The Oakland A’s 2020 season ended on October 8, with a 11-6 game loss, and a 3-1 series loss, to the Houston Astros in the AL Division Series.
The Oakland A’s 2020 season ended on October 8, with a 11-6 game loss, and a 3-1 series loss, to the Houston Astros in the AL Division Series.
Winning a championship in baseball requires a certain amount of luck, perhaps more luck than in any other major sport. If Chad Pinder doesn’t hit a fly ball to the opposite field at just the right height and angle and direction, under just the right atmospheric conditions, that turns pop flies into 3-run homers instead of fly outs, and the A’s probably lose Game 3 of the AL Division series, instead of beating the Houston Astros 9-7, and I’m probably here writing an essay wrapping up the baseball season, instead of getting ready to watch Game 4 the following day.
The A’s were trailing 7-4 at the time of Pinder’s home run, and it certainly looked like the A’s season was reaching its end. After yesterday’s essay, in which I try to talk myself into a better attitude, I felt like, at that point, I was successfully avoiding both anger and despair, and had reached a level of calm acceptance.
The interesting thing when Pinder hit that home run, for me, was that I didn’t have a “YES! WOOHOO!” type of reaction. Instead, what I think I felt in that moment was gratitude. When that game got tied 7-7, I felt thankful for an extension of hopefulness, however short it may turn out to be. I had never thought of it before, but it makes sense that in fight-or-flight mode, your emotions range between anger and despair, but outside that mode, your emotions range between acceptance and gratefulness.
That’s not to say I didn’t relapse into a fight-or-flight mentality, however. When Kyle Tucker reached base on catcher’s interference in the 8th inning to put two runners on with no outs, after the A’s had just took a 9-7 lead in the top of the inning with a couple of sacrifice flies, I fell into both a bit of anger and despair at the same time, an outrage that the gods of baseball would see fit to once again bring A’s fans so close to making our hopes become reality, only to yank it away from us at the last minute. So I’m trying to adopt the right attitude, but obviously, I’m not a master of this mental technique.
However, Liam Hendriks did manage to close out both the inning and the game without any further damage. I was able to return to the feeling of gratefulness for the memory of this game on this day, and the opportunity to play again the following day.
The Vice Presidential debate was later in the evening. I watched some of it. When you’re in the lead like Biden/Harris are in the polls, all you want from the VP debate is no major screw ups. Harris avoided any major screw ups. In fact, the major popular meme that arose from the debate immediately was a fly that landed on Mike Pence’s head, and sat there for a good two minutes before flying away. If you’re leading, and that’s the kind of thing people are talking about afterwards, that’s a victory.
I think I was able to watch the debate without falling into fight-or-flight mode. Part of that is Pence, who in constrast to Trump is so exceedingly bland that he can say almost the same things as Trump and you barely notice what he said, and a fly that lands on his head while he’s talking becomes more popular than he is. So I’m not going to take too much credit for my own change in attitude for that. I’m sure at this point, I still could not listen to Trump for any length of time without a visceral reaction of disgust and contempt for the guy, which would throw me into fight-or-flight mode again. I still very much want to fight the guy, I want to see him lose in the most humiliating way possible, and have no willingness to forgive him for his many sins against democracy, humanity, and our country.
But that’s today. Maybe tomorrow, we can all get better. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
I’ve you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I have, for the last two entries, been very angry. Anger is not rational. It’s an emotion, the fight in “fight or flight”, designed by nature to get you to be willing to risk harm to yourself to address a threat. And because it’s not rational, because it makes you tolerate far more risk than normal, when you are angry, you don’t think clearly. Your risk assessment becomes inaccurate, and hence the decisions you make become suboptimal.
The fight or flight response is part of human nature, but it’s not exclusive to humans. More accurately, the fight or flight response is part of animal nature, and we are animals. An animal who faces a threat, who is backed into a corner, has two instinctive choices: to fight, or to flee. In humans, “fight or flight” means those things literally, to either resort to violence or to physically run away, but it can extend beyond those options. Humans who fight can shout, yell, insult, sabotage, tell lies, argue. Humans who flee can ignore, disengage, deny, distract.
But human beings are not just any old animal, not purely driven by animal instincts. We possess a trait that animals do not, a concept we call “transcendence.”
Cynical people do not believe in transcendence. They see the world as purely a Darwinian struggle, a battle of the fittest, a contest to see who will fight and who will flee, and if life has any purpose to it, that purpose is to be strong enough to win any fight that comes along.
I am not cynical, or at least, I try not to be. I believe in transcendence. I believe we humans possess the possibility to find a third way out, a choice other than fighting or fleeing, a choice that does not result in a sorting between winners and losers, a choice that makes winners of us all, even the meekest among us who would have to flee at any threat.
