Not that there's ever a good time for your offense to go in the tank, but the A's sure picked the least opportune moment to have a bout of the ol' Can't-Hits in the wake of the Jeremy Giambi-ing of Milton Bradley. Whatever you might think of Bradley's flaws -- the ability to stay ambulatory for one, the ability to play well with others for another, and his failure to properly curtsy in the presence of Billy Beane, apparently -- he certainly had no problem swinging the bat when healthy. You can't say the same for the A's the past couple of days, especially after Oakland managed all of two hits after the second inning in Monday night's loss to Cleveland.
Another thing that you really can't pin on Bradley -- he tended not to take losing with a them's-the-breaks attitude. The same cannot be said of many of the remaining denizens of the Oakland clubhouse. A stark reminder was provided just two days after Bradley's dismissal for crimes against humanity, during Saturday's loss to Apu Nahasapeemapetilion's favorite squadron. In the sixth inning, Orlando Hernandez struck out Eric Chavez on a 53-mph eephus pitch. Chavez walked back to the dugout with the hint of a mile on his face. Hey -- we all love eephus pitches. We also love to see our star players give the appearance of being disappointed, irritated and/or resolved to do better the next time when they fail to deliver in a tight ballgame.
Earlier this year, in the 2007 edition of what is rapidly becoming the San Francisco Chronicle'sannual "This is the year Eric Chavez finally delivers, by golly" article, Chavez declared: "I'm a pretty darn good player." There are two ways to look at that self-assessment -- you either see a player confident in his own abilities and able to tune out the petty carping of the peanut gallery, or you see a player who hasn't delivered on that 30-homer potential since 2002, looks increasingly unlikely to do so at any point in the future, and seems pretty cool with that, so long as the checks clear on the 1st and the 15th of each month. If you fall into that latter camp, then the sight of Chavez unable to suppress a whimsical grin after striking out in a taut ballgame should probably go on his plaque when he's inducted into the Hall of Pretty Darn Good outside Duluth, Minnesota.
Anyhow, let's dispense with Game 75 in the same I-got-somewhere-else-to-be fashion that the A's hitters took at the plate Monday night after the jump.
Game 75: Cleveland 5, A's 2
Your Pitchers of Record: WP -- C.C. Sabathia (11-2) LP -- C. Gaudin (6-3)
Went Deep: Hafner (11)
Your Stella Artois Star of the Game: For keeping his head when all about him were losing theirs, the honor goes to C.C. Sabathia, who looked like he was in for a short outing Monday before settling down. Sabathia allowed six hits in the first two innings; he didn't allow another base-runner until the seventh. Of the three post-second inning A's hits, two of the runners were immediately eliminated on double-play grounders. And, we hasten to add, Sabathia didn't walk a batter the entire night. Sure, it doesn't take much to turn back Oakland's bats at this point in the season, but let's not fail to recognize an impressive pitching performance when it happens.
The Turning Point: The A's already had two runs home in the second with the bases loaded and two out. Nick Swisher hit a ball solidly to left that hung up just long enough for Franklin Gutierrez to catch it. The ball drops and the A's probably get another run or two at a bare minimum, the inning continues, and maybe C.C. Sabathia isn't around long enough to plug up the leak. Curse you, physics -- you've foiled my plans for the last time.
"My Name Is Barry Bonds, And I Approve of This Message": With the A's not exactly putting up much of a fight with Anaheim, I did what every right-thinking fan should do when faced with the prospect of uninspiring play -- go watch some other teams. Specifically, I spent Monday night at Phone Company Field in my company's fancy-schmantsy seats, eating mozzarella-and-tomato panini sandwiches and watching the Giants blow a lead to San Diego before eking out the win.
The Giants are now running these between-innings ads on the Jumbotron, urging fans to stuff the virtual All-Star batters box for Barry Bonds, so that the Giants will have at least one starter in the Midsummer Classic. The commercials are shot to resemble old-timey political ads, with patriotic music and an announcer straight out of the "Try that on for size, Hitler!" school of 1940s newsreel voice-overs telling Giants fans to exercise to their franchise.
The ads are effective, I guess, but everyone knows that if you really want to make an impact, you go negative. The reason is simple -- negative campaign ads work. So, during the latter innings of the Giants-Padres tilt, my pal Jason and I came up with a negative campaign ad targeting Alfonso Soriano -- currently your weak link among National League starting outfielders. Enjoy.
