Star-Cross’d

The following is an age-old tale of forbidden love, with the same lamentable ending as all the others.

* * *

When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

–John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn

I wish I could believe Keats was right. I wish that simple formula–Find The Beautiful, Be A Winner–were actually true. But look at the world. The truth is, sometimes The Ugly kicks ass. Microsoft. MySpace. George Steinbrenner. Barry Bonds.

* * *

Confession: I am in love with B.J. Upton.

It was love at first sight. I have yet to lay eyes on Upton on TV (for who watches the Devil Rays on TV?), but here is what I said when I first laid eyes on him in person last August:

..even though Loaiza had Upton befuddled most of the afternoon, striking him out three times, I kinda fell in love with Upton anyway. His swing is so quick and smooth, it’s quite a lovely thing to behold. I think he has the most aesthetically pleasing swing I’ve seen in years.

I saw that swing again yesterday at the Oakland Coliseum. My feelings intensified. I love, love, love B.J. Upton’s swing. I think could watch it for days and nights on end. I have not heard anyone else say such a thing about him, so perhaps it doesn’t show up on TV, or perhaps it’s just the simple blindness of human love and infatuation, but I find his swing to be unbelievably, intensely captivating.

I am a diehard A’s fan. I am not supposed to fall in love with a member of a rival clan. This is heresy; it can only lead to pain and suffering. But who can help who they fall in love with? I am Tristan, having drunk the potion to fall in love with the already betrothed Isolde. I am Romeo, in love with Juliet, the daughter of my family’s most bitter enemy. B.J. Upton does not play for my team, but I find his swing to be the most beautiful swing I have ever seen.

‘Tis but your team that is my enemy;
You are yourself, though, not a Devil Ray.
What’s a Devil Ray? It has no hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, join some other team!
What’s in a team? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So B.J. would, were he not Devil Ray called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. O, B.J., doff your team,
And for that team which is no part of you
Take all myself.

And perhaps all is well when the object of my affection fails to do any damage against my own clan, but oh, the bittersweet pain when this beautiful swing turns into a three-run home run that sends my own team to defeat:

* * *

B.J. Upton is short and lean and graceful, in a time when baseball players are, in increasing numbers, tall and bulky and powerful. How can Upton compete against men who are seemingly twice his size? Can grace and beauty defeat ugly, brute strength?

Perhaps that’s why I’ve fallen in love with Upton; I want so badly to believe that it can. Evolution has seen fit to wire us, for some reason, to seek out beauty, to prefer it over ugliness. Evolution has the wisdom of millenia behind it; it won’t be fooled by sample size. Perhaps ugly only wins in the short term, because that’s how ugly fights.

What if Keats was right? What if beauty does win in the end, and that’s all you need to know?

Perhaps all these ugly, bulked-up-on-chemicals baseball stars will get their comeuppance in the end. The dealers will squeal, the truth will out, the names will be stained with the word of their sins, and their once-powerful glory will crumble like old, stone ruins in the desert:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

–P.B. Shelley, Ozymandias of Egypt

I don’t want to know that a lean young man with a short, sweet stroke needs to turn into a monster to survive. I’d rather live in ignorance, to suffer the pains of defeat and betrayal and disappointment, if living with knowledge means living without beauty. I choose to believe that in the long run, only the beautiful will reveal itself to be true, and only the beautiful will be remembered as truth. Beauty is not a large monument proclaiming its own greatness. Beauty is a grain of sand, blowing in the wind.

McBeth Traded to Reds

Marcus McBeth is one of the players named later in the trade with Cincinnati for the injured Chris Denorfia. McBeth is a converted outfielder with a rocket arm, who has shot up through the system quickly since his conversion to the mound. He reportedly has a killer changeup to go with his hard heat. So Billy Beane is now trading young players with upside for injured minor leaguers who are about to start the decline phase of their careers? Even straight up, I don’t get this one. And there’s still one more player to be named.

If I have to make up an explanation, it would go like this:

  • The A’s are organizationally thin in center field. Bradley and Kotsay are injury-prone. Bradley will be a free agent next year, Kotsay the year after that. The A’s first attempt to fill this hole, Charles Thomas, was a big flop. The A’s best CF prospects, Javier Herrera and Jermaine Mitchell, are currently still in single-A.
     
  • The A’s are not confident about re-signing Bradley, nor about Kotsay’s ability to return from his back surgery.
     
  • Denorfia has some awesome numbers in the A’s super-duper-secret defensive measuring system.
     
