I'm going to take credit for the A's big win over Tampa Bay Saturday. Ken e-mailed me that morning, asking if I wanted to use a pair of extra tickets of his. And while I did, I had made plans with my wife for that afternoon and scuttling them after spending Friday night at the yard didn't seem to be part of a long-term strategy for marital bliss. So the A's, freed from my withering gaze, broke out the bats, plated 12 runs and enjoyed a rare laugher over a hapless opponent.
But I did go to Sunday's game, and even if you didn't know the result, you could probably guess what happened there: the bats went back to sleep and took the starting pitching with them, as Oakland finished the month below .500 and looking up at the increasingly shrinking backsides of the Anaheim Angels.
And with the Red Sox already beginning their ceremonial beatdown of the A's as I type this, let's summarize the remaining games against Tampa-St. Pete.
Game 24: A's 12, Devil Rays 5
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- D. Haren (3-2) LP -- C. Fossum (2-2)
Went Deep Buck (2), Upton (4), Ellis (1), Chavez (2)
Your Dr. Pepper Star of the Game: With two outs and two on in the first, Bobby Crosby came through with a single to left that drove in the first of the A's six runs that inning. He drove in another run in the second to help make things really comfortable for the A's the rest of the way.
The Turning Point: Prior to Crosby's at bat, Mike Piazza came to the plate with Shannon Stewart on second and two outs. "Aha," Rays pitcher Casey Fossum doubtlessly said to himself. "First base is open. I will pitch this potentially dangerous Piazza fellow very carefully, and then put away this light-hitting offense with no further fuss." It was a brilliant plan to walk Piazza on four pitches... only this was the day the A's decided to hit like Major Leaguers. Next time, Casey, best just take your chances with Mike.
Game 25: Devil Rays 5, A's 3
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- S. Kazmir (2-1) LP -- D. Braden (1-1) S -- A. Reyes (9)
Your Kona Brewing Co. Longboard Lager Star of the Game: B.J. Upton. You heard the man.
The Turning Point: Upton's three-run shot off Dallas Braden in the fourth certainly stopped what had been a solid beginning by the A's rookie. The back-to-back homers by Rocco Baldelli and Elijah Dukes the very next inning were just as critical, and erased any fond memories of the back-to-back shots by Ellis and Chavez in the first.
That's Quite A Move to First You've Got There, Dallas: I have not decided whether Dallas Braden possesses the most deceptive pickoff move in baseball or whether the A's will find themselves on the losing end of an epidemic of balk calls every time he takes the mound. What he does is lift his leg as if he's about to go into his motion before slamming the leg down on the rubber and nearly simultaneously throwing over to first. He did it a couple of times Sunday, and each time, I immediately turned my attention to the umpires, waiting for them to signal for the runner to advance, but nothing happened. And Joe Maddon didn't storm out of the dugout, so I guess the move's A-OK.
And it works, too -- in the third, Braden caught Dukes flat-footed, forcing that most exciting of plays, the multi-assist rundown (1-3-6-3-4 on the put-out, for those of you scoring at home).
And While We're At It, Welcome to Our Country, Dallas: The ladies behind me were apparently unfamiliar with the talent in the upper levels of the A's minor league system, as this was the first they ever heard of the screwball-tossing lefty.
"His name's Bradd-dun," the first one said. "Kind of a weird first name."
"He doesn't look like he's from America," the other lady commented.
The City of Stockton hates us for our freedoms.
Other very deep thoughts from the lady behind me: the unfortunate accident early Sunday morning that destroyed sections of the MacArthur Maze may not have been the result of a gasoline tanker driving too fast on a sharp turn but rather the nefarious work of Al Qaeda. "We can't rule that out," she said.
I, myself, plan to employ this line of reasoning, unassailable as it is, in my own life. "Did you forget to drop off the dry cleaning again?" my wife might ask me when I get home from work tonight. "Perhaps," I will say. "But we can't rule out Al Qaeda's role in this." And then, as she ponders just how to respond to that, I will watch television.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: If this Susan Slusser article is any indication, it would take me less time to list the A's who aren't hobbled.