To me, as a Christian, that transcendence of our animal natures is embodied in the image of Jesus on the cross. That image, the most ubiquitous symbol in human culture, exists to guide us beyond the dichotomy of fight or flight, Because the thing that directs the fight or flight response is fear, and fear arises out of vulnerability, or specifically, a rejection of vulnerability.
God is not vulnerable. So that is why that image of Jesus, the Son of God, being tortured to death is so important. Jesus willingness to go to the cross tells us that the very most important thing we can do as human beings is to accept, rather than reject, our vulnerability. Because if you don’t accept your vulnerability, you are trapped into the choices of fight or flight. But if you accept that vulnerability, all sorts of other options open up to you. You can transcend cynicism, transcend fight or flight, transcend the Darwinian sorting into winners and losers, and find a way to lift even the meekest among us into inheriting their fair share of the earth.
So when I say I’ve been angry lately, that’s also saying I’ve been a bad Christian lately. When you’re angry, it is a sign that something that is making you feel vulnerable, that you have rejected that vulnerability, and that you have chosen “fight” in the choice between fight or flight. It’s a sign that you have narrowed your options, that you are closing the door on win-win scenarios, ensuring that someone, if not everyone, will lose.
One of the things that is making me angry, of course, is that our country’s leader is probably the single most cynical person in the world. But it’s more than that: my anger arises from his supporters who call themselves Christians, who are rejecting their own vulnerability, who are choosing cynicism over transcendence, and who are throwing our whole country into fight or flight mode. The very people who by their labels as Christians ought to be our country’s antibodies against cynicism, are the ones who instead are most strongly promoting it instead.
And that throws me into fight or flight mode, that I either want to fight these Christians who don’t understand Christianity, or give up in despair that the religion I believe in has become hopelessly corrupt, and to flee my beliefs because of them.
And then, once you get thrown into fight or flight mode, it is much easier to fall into fight or flight mode about everything. So I’m angry about Trump, I’m angry about our local elections in my hometown, I’m angry about the pandemic, I’m angry about racial injustice, and I’m angry about the cheatin’ Houston Astros beating my beloved Oakland Athletics in this AL Division Series.
I was in fight mode when Khris Davis homered early in Game 2 to give the A’s a 1-0 lead. I was in an even bigger fight mode when Sean Manaea gave up a home run to George Springer to give the Astros a 2-1 lead. That home run really ticked me off. Frickin’ asshole cheating Houston Astros, I hate hate hate them.
Then as the game progressed, and it became quite clear that the A’s offense was going to do absolutely nothing against Astros pitching in this game, my mode started to shift. The A’s are going to lose this game. The A’s are going to lose this series. The odds had shifted. I’m in fight or flight mode, and I’m going to lose this fight, so psychologically, I needed to shift into flight mode.
So my mind started moving into the “I don’t care anymore” thought zone. Anger switches into detached pessimistic rationalization. The A’s, without Matt Chapman, aren’t realistically better than any of the other playoff teams. It was highly unlikely they could, as the inferior team, get through four rounds of playoffs without being defeated. It would require an incredible amount of luck. I should be satisfied just winning one series, and ending their cursed streak of playoff futility. I should start thinking about what I’m going to do with my time after the baseball season is over.
Of course, it doesn’t matter if I switch into flight mode about baseball. Baseball doesn’t matter. It’s just an arbitrary consequenceless contest. But some battles have real consequences. It does matter if I switch into flight mode about Cynicism and Fascism. Because getting people to switch into flight mode is exactly what Fascism is all about.
Fascism wants you to know that they are strong. Stronger than you. That’s why Donald Trump makes a show of taking off his mask when he returns to the White House. He wants to show that he has the strength and willpower to defeat every enemy, including a nonsentient virus. Fascists want you to think that will fight you, every step of the way. Fascists want you to think if you fight them, they are too strong to defeat. They want you to think that they will fight you until you are too tired to fight, until you go into flight mode, and stop fighting.
And then they’ve won.
There are two things you can do about that. You can play their game, fighting them every step of the way, making a show of your own strength, real or propagandized, until either they’ve crushed you, or you’ve crushed them. And in the process, you probably crush each other, and everybody loses.
Or, you can transcend that narrow battlefield, step out of fight-or-flight mode, and play a different game.
Transcending the fight-or-flight mode doesn’t mean not fighting. Not fighting is the same as flight mode. You haven’t transcended the fight-or-flight mode if you’re fleeing the confrontation.