  • The A’s have depth with minor league relievers, so they could spare one.

That’s reasonable, I suppose, but I still don’t like it.

Cut And Paste

The A’s just got mini-swept by the Mariners. Now the Tampa Bay Devil Rays come to town. I thought I’d just cut and paste a few things. Please to enjoy.

Sure, the A’s might improve on their current .217 average with RISP and 2 outs. I keep waiting for our luck to even out. But I’ve been waiting over two years now, and the A’s keep regressing to Detroit instead of to the mean.

So far this year, it looks like the same old stuff as the last two years. How much longer should I hold onto my faith in regression to the mean before I give up and declare this a flaw in the design? [1]

…and…

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you’re watching your team play against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and you suddenly realize that the Rays might have the better team. That probably wouldn’t be the case if the A’s were healthy. But here we are.

Let’s look at some rankings:
Offense, OPS: A’s 14th, Rays 7th.

The A’s pitch better, the Rays hit better. Not much news there. [2]

…and then…

The good news is that the A’s finished April just a half game out of first place in the AL West. In fact, it’s more than just good news, it’s miraculous news. With the exception of Nick Swisher and Eric Chavez, it has seemed like a Murphy’s Law kind of month for the A’s.

So far, the A’s have suffered injuries to Rich Harden, Esteban Loaiza, Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer, Jay Witasick, Bobby Crosby and Milton Bradley. And beyond that, all but a handful of players have been performing below (and in many cases, far below) expectations.

If the A’s at least avoid any long losing streaks until Harden comes back, I will be happy. Just hang around in the race, until the pieces are in place, and things start to click. The A’s don’t need miracles to win the division. They just need good health, and performances that at least somewhat resemble expectations. [3]

 

Bibliography:
[1] Ken Arneson, April 21, 2004
[2] Ken Arneson, May 24, 2005
[3] Ken Arneson, April 30, 2006

Melhuse Gets Screwed Over

If I were Adam Melhuse, I’d be doing more than "grumbling" about being sent to the minors. I’d be pulling a full-fledged Brad Halsey, or worse.

I suppose if you’re like Melhuse, and you don’t make a major league roster until you’re 28 years old, you’re grateful for any opportunity to spend time on a 25-man roster, even if you’re stuck behind an iron man catcher like Jason Kendall. But Melhuse has talent, and I find it terribly unfair that he’s hardly had any chance to see what he can do with it. He’s only had one year (2004) where he was given over 200 at-bats; he put up an OPS of .772. For a catcher, that’s damn good. Production like that could get you a starting job on probably 10 teams in any given year. The following year, however, Kendall shows up, and ever since, Melhuse has only gotten a handful of at-bats a week. It’s hard to keep your timing with that kind of playing time. Maybe Melhuse is washed up now at age 35, but how could anyone tell?

There’s something terribly wrong with a system that allows a team to send a 35-year-old man to the minor leagues, without giving him any choice about how to manage his career. The MLBPA needs to do something about this in their next collective bargaining agreement; all minor league options should expire once a player hits a certain age, say 31 or 32. Every player should get at least one shot during his peak free-agent years to avoid falling into the Hall of Could Have Been by mere circumstance.

There are plenty of teams (the Yankees come to mind) that could use a solid backup catcher like Adam Melhuse. He deserves a chance to play, and a chance to cash in on his talent, and the opportunity to find a team willing to give him that chance. He deserves to be a free agent.

Free Adam Melhuse!

Buddy, Can You Spare A Centerfielder?

The number of injuries the A’s suffer every year is ridiculous, and when they cluster at one position, you have to think there’s some cruel joke going on. Right now, Mark Kotsay is on the DL, Milton Bradley is on the DL, Bobby Kielty is unavailable with a sore calf, and Travis Buck is out with sore wrists. So, of course, in the top of the first inning of today’s A’s-Orioles game, Nick Swisher strains his left hamstring, and has to leave the game.

So with no available outfielders left on the bench, Marco Scutaro replaced Swisher in the lineup, and went into right field. Danny Putnam, who is primarily a corner outfielder but has played a few games in center in the minors, moved over to center.

Anybody care to give up a centerfielder for Brad Halsey?

Bradley, Harden to DL

Well, you knew going in that this was inevitable, just like you know that at some point this season, Bobby Crosby will get hurt, too. It’s just the way things are.

The A’s added two new players to the 25- and 40-man rosters, Dallas Braden and Danny Putnam. Mark Kotsay goes to the 60-day DL to make room for one, and Scott Dunn was released to make room for the other. Dunn was a minor-league off-season signing who didn’t make much of an impression this spring.

