So my wife finally gets off the phone after a 45-minute conversation. She walks into the living room, sees that it’s 3-3 in the bottom of the ninth. Conversation goes like this:
Wife: So how come Mariano Rivera isn’t in the game?
Me: They’re saving him for a save situation, I guess.
Wife: When? Tomorrow?
So Ken Macha and my wife outmanaged Joe Torre, and the A’s won their first game of year, 4-3.
With both Rich Harden and Mike Mussina pitching fairly well, this game seemed from early on like it was going to be a battle of bullpen attrition, and the first team to run out of good relievers was going to lose. When Rich Harden ran out of gas and pitches after 5 2/3 innings, I figured the Yankees had a huge advantage.
Not only had they just taken the lead, but Mike Mussina still had another couple of innings left in his tank. The A’s had to burn Justin Duchscherer just to get through the seventh, and although the A’s tied the game when Eric Chavez homered off Mussina, the Yankees still had a two-inning lead in the attrition battle.
The A’s had to bring in Joe Kennedy to pitch the eighth, and although he was facing two lefties in Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui, I thought the A’s were doomed, especially after he walked Giambi to lead off the inning. Luckily, Kennedy got away with a couple of bad pitches, as both Matsui and Jorge Posada crushed a couple of pitches just foul.
So when Kennedy got through his inning unscathed, the A’s had picked up an inning in the attrition battle. Then when Torre decided to use Kyle Farnsworth for only 2/3 inning, the Yankee advantage was gone. It was a battle of the American League’s two best relievers now, Huston Street vs. Mariano Rivera, mano-a-mano.
Except Joe Torre decided not to play. The A’s faced Scott Proctor instead. Milton Bradley led off with a walk. Jason Kendall sacrificed him to second, Nick Swisher was intentionally walked, and Marco Scutaro came to the plate.
Theoretically, Ken Macha could have pinch-hit Antonio Perez for Scutaro in this spot, but with Bobby Crosby hurt, and the A’s also short an outfielder because the A’s are currently carrying 12 pitchers due to the rain, Macha elected not to use his last remaining infielder, and let Scutaro hit. Macha’s decision paid off, and Macha looked like the happiest guy on the planet after it did. Probably because he was expecting an earful from Billy Beane if it hadn’t.
The Yankee outfield was playing in to try to help them throw out Bradley at the plate. But just like Luis Gonzalez’s flare in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, playing the defense in ended up costing the Yankees the game. Scutaro hit a fly ball that barely got over Hideki Matsui’s glove, and the A’s had won.
When you open the season against the Yankees, you worry you’ll begin the year 0-3. It’s quite a relief to get that first victory. It’s also a relief that the A’s didn’t just roll over and die for the Yankees like they did last night. They gave the Yankees a battle, like they belong in their league.
The A’s won with some home runs, a walk, a bunt and a clutch hit–a multidimensional attack that can satisfy both sabermetricians and traditionalists. The fact that they are capable of playing a crisp, tense, mistake-free playoff-caliber game in early April fills me with all kinds of hope. It finally feels like the season has begun.