Apparently, Fourth Outfielders Are an Undervalued Commodity: To gain some perspective on the newest Athletics, let's turn to the wisdom of The Baseball Prospectus Annual. First, the walking wounded we acquired for the live arm:
[Chris] Denorfia's trying to avoid the organizational cul-de-sac that sucked up Brady Clark and made him a Brewer, but so far, no dice. He has the skills to be a solid outfield regular, and if, like, Clark, he can hack it in center, he'll be a valuable player. If he can't, he'll have to either luck into a job somewhere, or wind up in the pool of very good fourth outfielders. If the Reds more Griffey to a corner to play him in center, everyone comes out ahead, but Denorfia has little to no star potential.
Emphasis mine, in case you didn't realize it.
Now how's about that warm body the Braves were kind enough to send our way for cash or a player to be named later or possibly a player named Cash:
Ryan Langerhans is a handy glove in the corners, but his performance at the plate last year was disappointing. He generated fewer line drives than in his rookie year, a development all the more irksome, because it occurred concurrently with Kelly Johnson's injury and Jeff Francoeur's selfishness. He worked counts more, but there's a fine line between waiting on your pitch and passivity.
I'm glad I've been rooting for the A's long enough to remember what it was like when Billy Beane was still a genius.
Ah, but I kid. I realize whatever benefit Chris Denorfia yields will come next year, not this, and that Langerhans is an Athletic most likely for the length of time it takes the regular outfielders to come off the DL. The A's are trying to do the best with the hand they've been dealt.
But, if I can paraphrase from memory a different edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual -- the 2006 edition, to be precise -- the chapter on the A's talked about how management was great at drafting and acquiring low-risk, serviceable players, it really hasn't done a good job developing superstars or -- the Frank Thomas gamble excepted -- rolling the dice on high-impact players who could potentially propel the team forward. The A's seem to have mastered the managing risk portion of roster construction to the point that it limits the size of the potential reward. The Denorfia trade looks to be more of the same embracing of adequacy that characterizes the franchise's moves as of late -- at least that's the view from this particular corner of the peanut gallery.
Developer Lew Wolff said he doesn't know why San Jose State University pulled out of negotiations to build a professional soccer stadium, though a university spokesman said the school wanted more money out of the deal than Wolff was willing to guarantee.
You may remember this as part of Lew Wolff's Why-Stop-At-One-Stadium-When-You-Can-Build-Two plan that included dispatching Billy Beane off to watch last summer's World Cup, never mind that it occurred smack dab in the middle of the season when he should, in theory, be concentrating on swindling other GMs. Perhaps the dissolution of the deal to build a soccer stadium in San Jose explains Oakland's puzzling personnel moves of late; or perhaps Lew Wolff has sent Billy Beane to follow the U.S. Open Cup.
Phil's Phun Phacts: In all the stories on Elijah Dukes' colorful background, one detail was left out -- his searing hatred of mascots. Dukes' fifth-inning homer of Braden came within inches of sending poor Stomper to the Elephant's Graveyard.
Since being declared the A's Catcher for Life last week, Jason Kendall has gone 1-for-17 for a crisp line of .059/.111/.059.
Ken, my brother is throwing out the first pitch at the A's game Sunday for AM/PM Day. Assuming he gets the chance, and besides asking Mike Piazza if he'd autograph a baseball, what are a couple of good insightful questions he should ask the A's players?
Strike4, I am not Ken, and your brother's day in the sun has come and gone. (Strike4's sibling made a good toss to the plate, where his ceremonial first pitch was caught by ceremonial outfielder Danny Putnam.) But if I had the opportunity to quiz an A's player, here are the three questions I'd ask:
Why do you guys have such brittle bones? Are you sure you're drinking enough milk?
Did Barry Zito ever introduce you to Alyssa Milano?
Besides Ken and Ryan, who is your favorite Catfish Stew author?
Hope this list helps future ceremonial first-pitch throwees.
All in All: Unlike earlier A's losses, the 5-3 defeat on Sunday didn't leave me particularly perturbed or despondent. The A's actually hit the ball pretty well -- Bobby Crosby crushed a ball to deep center with the bases loaded in the eighth that just happened to hang up long enough for Dukes to catch it; he also hit a warning track shot in the first that fell into Carl Crawford's glove right at the wall. With the exception of Kendall and Travis Buck, all of the A's had pretty good at-bats Sunday where the balls just happened to be hit straight at the other team or hang up just long enough to be caught. Them's the breaks. That said, when you've got an offense as mediocre as Oakland's, you can't afford to have too many breaks go against you.