Braden is one-trick pony, a left-handed screwballer. Kevin Goldstein in a Baseball Prospectus chat said about him:

Set your way-back machine to 1981 and Fernando-mania, because Braden’s best pitch is a screwball that minor league hitters have NO CLUE how to hit. Braden is certainly no Fernando because he lacks the velo to back it up, and I think big league hitters will be able to either read or lay off the pitch. I’m not overly optimistic about him, but as a 24th round pick, he’s already well-exceeded expectations.

So even if Braden isn’t good, he’ll at least be interesting. He’ll start Tuesday. Putnam seems similar to Travis Buck–corner OF, can take a walk, doubles power–only not quite as good, and a year older. Your typical A’s backup outfielder. Not much to be excited about, but if he gets anywhere near that 1.001 OPS he had in AA Midland, I’ll reserve the right to change my mind and get excited later.

I suppose if you’re into soap operas, Brad Halsey ripping the A’s organization about being passed over for this assignment are worth getting excited about. How’s this for juicy:

“It’s all just a business decision, because if I came up and pitched Tuesday and then had an MRI and had to go on the DL, they’d have to pay me major-league DL money. It’s such a mom-and-pop organization.”

“I’m going to get my arm healthy and hopefully I’ll start throwing baseballs for someone else.”

Hmm…how does a Jose Capellan-for-Brad Halsey trade of disgruntled minor leaguers sound to you, Doug Melvin?

Crosby To Scutaro: I’ll Keep My Job, Thank You

“Hey, Marco, I can hit game-winning three-run homers, too, ya know! Watch this:”

Pow!

OK, so that wasn’t quite so dramatic a shot as Marco Scutaro’s home run on Sunday, but it’ll do fine. I’m frankly getting pretty weary of high drama in every single baseball game the A’s play, so getting the big home run much earlier in the contest is quite a welcome sight. A nice, quick relaxing victory is just what the doctor ordered.

I also figured out how to break my 974-consecutive-loss streak when witnessing the A’s play the Angels in person: show up late. My daughter had soccer practice until 7pm, and I had to drive her home, and then drive out to the Coliseum, where both the A’s and the Warriors were playing this evening. The parking lots were long since full by the time I got there, so I ended up quite a hike away on the other side of the freeway. I didn’t get to my seat until the bottom of the second inning.

It was a very windy and bitter cold evening. Large waves rippled through the tarps on the upper decks. Fortunately, it was a very fast game. Chad Gaudin had little trouble with an unimposing Vlad Guerrero-less Angels lineup.

Jered Weaver, coming off the disabled list for his first start of the year, was also effective for the most part, although he wasn’t quite as impressive as I’ve seen him in the past. His fastball was around 86-89mph, with the occasional 92mph, which is about 4-5 mph slower than I recall him throwing before. He was getting the A’s out with slop, which is fine, I guess, but it sent visions of Frank Tanana dancing in my head…one day you have a very effective, totally overpowering pitcher, and then there’s an injury, and the next day, you’re left with an effective junkballer. Effective is effective, I suppose, but all things being equal, you’d prefer the guy with the big heater. Make a mistake with a 96mph fastball and you can usually get away with it, but hang a curveball, and the Bobby Crosbys of the world can beat you. Still, it was just his first start, so there’s probably little cause for Angels fans to panic. About the pitching anyway.

That lineup, on the other hand, without Vlad in the middle of it…Guerrero was out after getting plunked yesterday in Boston, and tonight Howie Kendrick got plunked, as well:

That had to hit something pretty solid to bounce that far up in the air in the other direction. Kendrick stayed in the game for a while, but got pinch-hit for his next time up. The Angels offense is pretty weak to begin with, but no matter how good their pitching is, the team can’t survive too long without Vlad, Kendrick and Juan Rivera. Those are their three best hitters, and it’s possible they may all be out tomorrow, and who knows how much longer?

But what am I worrying about the Angels for? Let’s hear it for Bobby Crosby, who had quite the jittery start to the season, but was the hero tonight. It looked for the longest time that the game was going just a little too fast for him to keep up with, as he returned from his injured back. But the last few games has started to make better contact at the plate, and his defense, still rocky as of just two days ago, tonight looked much better, as well. The best sign that he might be catching up to the speed of the game came on a slow bouncer up the middle that he had to charge. Earlier in the season, he probably would have rushed an off-balance throw towards first, but tonight, he calmly took his time, set his feet, and make a good throw to first base with time to spare.

