By Art Spander
OAKLAND — The joy is gone from the Athletics’ season. There’s a sense of helplessness at O.co Coliseum, a feeling that no matter what happens — and technically, they even could get to the World Series — the ending will be gloomy.
They’ll never catch the Angels, who remarkably about a month ago they led by 3½ games and now trail by 10½. That’s a given. The Angels got hot as the A’s went cold. And even by losing, the Angels on Tuesday night reduced their magic number to two.
What the A’s needed in their return home after a tough road trip with a decent ending was not only a victory but an efficiently played game, one that their fans — starting with the 19,385 in attendance — could use as a benchmark. Hey, they’re out of it, but they’re in it.
No, they’re not.
The A’s were dreadful Tuesday. Scott Kazmir threw two wild pitches. The infielders threw balls all over the place, charged with only two errors. The Texas Rangers, the team with the worst record in the majors, beat Oakland, 6-3. And everyone including A’s manager Bob Melvin was rocked mentally.
It’s like dressing up in a new suit and five minutes at dinner spilling ketchup on the trousers. It’s embarrassing. Or in Melvin’s words, “It’s disappointing.”
Poor Bo Mel. All a manager can to is encourage his players and fill out the lineup card. OK, in that madding lefty-right business, in the eighth, he can yank Brandon Moss, who had homered in the sixth, for righthanded batting Nate Freiman, who struck out. But playing percentages isn’t entirely sinful. Playing as did the A’s — spaced out, it seems — is very sinful. And very irritating.
“We just didn’t look like we were ready to play,” said Melvin, “for whatever reason. We got beat all the way around.”
The A’s yet may get to the wild card game. Then what? Do they perform as they did Tuesday night, watching Rangers' grounders bounce their way to hits and then watch Jake Smolinski hit his first major-league home run? Or are they able to reach back to the team they used to be in May and June?
“It was a hard thing to do,” Melvin said of pinch-hitting for Moss. Moss hasn’t had much success against lefties, and the Rangers had brought in Neal Cotts. Well and good, but a guy puts one into the seats his previous at bat, even against starter Nick Tepesch, and you figure he’s doing something right.
Then again, pulling Moss and inserting Freiman wasn’t the reason the A’s got bounced. They were, in a word, inept. They were too much like the team that lost 21 of its last 31 games. Whatever happened to the team that won 30 of its first 51?
“We didn’t play very good defense tonight,” said Melvin. “That’s the disappointing part. There’s an urgency.”
There’s also a mystery, or is there? The A’s have not been the same since they traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester the last day of July.
The A’s surmised with their budget they couldn’t sign Cespedes when his contract expired at the end of the 2015 season. The A’s — general manager Billy Beane — surmised, as the last two years in the playoffs they couldn’t beat Detroit without one more great starting pitcher.
Everything flip-flopped. Now the A’s not only might not face the Tigers, they might not even make the postseason. And the young A’s, who were built both physically and mentally around the enthusiastic Cespedes, fell apart after the deal.
The other kids start thinking, “If they trade him, what’s going to happen to me?” They lose their confidence. The team starts losing games.
So, Cespedes, a fan favorite, is gone. Lester probably also will be gone. And worst of all, the A’s postseason chances may be gone. Such a fragile balance.
Melvin, who’s been through the good times and bad times, with Arizona before coming over to manage the A’s, was asked how he deals with what happened to the A’s against Texas.
“Yes,” he admitted, “it bothers you. But you have to come back and play another game.”
And, they hope, play it far better than the last one.