[Open with a head shot of Alfonso Soriano]
"Alfonso Soriano wants to be a starting outfielder for the National League All Star team..."
[Do that cool X-ray effect on the photo that makes Soriano look like some kind of evil zombie.]
"But a year ago, he didn't even want to be an outfielder."
[Cue up grainy footage of Soriano turning his back on Frank Robinson.]
"When his manager asked him to play left field last year, Soriano refused! And now he wants to start in the summer's biggest exhibition game? With so much at stake..."
[Cue up shots of the Giants losing Game 7 of the 2002 World Series in Anaheim; rioting soccer fans in the 1980s; a 1930s bread line.]
"...can the National League really afford to turn over one its starting positions to someone so unpredictable?"
[Superimpose a shot of a laughing Osama Bin Laden floating over Wrigley Field.]
"Infielder or outfielder? Prima donna or All Star? When will Alfonso Soriano make a decision? Fortunately, you still can."
Paid for by the Committee to Get Someone, Anyone, on the Giants in the All Star Game.
When Position Players Pitch: I didn't get a chance to write up the game notes for the June 15 Cardinals-A's game, but I was in the building when Scott Spiezio added spot relief to his resumé after corner infielder and alternative band frontman. Because the Cardinals prefaced their trip to Oakland getting pummeled by Kansas City, the bullpen well was more or less tapped. So in the eighth, LaRussa turned to Sandfrog lead singer Spiezio, who never topped the high-80s on the gun, but managed to turn in an inning of scoreless relief -- the only Cardinals pitcher that night who didn't give up a run.
This was actually the second time I've been at a game when a position player has been pressed into "Oh, what the hell?" relief duty; both have involved the Cardinals. The year was 1989 -- a simpler time when monstrous thunder lizards roamed the earth and there were only two division winners in each league and interleague play was just the fever dream of the putz who owned the Milwaukee Brewers. I was a junior in high school and in Los Angeles to compete in the California High School Speech Association tournament. After a particular tough day of competition I decided to unwind at a Dodgers-Cardinals game -- apparently, the Dodgers decided to take the evening off, too, as they lost 12-0. The game got so out of hand that Mickey Hatcher -- now the Angels' hitting coach, then a certified lunatic -- was summoned to pitch the ninth. I remember him sprinting in from the bullpen at full speed; I do not remember the results, which Retrosheet reminds me were three walks, no hits, and a run in one inning of work.
Just Say No: The photo of Tim Lincecum that the Giants put on their massive scoreboard looks like they took his junior prom photo and Photoshoped a San Francisco uniform over his tux. Which got me thinking about a conversation I had with my brother-in-law while in Hawaii last month. My brother-in-law is one the few Tampa Bay Devil Ray fans roaming outside of captivity -- his excuse is that he lives on the Gulf Coast -- and had had just attended one of the A's-Rays games at the Tropicana Dome in early May.
"That Nick Swisher..." he began.
"Good player," I said. "Really improving this year, particularly in two-out situations."
"Sure," he said. "But have you ever noticed he looks really baked?"
Since most of the time I'm either at games in Oakland -- where the A's have their own player videos for the scoreboard -- or watching on TV, I hadn't noticed. But having gone to two A's games in San Francisco last weekend, I finally got to see the still images of A's players enjoyed by other fans around the league.
And man -- Nick Swisher looks really baked.
He's not the only one. I'd say four, maybe five of the A's positional players have scoreboard photos that give the impression that their pregame ritual involves natural herbs and spices, a black light and something from the Pink Floyd canon playing on the clubhouse stereo system.
Don't believe me? Then click on this Sportszilla link and behold the hideous truth for yourself.
Dreaded Larry Davis Sighting: Rich Harden was supposed to go two innings last night, but ended up leaving after one frame of relief. The reason? Achy shoulder, right around the same area that had kept him sidelined since April. But not to worry -- Harden tells the Chronicle that he's fine.
A's fans know how the story develops from here. Expect Rich Harden to announce his retirement by lunchtime.
All in All: We reach a point in every season when I give up my dreams of contention and -- the weight of expectation thus removed -- can just sit back and enjoy baseball without fretting about how each pitch will affect the A's October fortunes. We're about at that point right now.