Help Found

I’ve found some brave souls to help me generate more content here on Humbug. However, I’m still open to suggestions, so if, in addition to our usual artsy stuff, you have any ideas for “gimmicky recurring features” (our new mantra), please email me at toaster AT humbug .com.

In the meantime, I’m happy to welcome Dianagramr and Ember Nickel (nobody uses real names around these parts) to the Humbug team. Ember starts things off with a lovely acrostic sonnet.

Marco! Photos!

Wow.  I’m not sure if this was the most happily shocking ending to a ballgame I’ve ever witnessed in person–after all, I saw Ramon Hernandez win an extra-inning playoff game with a bunt single–but it’s certainly not one I’ll ever forget. 

I’m still wading through my photos from today’s game, but here’s a little something to tide you over:

More photos here.

Out of Town Report, Brought To You By The Out Of Town Report

The other day, Cliff posted a picture of his pregame meal, and I thought, hey, that’s a cool idea. I think we should make it a Toaster tradition. If you eat out on your way to the game, you have to post a picture of your meal.

Here’s mine. I’m in San Diego with family, and on the way to the Giants-Padres game tonight, we stopped at the Chicken Pie Shop, an old diner that’s been around forever. It’s just a few blocks from where Ted Williams grew up, so you can bet Ted Williams probably ate there.

I loved it. Not the food so much, which was pretty straightforward, or the decor, which looks like a diner straight out of the forties (and perhaps some of the decor really is from the forties), but the name. I love names that say what they are. Chicken Pie Shop. I’ll have the chicken pie, please.

We left the Chicken Pie Shop, got in our Minivan, and headed for The Baseball Park. I had no rooting interest in the game, and the pitching matchup wasn’t anything special (Matt Morris vs. Clay Hensley). The Giants took an early lead, and the only drama was whether the atrocious Giants bullpen would give it all back before the Padres ran out of outs. They held on with one out to spare.

I suppose even Padres fans found the game somewhat boring, since it appears that they entertain themselves by counting the days until Tony Gwynn gets inducted into Cooperstown. I entertained myself by watching my kids play in the sandbox beyond the right-centerfield fence, and by keeping one eye on the scoreboard, to see what was going on between the White Sox and the A’s.

Even the scoreboard watching was boring. Inning after inning passed by. OAK – 0. OAK – 0. OAK – 0. "Oh for heaven’s sake, score some runs!" I shouted at one point, to no one in particular.

Then Armando Benitez came in for the Giants, with a three-run lead in the ninth. The out-of-town scoreboard said, "CHW 1, OAK 0, B9." With two outs, Benitez served up a two-run homer to Adrian Gonzalez. The lead was down to one. Fireworks. Scoreboard flashing. Happy music.

Once the noise settled, the out-of-town scoreboard got back to work. I looked up, and instinctively blurted loudly, "YEAH! WOOHOO!" The scoreboard, to my utter surprise, now said, "CHW 1, OAK 2. F."

Ahhhhhh. It’s such a good feeling to leave the ballpark with a tough, hard-fought victory, isn’t it?

Unordered Lists

Scheduling:

  • I’m in San Diego for spring break. Which means I’m going to miss watching tonight’s home opener against the White Sox. Even worse, it means I’m going to miss watching a Rich Harden start. I hate missing a Rich Harden start. You never know how many you’re going to get, so you need to enjoy them while you can.
     
  • The Mariners, Indians and Angels are probably wondering why the schedule makers hate them. And then there’s the White Sox. They faced Johan Santana yesterday, and get Harden tonight. Chad Gaudin is probably going to get clobbered tomorrow night, just because to Jermaine Dye & Co., Gaudin will probably look like a slo-pitch softball pitcher in comparison.
     
  • I will take credit for the A’s victory yesterday. I actually drove through Anaheim yesterday afternoon, and had considered stopping to go to the game, but decided against it. The A’s are 0-974 when I watch them play the Angels in person (my streak dates back to my very first ballgame in 1974), and the A’s really needed that win on Sunday. However, if you’re going to take credit, you need to take blame, as well. So when the Angels beat the A’s in Oakland next Tuesday, that will be my fault entirely.
     

Better than expected so far:

  • Starting pitching.

    There hasn’t been a single game yet where you could say the starting pitcher pitched poorly. Only Joe Blanton’s start in Seattle was even questionable. We kind of expect that sort of thing from Rich Harden and Dan Haren, but Blanton, Gaudin and Joe Kennedy all pitched great.
     

