The A’s finished the first half of this abbreviated season by losing to the Texas Rangers, 3-2. It was a loss like a lot of the other A’s losses this season: the opposing team throws all their best pitchers at them, and somehow, the A’s still get within a whisker of winning the game anyway. That’s the sign of a good baseball team: you have a chance to win nearly every game. That doesn’t mean you win all those games, sometimes you’re more unlucky than lucky, but you’re fighting each game to the end.
You could change any one of about four different pitches in this game, and the A’s would have won the game. Jesús Luzardo gave up three runs in the first two innings, but he really didn’t throw any bad pitches at all. The first five hits he gave up were all either right on the black of the strike zone, or outside the zone. Somehow, the Rangers made contact on those pitches and found holes. And the home run he allowed was to a right-handed hitter who hadn’t homered at all up to that point this season, who hit a home run to the opposite field. Can’t say that was a terrible pitch, either. Sometimes you do everything right, and the sport of baseball itself beats you.
The A’s got a couple of runs early off Lance Lynn, who has been one of baseball’s best pitchers this season, but then didn’t threaten again until the ninth inning. They loaded the bases with one out for Matt Olson, who was obviously looking for a pitch up in the zone to hit for a sac fly, trying to avoid hitting a grounder for a double play, when the umpire called to pitches *clearly* below the zone for strikes. Olson may not have gotten the job done without those bad calls in that critical situation–he’s been swinging straight through a lot of fastballs lately and is hitting below .200–but again the game of baseball beats you sometimes, as you can’t control what the umpire is going to do to you at any given time, even if it’s the most critical point in the game.
It was a loss, but the A’s finished the first half of the season with a 20-10 record, tied for the best record in the American League. In a year when eight teams from each league will make the playoffs, the A’s would probably have to have a catastrophically bad second half in order to not make the playoffs this year. But anything can happen in just thirty games. Nothing is written in stone.
Half the baseball season is only half the picture, though. It’s half a baseball season in a world turned upside down. We started off with a pandemic and racial unrest, and a major election coming in November, and now we’ve added a climate-crisis fueled wildfire and air quality problem, and Thursday there’s a hurricane about to slam into Texas and Louisiana, and yesterday, police shot another unarmed Black man, this time in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
I had my doubts about whether baseball should even be doing this, and whether they could pull it off. They made some major mistakes early on, with the Marlins and the Cardinals letting semi-epidemics run through their teams, but those mistakes seem to have chastened the rest of the league, as subsequent mistakes, such as some people with the Reds and the Mets testing positive, and with some Indians players breaking protocol, were dealt with swiftly and resolutely, to prevent the disease from spreading any further than that.
I was on the fence about all that before the air quality problems. Now, by contrast, I am feeling very grateful that they are playing. Being stuck at home because of the virus was one thing, but at least I could go in the backyard, or go out for a bike ride if I got tired of being in the house. But when the air outside turned bad, and there was no choice at all but to stay inside the house all day long, I really started getting stir crazy. Those three hours of escapism every day has been psychologically invigorating.
This is only the half of it, though. Who knows what rough beast will be born in the second half, that will knock us off our feet again? We live now, dreaming of victories and triumphs, of glory and greatness, but the shadows of scavenger birds circle us. These thirty games have given us hope, but perhaps they are nothing but the mere pedestal of an ambitious statue that falls over in the desert, eroding away from the wind-blown sands of cruel history.