I'll be frank -- I wasn't terribly pleased by the decision to have the A's play their home opener several thousand time zones away. No, this isn't the result of some misplaced nostalgia for Cincinnati's supposed God-given right to open the season and, unlike Furman Bisher, I'm not hung up on that spot of unpleasantness we had with Japan back in the '40s. Rather, I am opposed on principle to the idea that after a winter-long drought of baseball, the first "this time, it counts" game should be played when most of the fans of the home team are sound asleep. I am especially opposed to it when the team in question is the one I root for. It is the very definition of being fan-unfriendly.
Hey, Oakland fan! Bet you're excited about the start of another season of baseball!
Well, sure. I don't expect the A's contend this year, but I'm always ready to watch a baseball game featuring my favorite team -- especially since I haven't seen the A's take the field since last fall.
Great! Then surely you won't mind getting up at 3 a.m. on a school night to watch the first game of the season and throw off your sleep patterns for the entire week!
Um... I sorta do mind, actually.
That's OK! You can watch the second game instead! Rich Harden is pitching!
That's fantastic. I love to watch Rich Harden pitch.
Terrific! He'll be taking the mound at 3 a.m., so be sure to set your alarm clock!
You know what? I think I'll take a pass on that one, too.
Why do you hate baseball?
So yeah, I sat out the first two games. My employer likes it when I show up to the office not sleep-deprived and I had to catch a red-eye flight last Wednesday anyhow -- three late nights in a row seemed like a poor way to start a week.
Which means that Tuesday night's domestic home opener was my first chance to see the A's in what I'm essentially treating as Oakland's 160-game 2008 season. For the most part, I enjoyed the game, even as the A's went down fairly meekly to defeat. I don't necessarily think the meekly part of that result was entirely the fault of the A's hitters -- Daisuke Matsuzaka was on his game last night, and when that happens, Oakland's margin for error is virtually non-existent.
Game 1 3: Red Sox 2, A's 1
Your Pitchers of Record: WP: D. Matsuzaka (1-0) LP: J. Blanton (0-1) S: J. Papelbon (2)
Went Deep: J. Cust (1)
Your Gordon Biersch Marzen Star of the Game: Matsuzaka, who only gave up two hits in 6 2/3 innings while striking out nine batters on merit. Even the run he gave up -- a towering homer smacked by Jack Cust -- wasn't really a mistake; Cust just happened to unleash the full fury of his swing on an outside fastball that most batters would have whiffed on.
The Turning Point: Joe Blanton pitched relatively well Tuesday night, keeping the Red Sox off the bases (only one walk) and getting out of trouble whenever the visitors did mount something of a rally. More impressive, Blanton was able to cover for his teammates mistakes. Jack Hannahan made a fine stop on a shot down the line by Kevin Youkilis in the second, but he hesitated on the throw, putting runners at the corners with one out. But then Blanton got Jason Varitek to pop up before striking out Coco Crisp to escape the second without any damage. Similarly, Blanton responded to Daric Barton's Babe Herman impression -- easily catchable foul out clanking off his shoulder -- by striking out Mike Lowell to end the inning.
That success came to an abrupt halt in a two at-bat sequence in the sixth, when Youkilis crushed a ball to left center for a triple. Varitek followed that by mashing a ball to right that landed on top of the out-of-town scoreboard but bounced onto the field of play -- should have been called a homer, but the umps ruled it a double. It ended up not mattering -- the Sox got the go-ahead run, and, thanks to strong performances from Matsuzaka and Papelbon, were able to make it hold up.
Stat o' the Night: The performance from the law firm of Buck, Brown & Sweeney, otherwise known as your starting outfielders -- 0 for 9, with seven strikeouts. Four of those Ks were provided by Travis Buck, who can pick up his Golden Sombrero at a participating Chevy's Restaurant.
Advertisement That Probably Only Bothers Me: The A's slogan this year is "100 Percent Baseball," which certainly beats last year's slogan of "It Hurts When I Do This." The ad featured during last night's telecast showcased a charming East Bay suburb where a couple of kids have set up a lemonade stand where they are selling glasses of cool, refreshing lemonade for 50 cents. However, they are doing no business whatsoever on this bright, sunny day, and the reason is that just a few feet away, the A's have set up a stand where Buck, Barton, some Athletic I don't recognize, and Stomper are selling hot dogs for a dollar and having a rocking good time doing it. The message of the ad, obviously, is to convey that the A's offer $1 hot dogs on Wednesdays and that the team's a fun-loving bunch of guys. I, of course, detected a more sinister subtext: Lew Wolff loves to take money away from children. Sell lemonade at your own peril, children of Fremont.
The Untold Story: Dick Williams, honored on the field before the game for his recent election to the Hall of Fame, stopped by the broadcast booth for an enjoyable chat with Glenn Kuiper and Ray Fosse. One of the first stories told, of course, was the time during the 1973 World Series when, in the wake of the Mike Andrews incident, Dick Williams told the team he was quitting after the Series lest he suffer any more indignities at the hands of Charlie Finley.
Not mentioned last night: In the excellent The Man in the Dugout, the late, great Leonard Koppett suggests that by the time Williams resigned, he had already been approached by the New York Yankees about taking over their managing gig. (Indeed, Koppett theorizes that the Yanks might have privately expressed their interest to Williams as early as the 1973 All Star Game, which was held in the Bronx and where Williams happened to be the AL's manager.) As you may or may not know, the Yankees did attempt to hire Williams after he resigned from Oakland, but Finley demanded compensation, effectively blocking the move. New York wound up hiring Bill Virdon, and Williams took a job with the then-woeful Angels, with Finley happily granting his permission for that downward move.
That part of the story tends to get overlooked when people talk about the Williams-Finley contretemps.
All in All: As Ken observed in the comments of last night's open thread, the story of the 2008 A's appears to be "good pitching, hard time scoring." (That second part goes double when you throw in a buzzsaw like Matsuzaka.) If we assume the A's are going to lose 90 games this year -- and believe you me, I've made that assumption -- the most we can ask is that some of those 90 loses are at least entertaining. Tuesday's game was, so you'll hear relatively little griping from me.