  • Mike Piazza.

    He’s hitting .393/.433/.607 right now. There was some question whether he could adjust to the AL after being in the NL his whole career, but the dude knows what he’s doing at the plate. He’ll get fooled and look awful in his first AB sometimes by a pitcher he hasn’t seen, but he does seem to get fooled twice. It’s been quite fun to watch.
     

  • Jay Marshall.

    The Rule 5 pick looks like he’s been pitching in the majors for a dozen years. Three innings with nary a baserunner.
     

  • Jason Kendall’s arm.

    He nailed multiple Angels trying to steal this weekend, including the final out on Thursday, with perfect throws right on the bag. Seems like yesterday when every single throw he made down to second bounced on the infield grass.
     

Worse than expected so far:

  • Kiko Calero and Jay Witasick.

    OK, I don’t really know why I would expect anything from Jay Witasick except total suckitude, but for some reason, I was feeling a bit optimistic about him this spring. I thought he might be a good arm to have as the last man in the pen. How silly of me. There are at least three pitchers in Sacramento who should take his job.

    As for Calero, two of the four losses so far are stamped on his resume. But we can subtract one of those for his performance yesterday against the top of the Angels order. I think we can count his little slump as just one of those things. He’ll be fine.
     

  • Luck With RISP.

    One of my big pet peeves with recent A’s teams is their inability to put the ball in play with a runner on third and less than two outs. This year, they’re actually doing a pretty good job of it, but they’ve had no luck whatsoever. Three times already they’ve been in that situation, took a great approach, got a pitch to make contact with and hit the ball hard, but right at a drawn-in infielder.
     

  • Shortstops.

    Crosby was really bad last year, and so far this year, he’s been even worse. On the field, three errors in five games, two of which led to the winning run scoring in a close ballgame. At the plate, he’s just hopelessly lost. The only ball he’s hit hard all year was a big hanging curveball. The rest: strikeouts and weak grounders. He’s hitting .200/.250/.200. Marco Scutaro hasn’t been much better, with two errors in four games, and a .100/.182/.100 line at the plate.
     

  • Nick Swisher.

    Well, not so much at the plate, where he’s been taking his walks, with a .333/.533/.381 rate. But on the field and on the bases, he looks like he’s thinking about a million other things besides the job at hand. Several of those shortstop errors were throws that Swisher should have been able to scoop. Perhaps you can blame the fact that he needs to prepare for four different positions on the field (1B and all three OF positions) for his mental mistakes, but I’m not buying it. And that doesn’t explain the baserunning gaffe, below.
     

The Anatomy of a Busted Play

Saturday night, the A’s were down 2-1 to the Angels, had runners on first and second and no one out in the seventh inning, facing John Lackey. Then they proceeded to blow their opportunity by having five different people make awful mistakes on the very same play:

  • Bob Geren.

    In the opener, the A’s had a similar situation in a tie game in the sixth, facing Felix Hernandez. Geren had Mark Ellis bunt Travis Buck to third, with Jason Kendall on deck. A reader thought that this was a bad decision by Geren, but I disagreed. Hernandez was throwing filthy, unhittable, Hall-of-Fame caliber stuff that day, Dan Haren was on, and one run could very well win that game.

    However, this situation was different. Lackey was pitching well, but was not only not unhittable, but starting to look like he was running out of gas. The game was not tied: the A’s were trailing, needing to score at least twice to win. Ellis had already singled twice off Lackey, so he obviously was seeing the ball well against him. And the on-deck hitter was not Jason Kendall, who has a long history of rarely striking out, but rookie Travis Buck, who had struck out in his previous at-bat against Lackey, and in about half his plate appearances so far in his major league career.

    Context is everything. It was the wrong decision.
     

  • Mark Ellis.

    Called on to bunt, Mark Ellis got a quite buntable fastball, and simply missed it. A pure failure to execute, and probably the most forgivable mistake of the five.
     

  • Eric Chavez.

    You know the old saying, when you assume…Chavez assumed Ellis would make contact, and when he didn’t, Chavez was found wandering halfway between second and third base, and got caught in a rundown.
     

  • The Big Guy Upstairs.

    During Chavez’ rundown, one of the throws actually hit Chavez in the helmet. Normally when a ball hits you in the helmet, it deflects in some random direction: down, usually, or off to one side or another. This ball, instead, deflected straight to an Angels fielder, just like those hard-hit balls with the infield in. The A’s can’t even get lucky when they get lucky, making you think that the Big Guy Upstairs was adding to the A’s misfortunes on this day. Almost at second base, Chavez had to turn around and start running back towards third base, where he was finally tagged out.
     