Transcending fight-or-flight mode means doing the one main things humans can do but animals can’t: seeing things from someone else’s point of view, and understanding why and how they came to fall into their own fight-or-flight mode, empathizing and forgiving them for reacting as they have in those circumstances, (for “they know not what they do”, as Jesus said on the cross) and then using your intelligence to dig down to the true real cause of those circumstances, and addressing them, even if and while you resist their fight against you.
That’s what transcendence is. That’s what wisdom is. Human wisdom, as only humans are capable of possessing.
Wisdom requires experience, and training, and learning. As the A’s face elimination today, I will be tempted to fall into anger, or despair, if they lose. And maybe I will fail to transcend this moment, fail to lose with grace and wisdom. For I am human–part animal, but also part holy spirit. And if I do fail today, I hope the people around me will forgive me for my failings, as I try to forgive those who fail around me.
I’m still angry.
I was going to put up some comparison of GWB’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on the aircraft carrier, where they declared victory before victory had been achieved, and the Iraq War dragged on and on and on, to how it felt like the A’s first round victory was a championship in itself, and how the early 3-0 lead in Game 1 of the ALDS felt like with their best pitcher on the mound and a fresh bullpen that they’d win this round as well, but then it all fell apart, to how Donald Trump just declared victory over the coronavirus and marched masklessly triumphantly into the White House as if he had conquered the disease all by himself with his pure force of Fascist willpower, when he’s clearly still sick and not out of the woods at all, and he’s just making it worse for everyone else by declaring it so, but to hell with that. I can’t do this.
Because I’m angry. Still angry. More angry. Too angry.
We got about five hours of happiness.
A good plot throws some unexpected curveballs at you, surprises that move the narrative in a direction you were not expecting. That’s difficult to do in a simple, straightforward story. That’s why a lot of plots actually have several subplots that get woven together. Those subplots can interact with each other, add complications and tensions with each other, to help make the story less predictable.
That’s part of the reason I decided to write a blog during this baseball season. There would be ample opportunity to talk not just about baseball, but how baseball interacts with the world at large. As it turns out, I’ve been naturally weaving five different plots together this season:
Hardly a day has gone by since I started this 2020 blog when at least two of those five elements were in play. I thought maybe, when the A’s actually finally win a playoff winner-take-all game, I could just focus on that one thing for one day.
Nope. This is 2020, dude. There’s always something, and then there’s always something else.
I became an A’s fan at the age of 8, in 1974. At the time, the A’s had just won two World Series in a row, both in seven games over their National League opponents, first the Cincinnati Reds in 1972, and then the New York Mets in 1973.
That Game 7 in 1973, just before I started paying attention to baseball, was the last time the A’s had won a winner-take-all game. I have been an A’s fan for 46 years, and not once in all those years had I seen the A’s win a winner-take-all game. They were 0-for-9.
But if the A’s were ever going to win one of these games, it was going to be this one, Game 3 of the 2020 Wild Card Series vs the Chicago White Sox. Most of the time, the A’s have ended up facing their opponent’s ace in the deciding game, and getting out-aced. Not so with the White Sox here. This is what I wrote after Game 1:
Their weakness is that they only have two really good starting pitchers, so if the A’s can somehow manage to win Game 2, they do have a chance in Game 3, because they won’t be facing the kind of mistake-free pitching that gives them such trouble.
The A’s did manage to win Game 2 holding on after a shaky bullpen performance following an excellent Chris Bassitt start. So in Game 3, with the White Sox having burned their two good starting pitchers, the A’s were going to face almost the entirety of the White Sox bullpen for most of the game. And as I’ve written before, the A’s offense gets shut down easily against good pitching, but against mediocre and bad pitching, they feast. And the White Sox bullpen isn’t deep enough to throw nine innings at a high level. At some point, the A’s were going to score.
But the White Sox plans, such as they were, got thwarted early in the game. The White Sox started RHP Dane Dunning to get the A’s to set up a lineup with a lot of left-handed bats in it, and then at the first sign of trouble in the first inning, replaced Dunning with their LH rookie sensation Garrett Crochet, who was fresh out of college, but can throw over 100mph. They planned to ride Crochet as long as possible, but Crochet came out in the second inning “only” throwing 95mph, and then departed with forearm pain. The rest of the day, the White Sox pitching usage was a pure scramble.
The A’s didn’t exactly have their ace going either, as the White Sox chew up left-handed pitching, and their best available starter was Sean Manaea, who is left handed. Their right handed options were Mike Fiers and Frankie Montas. Fiers is aging, his fastball velocity has dropped below 90mph, and he’d be a fly ball pitcher against a home run hitting team on a warm afternoon, so he would not an ideal matchup either. But the third choice is Frankie Montas, who threw over 110 pitches on Sunday, and would be on short rest. Plus, he was injured in the middle of the season, and wasn’t quite the same after returning, performing inconsistently at best, although his best start was his last one. So every option had flaws.
