missed most of Oakland's first win of the season.
When the A's are in town on my birthday, there usually isn't conflict -- my wife and I go to the game. But when they're out of the town and my wife asks me, "So how would you like to celebrate your birthday," an answer like "watching the A's game on TV and muttering darkly about each turn of events" really doesn't cut it. So we high-tailed it to our local German restaurant where I enjoyed the sauerbraten. (Apropos of nothing, my wife and I are currently in between Italian restaurants after a string of poor meals and spotty service at our long-standing favorite, so if anyone out there has any suggestions for an Italian eatery in the 510 area code, we'd love to try it out and round out our arsenal of Axis Powers dining establishments.)
Anyhow, by the time I got home, stuffed with spatzle, the A's already enjoyed a 5-0 lead. I flipped on the TV just as Yuniesky Bettancourt's screaming lining landed in Eric Chavez's glove and watched Rich Harden set down Jose Lopez with superb dispatch. And then came the top of the fourth, when Milton Bradley doubled home Shannon Stewart -- both of the A's hits came with two outs. However, when Ichiro led off the bottom half of the inning with a single (more on that later) and, after a double play, Jose Vidro and Raul Ibanez reached on a walk and a single, respectively, I had a heart-to-heart talk with myself.
"Self," I said. "The A's are up 6-nil, and chances for a no-hitter have no evaporated. The only things that can happen to Oakland at this point are bad ones. Do you really want to spend your birthday watching that?
And so I switched over to the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal between Chelsea and Valencia that I had TiVo'd earlier that day, periodically checking in on the A's. I was a lot happier that way, I think, even if Chelsea only managed a draw and -- even worse -- yielded the all important away goal to Valencia, putting the Spanish team in the driver's seat for the return match in Estadio Mestalla next Tuesday.
They can't all be gems, you know? Especially after Rich Harden threw one.
A's 9, Mariners 0
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- R. Harden (1-0) LP -- M. Batista (0-1)
Went Deep: Not a soul. But the A's did hit five doubles.
Your Jones Soda Co. Green Apple Soda Star of the Game: This is the sort of decision that gives your Star of the Game Panel of Experts fits. On the one hand, you have Mark Ellis driving in five runs to contribute to the Oakland cause, all from the bottom of the line-up. Then you have Rich Harden, who simply dominated the Mariners -- only 3 hits in seven innings, none of them for extra bases. It took him only 29 pitches to mow down the Seattle lineup the first time through. And the Star of the Game Panel of Experts refuses to cheapen this honor by naming co-Stars of the Game.
Hmmmm... gonna go with Harden on this one. But Mark, the next time you drive in five runs, Star of the Game honors are yours.
The Turning Point: Easily David Silva's 25-yard strike in the 30th minute to give Valenica the vital away goal and a 1-nil lead until Didier Drogba equalized with his 30th goal of the season early in the second half. By putting Valencia on the board, Silva ensured that the Blues will have their work cut out for them next Tuesday in the second leg.
Oh, the A's game. I'll have to defer to the game log on this one, but I'll pick Ellis' three-run double in the second. Batista had already balked home a run, but Ellis' hit ensured the A's would end the inning by putting up that elusive crooked number.
Rich Harden's Arm Has Been Registered As a Deadly Weapon: During one of the few moments I watched, the Safeco Field radar gun recorded a Harden pitch at 112 m.p.h. Foss and Kuiper the Lesser laughed it off as a technical glitch; I think they should have played it straight. "112? Is that all?" Kuiper could have said. "God help the man who has to stand in and face that," Foss could have added sadly.
Ich-i-ro!: If I were to draw up a list of the non-Oakland players I enjoy watching, the top three would probably be Vladimir Guerrero, David Ortiz, and Ichiro. We may have to work Zito in there, now that he's out of the family. (Curiously, all three of those guys just murder the A's. Huh.)
As to Ichiro's presence on the list, last night was a good example why. After fouling off Rich Harden's absolutely-not-a-false-reading 112 m.p.h. pitch of doom, Ichiro found himself on the business end of a splitter rapidly burrowing its way toward the earth's core. With the pitch down around his ankles -- and with Jason Kendall lunging to block once it hit dirt -- Ichiro swung and ripped a solid single up the middle. He is terrifyingly good, and he can't leave the American League West fast enough for my taste.
Sometimes I Think Susan Slusser Writes Just For Me: After Game Two, I wondered why Bob Geren would pull Joe Blanton at the start of the seventh, when the A's starter had shown no signs of struggling; I also grumbled that the money papers contained no explanation of said move.
Geren said if the A's had remained behind Tuesday night, he would have had Joe Blanton start the seventh and then brought in Justin Duchscherer. As it was, the A's tied the game, so he brought in Kiko Calero, instead, after Blanton had warmed up to start the inning. Geren said Calero, who allowed three hits and three runs, had plenty of time to warm up properly.
Capital! Thanks, Susan. Your next assignment: ask around the clubhouse and see if anyone has any good lamb recipes. I'm cooking lamb this weekend, and I want to try something new.
Phil's Phun Phacts: The A's are 9-5 on my birthday. Scott Brosius is your all-time Athletics home run leader on April 4 with two, having clubbed both in a 10-9 loss to the Tigers back in 1996. (I spent that birthday having dinner by myself at a Black Angus in Temecula, California, trying to decide whether I would quit my job at the very shitty, now-defunct cowtown daily newspaper that employed me. A month later, I would, and it's been sauerbraten and green apple sodas ever since.)
The A's, perhaps sensing my disdain for the team from the Bronx, are an impressive 3-0 against the New York Yankees on my birthday, having bested them in 1997, 1998 and 2006. That last game was perhaps the most exciting of the birthday games, ending as it did on a Marco Scutaro walk-off single.
For those of you doing math, and realizing 14 ≠ 35, consider that for much of the 1970s and '80s, baseball season didn't start until a week after my birthday.
Philip Michaels, Accomplished Evaluator of Talent: My main man Jay Marshall pitched again. Three up, three down on five pitches.
Strategery: The A's open up a four-game series against their hated rivals from a remote Southern California municipality tonight, and if Derek Zumsteg is to be believed, should Francisco Rodriguez come out to protect a ninth-inning Angels lead, Bob Geren may want to ask the ump to check his cap. (Thanks to Deadspin for hipping us to the link.)
All in All: It's always good to see the A's eliminate the possibility of going 0-162. I just hope they manage to win a game I watch from beginning to end one of these days so I don't develop a complex.