  • Nick Swisher.

    Swisher was on first base, and when Chavez was finally tagged out at third, Swisher was still on first base. Why didn’t he run to second base during that whole mess, so that the A’s would still have at least one runner in scoring position when the FUBARed play was over? I dunno. Maybe Swisher was just enjoying the entertainment or something. Tra-la-la, it’s a nice day for picking daisies. Or perhaps he was suffering from a concussion when Lackey drilled him with a 0-2 pitch in the middle of the back, so his brain wasn’t working right. Who knows where his mind was? Making matters worse, Travis Buck followed Ellis’ at-bat with a single that would have scored Swisher with the tying run.
     

And then, when the Angels escaped the inning unscathed, Lackey walked off the field with one of the ugliest, most uncoordinated, unrhythmic celebration dances possible. Pure salt in the wound. I thought Jason Kendall’s fight with Lackey last year was completely unjustified, but I wouldn’t have begrudged him for punching Lackey out for whatever-that-thing-was. No human being should ever be subject to such a wretched sight.

Help Wanted

I’m looking for some help to create some more Humbug content. I’d like to provide some more fun, frivolous baseball humbug on a more regular basis.

In particular, I’m looking for a quizmaster of sorts, someone to help me create another round of Humbugardy questions. If you’re interested, or have any other brilliant ideas for fun, frivolous baseball humbug, send me an email at toaster AT humbug.com.

..And After the Love Boat…

"Da plane, Boss!  Da plane!"
"Smiles, everyone!   Smiles!’

"Welcome, Mr. Fosse, to Fantasy Island!"

If Ray Fosse were Hugh Hefner, Thursday’s A’s-Angels game would be the Centerfold of the Year. One old catcher hitting a game winning homer, and another throwing out a base stealer to nail the final out? Mmmmmm…oh, yes! OH, YES!

I’m not Ray Fosse; I’m not going to fantasize about Jason Kendall’s arm, but I do fantasize about games like this. This A’s-Angels rivalry is getting better with every game. They’re rarely boring; nearly every game is nine innings of grinding tension. Frankly, it’s rather exhausting watching these two teams play. By Sunday, after the fourth game of this series, I’m probably going to need a vacation.

I certainly don’t have a good read on Mike Piazza yet. I missed his first at-bat, where he doubled. In his next at-bat, he came up with a runner on third and one out, and struck out. He looked awful, all out of sync. But then, in the ninth, he took a not cheating K-Rod deep, with one of the trademark right-center blasts that will land him in the Hall of Fame.

A few more of those, and I might be making a call to Ricardo Montalban about Piazza myself.

No Panic Yet

You know what’s more depressing than watching your favorite team start the season 0-2? Watching your favorite team go 0-2 while you’re doing your taxes.

I kinda figured that an 0-2 start might be likely when Joe Blanton became the #2 pitcher because of Esteban Loaiza’s injury. I also don’t like the fact that Bob Geren set up the rotation so that Rich Harden would miss the entire four-game Angels series. The A’s might go into their home opener something with a 2-5 record, or worse, just because the pitching matchups weren’t lined up well.

Tonight’s game is the only game in the entire first week where the A’s have the obvious advantage in the pitching matchups. So if you can have a must-win in the first week of the season, tonight’s game is it. If the A’s lose tonight, my next post will be entitled “Panic NOW!!!”

A’s – Mariners Opening Day Liveblog

Game #1: Let’s go!

Dan Haren vs. Felix Hernandez. Safeco roof is open.

Top 1: Ray Fosse says King Felix has added a cutter and a slider in the offseason. Yipes!

First pitch fastball, strike 1 to Kendall. Hernandez nails the outside corner on a 2-2 pitch for a called strike three.

My six-year-old daughter just got home from school, missing her front tooth.

Stewart grounds out on a 2-2 pitch. Bradley gets called out for a check swing on a 2-2 slider. I didn’t think he got close to going around.

Hernandez has nasty stuff today, but his control isn’t sharp. The A’s made him work for his 1-2-3 inning.

Bottom 1: Haren’s first pitch was a fastball, nailing the outside corner. Ichiro grounds out on the next pitch. Haren almost hangs a breaking pitch to Beltre, but got it inside enough that Beltre doesn’t get all of it. Vidro quickly grounds out to Ellis on a grounder that a lesser second baseman doesn’t get to. Haren throws 8 pitches, vs. 17 for Hernandez.