Fiers was completely ineffective. He managed to wiggle out of the first inning without giving up a run, but only because a couple of balls were hit hard right at fielders. In the second, he gave up the longest home run ever recorded at the Oakland Coliseum to Luis Robert. He was then replaced by Yusmeiro Petit, who has similar stuff to Fiers, and was similarly ineffective against this White Sox lineup, and yielded two runs. The White Sox led 3-0 after two innings.
But that’s where the game turned, for the rest of the game, the A’s were throwing the strength of their pitching roster out there, and the White Sox were throwing their weakness. The A’s scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to a two-run homer by Sean Murphy and a couple of bases loaded walks to give the A’s a lead 4-3. Frankie Montas came in for a couple of innings, and yielded a tying run, but was otherwise effective. Nothing was hit hard. The run was scored on a seeing-eye grounder through the infield.
In the bottom of the fifth, the A’s got something they had not gotten since the 2014 Wild Card game, five games previous: a hit with runners in scoring position! Chad Pinder singled in two runs with two outs, to give the A’s a two-run lead. The A’s bullpen then lived up to its billing as the team strength, shutting out the White Sox the rest of the game, and the A’s held on to win the game 6-4, and the series 2-1.
I immediately posted the following on Twitter:
WHAT IS THIS FEELING
In all 46 years of my baseball fandom, my favorite team had never won a winner-take-all game. Not once. Time after time, they’ve been outpitched, have failed to get the clutch hit they needed, had failed to hold onto a lead if they got one. Every possible thing that could go wrong, has gone wrong.
For once, finally, nothing went wrong. For once, finally, the breaks went the A’s way. For once, finally, the A’s won a winner-take-all game, and advanced to the next round.
For the next five hours, I was very happy. I rewatched the highlights. I listened to the radio version of the highlights. I listened to the online post game show. I felt like I was floating, like all my burdens had been lifted,
And then 2020 twisted the plot again. This was fated to be a day where the baseball plot met the politics plot met the pandemic plot.
Just before 10pm, I was hanging out on Twitter, still basking in the glow of the A’s victory, when people started quote tweeting the President. Now I have President Trump muted and blocked in every way possible, so I didn’t know exactly what was going on, so I clicked through one of the blocked tweets, and found that the President and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19.
Oh, crap. Holy crap.
And then it shortly thereafter became clear that an event on Saturday at the White House to welcome Supreme Court nominee Amy Comey Barrett had become a superspreader event. Lots of people gathered closely together, outdoors mind you but with very few people wearing masks, while also gathering in smaller groups indoors inside the White House.
I mean… it… sigh.
This is the single stupidest thing that’s ever happened in American politics. It’s just flat out stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. Pull out the thesaurus: unintelligent, ignorant, dense, dull-witted, mindless, foolish…
I mean: professional sports have been carrying out an experiment for you right in plain sight. What works. What doesn’t work. You have to deliberately be trying to be stupid to not know how to keep people safe in your work environment in a pandemic. But they completely failed to learn a single thing from the mistakes that pro sports have been making for them. And then they went out and made not only those mistakes, but more stupid ones as well.
Judging by the timeline, President Trump was probably infected and contagious in the debate with Joe Biden on Tuesday. He would quite easily have infected his opponent. It’s astoundingly reckless and negligent and stupid and incompetent. If Biden didn’t get infected, even if he took every precaution save wearing a mask during the debate itself, he’s quite lucky.
How the hell are these dumbshits in charge of our country?
They have had, all along, all the information they’ve needed to keep people safe, and healthy. Not just the people working in the White House, but everywhere, all across the country. They’ve had the information. And they chose, deliberately, to ignore that information. They chose, deliberately, stupidity over wisdom.
And now, the President of the United States, our Commander in Chief, is sick, and from what I understand of the symptoms that are leaking through their American Pravda, he has possibly about a 25% chance of dying from this.
I’m furious. Absolutely furious. You cannot make any country great by being deliberately stupid. A country that dumb is going to lose in the long run, because it’s going to compete with 200 other countries that aren’t being stupid on purpose.
I don’t wish ill health on anyone, so I hope these idiots recover from their moronic COVID-19 outbreak, and then get the steamrolling they deserve in the upcoming election, so that these stupid, dumbass losers can go crawl under a rock to live amongst the slimy salamanders, until the slimy salamanders get tired of their idiocy and send them whereever creatures too stupid to live under a rock get sent by furious, fed up, angry, slimy salamanders.