Top 2: Hernandez is nasty enough, but home plate is in shadows now, making it even tougher. Still, the A’s are making him work. Piazza strikes out in his first Oakland at-bat. Chavez fouls off a bunch of pitches before grounding out, as does Swisher, who walks. Crosby, as I suspected, doesn’t follow his teammates working the count, grounding out on a 1-1 pitch. The A’s don’t have a hit yet, but Hernandez has thrown 36 pitches.

Bottom 2: Haren has good stuff, too. He has another quick 1-2-3 inning. Total pitch count: 22.

Top 3: Travis Buck’s first major league at-bat. Gets frozen on some nasty wrinkly thing on the inside corner, and strikes out. Hernandez only needs 11 pitches to get through the inning, thanks to a quick groundout by Mark Ellis.

Bottom 3: Haren hung a splitter to Yuniesky Betancourt, but with that batter in this ballpark, it’s just a long fly ball out. Three outs in the air. Eleven pitches for Haren, as well. After three full innings, one one baserunner combined.

Top 4: Shannon Stewart gets the first A’s hit of the year. But Bradley grounds into a DP on the next pitch. No patience at all this inning…three outs on five pitches, giving back the pitch count advantage.

Bottom 4: I hate it when Ichiro leads off an inning. It’s such a relief when he makes an out, as he does here with a fly ball to left. Bradley and Ellis almost collide on a popout by Beltre. Vidro gets the first Mariners hit. Haren fell behind 2-0 in the count and challenged Vidro, who just served it up the middle. Now Haren has to pitch from the stretch for the first time. He jams Ibanez on an 0-2 inside fastball, and takes a grounder himself to the bag for a 1-unassisted. Pitch count after 4: Haren 47, Hernandez 52. These guys may both go nine.

Top 5: Chavez and Swisher make outs, but I like their at-bats. Conversely, Crosby looks terrible at the plate. He takes two fastballs right down the chute, then swings at a high hard one up in his eyes. Another 1-2-3 for Hernandez.

Bottom 5: Crosby looks terrible in the field, too, whiffing on an easy grounder by Sexson right at him. Maybe taking the bad at-bat into the field with him, losing concentration. But Haren strands Sexson. Travis Buck makes a nice catch down the line for out #3, and throws the ball into the stands. Don’t you think he’d want to keep his first MLB putout?

Top 6: Buck gets his first MLB hit, a rocket double over Ichiro’s head. Ellis bunts him to third. Kendall strikes out, after taking a 1-0 fastball down the middle. Argh, I hate that. Stewart strikes out, too.

Bottom 6: With one out, Ichiro singles on a swinging bunt. Time for a steal attempt, obviously. And some throws over to first. Beltre breaks his bat, but muscles it into left field for a single. In a pitchers’ duel like this, those are the types of hits that win games. ARGH! Crosby drops an easy double-play throw from Haren. Luckily, Ichiro didn’t score. Two errors on Crosby already. Bases loaded, and not a well-hit ball in the inning. Ibanez hits a sac fly, and the Mariners lead, 1-0. The way Hernandez is pitching, that’s likely enough to win this game. Then Haren serves up his once-per-game homer to Sexson on a slider that backed up and floated over the middle of the plate, and this game is over. But this is all on Crosby. 4-0 Mariners.

Top 7: Hernandez throws a 3-2 slider to Bradley and walks him. Dude, you have a four-run lead. You have a 97-mph fastball. Challenge him. Hernandez is not getting the call on some inside fastballs to lefties, but if he can ever get that thing to tail back over the black consistently, he’ll throw more no-hitters than Nolan Ryan. That thing is impossible to hit. Hernandez challenges the next three batters, and A’s succumb meekly. Crosby looks like he needs another month of spring training.

Bottom 7: Jay Witasick is in. Throws it right down the middle to Betancourt, who crushes it probably about as far as he can hit it, which means an easy fly out to left. Crosby doesn’t flub a grounder. Ichiro strikes out on a ball in the dirt, and Kendall tries to tag him but can’t quite reach him. It was cute little chase. Kendall finally gives up and throws him out, instead.

Top 8: Buck isn’t going to see any more fastballs after that double last time up. Gets nothing but junk and strikes out. Betancourt flubs an easy grounder like Crosby did earlier, but nothing comes of it.

Bottom 8: Witasick walks the leadoff guy, Beltre. Vidro tries to hit into another double play, and this time, the A’s turn it. Jay Marshall is coming in to get his feet wet. The first MLB player he’ll face is Raul Ibanez. Throws a fastball strike on his first pitch. Ibanez hits about seventeen foul balls off his feet, then grounds out to Swisher at first on a 3-2 pitch.

Top 9: After eight innings of Felix Hernandez, J.J. Putz must look relatively easy to hit. Milton Bradley slams a leadoff double off the right-center wall. But Piazza and Chavez ground out, leaving Swisher as the last hope. Swisher flies out to Ichiro, and the Mariners win, 4-0.

 

Conclusion: Haren and Hernandez were both fabulous today. The game was going to be won by either a lucky break, or a mistake. Or in this case, both: the Mariners got two lucky hits in sixth, and then the costly error by Crosby sealed the A’s fate.

Both teams leave the game with an ERA of 0.00. Travis Buck and Jay Marshall got their feet wet–Buck got his first hit, and Marshall got his first out.

You can’t draw any conclusions about the A’s offense when they’re facing a pitcher on his game like King Felix was tonight. I didn’t like Crosby’s play today on either side of the ball, but given his late start in spring training, it’s understandable, and the errors are probably not something that’s going to repeat itself all season. If you’re going to lose a game, I’d prefer to lose a game like this: a tight game that could go either way, as it’s a sign that you can compete, even against one of the top pitching talents in the game.

Opening Day Thoughts

The A’s start off the season facing Felix Hernandez and the Mariners, which is already a sign of a tougher season ahead than 2006. The A’s beat the Mariners 17 times out of 19 last year, a lot of which had to do with the fact that the A’s only faced Hernandez once last year, but matched up against Joel Pineiro six times. Pineiro isn’t around to pick on anymore.

But the more I think about Travis Buck making the opening day lineup for the A’s, and having Todd Walker replace Antonio Perez on the roster, the more optimistic I get about the 2007 season. I like it because it gives the A’s a solid, major league player at every position on the field, both starting AND backup. When you look at the Walker/Kielty backup platoon, and realize that when an A’s 1B/OF takes a day off, his replacement will have a .350 OBP, while other teams in the division may have half their starting lineups with OBPs under .330, the A’s will be competitive every day.

Watching A’s starting lineup in recent games, I’ve been really happy with their batting approach. This team will work the count, and not in a passive way like some of their predecessor A’s teams. With the possible exception of Bobby Crosby, whom I haven’t seen enough of yet to judge, I’m confident that this lineup will give the pitcher a tough at-bat every at-bat, one through nine. If the starting pitcher doesn’t throw strikes, he’s going to reach his pitch count limit very early, and if he does, the A’s will be taking good swings at them. High pitch counts may not matter much against a team like the Angels, who have a bullpen as deep as the Grand Canyon (as do the A’s, particularly if Chad Gaudin isn’t pressed into starting duty), but against Seattle and Texas, who have one good reliever each and a otherwise bunch of question marks, a lot of games can be won in the fifth, sixth, and seventh innings in this division.

The cause for concern, of course, is the starting pitching, which is taking more of a stars-and-scrubs approach, rather than the deep rotations A’s fans have been accustomed to in recent years. Loaiza, Blanton, and Kennedy aren’t going to inspire much poetry and song, and neither, apparently are their replacements in Sacramento, should one of the starters go down. It’s about quantity over quality. The Sacramento rotation will be five or six deep in starting pitchers who reasonably be considered decent #5 pitchers in the majors. Accumulate enough guys who are capable of mediocrity, and you should be able to find a subset of them who actually provide it. The A’s hope they can get .500 ball out of these guys, and then let Harden and Haren take care of the rest. It’s not my favorite way to approach the problem, but I suppose it might work, so I’ll choose, on this day, to be optimistic about it.

Play ball!

The Buck Starts Here

When trying to decide between Travis Buck and Todd Walker, the A’s decided to keep both. Instead, the A’s released Antonio Perez.

The A’s wouldn’t bring Buck up to the roster to be a backup, so this means he’s probably the everyday right fielder. Todd Walker and Bobby Kielty will likely share a platoon as the first backup in the 1B/OF rotation. Walker also becomes the third-stringer at 2B and 3B.

I’m a bit surprised the A’s couldn’t find a trade partner to take Perez off their hands–several teams were rumored to be looking for backup infielders. But I suppose it’s hard to find landing spots for players this late in spring training. Perhaps Perez will end up in Sacramento if he can’t find a new major league home.