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8:45PM

The week that was for the suddenly relevant A’s

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The problem was irrelevancy. The Oakland Athletics seemed less in danger of dropping in the standings than dropping out of sight. Or out of mind.

Virtually the only stories about the A’s were negative, dealing with the search for a ballpark location and attendance woes. What, only 9,157 against the World Series champion Astros? Even fewer against the Rangers and White Sox?

Then came the Week That Was, the week the A’s made noise and made news, from a let-’em-watch-for-free capacity crowd of 46,000-plus at the Coliseum to that 14-inning, nearly six-hour win, to a no-hitter by Sean Manaea, to a series victory over the supposedly unbeatable Boston Red Sox.

Yes, after Sunday’s 4-1 win over Boston, the A’s had won six of seven, one at Seattle (that was Manaea’s also) and then five of the six at Oakland; had evened their record at 11-11; had a clubhouse full of media asking how all this happened and had manager Bob Melvin agreeing as the team prepared to fly to Texas, “This was a nice home stand.”

Absolutely. This was a home stand when the pitching caught up with the hitting. In the last two games, the Red Sox scored just two runs. It’s well understood in whatever sport you choose, if the opponent doesn’t score you can’t lose.

Fans? After the Tuesday freebie — if nothing else, that proved there are people out there who will come to A’s games, night or day, warm or cold, short or long — the gate slipped to 13,321 in that marathon on Wednesday, then 23,473 on Friday night against Boston, 25,746 for the no-hit night against Boston and 29,804 on Sunday against Boston.

True, a decent percentage were those semi-obnoxious New England expatriates who fled the weather and congestion back east and show up in California as if they’re the only people who know the difference between Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio (both California natives, of course). But as Oakland management understands, a ticket sold is a ticket sold, no matter the buyer’s personal preferences.

This is what the A’s got on a Sunday when the first-pitch temperature was in the 70s and the post-game music as the kids (and not a few parents) ran the bases was from the Beatles:

  • A beautiful job of pitching by starter Daniel Mengden (he of waxed mustache and fine curve) and, after he came out after 6 1/3 innings, by relievers Yusmeiro Petit, Ryan Buchter and Blake Treinen (the winner).
  • Great leadoff batting by shortstop Marcus Semien, who began the first with a single and scored, then with one out in the eighth singled and scored. “He hits anywhere in the lineup,” said Melvin. “Leadoff against lefties, and he has power.”
  • A big blast by Khris Davis, whose home run over the left field fence scored Semien and Stephen Piscotty, who had followed Semien’s single with one of his own. ”Khris hammered the ball,” said Melvin, sounding like a TV producer. “He’s a three-run homer waiting to happen.”

Have to use that line. Hello sweetheart. Get me rewrite.

What Davis got was his sixth home run of the season. “That was one of his biggest,” said Semien of Davis. “I’ve seen him hit walkoffs, grand slams. He has real power.”

What the A’s now have is a feeling of confidence. The Red Sox arrived with a 17-2 record. Accolades were being flung like tea into Boston Harbor back in colonial days. Then poor little stepped-on Oakland takes two out of three, including Sunday's defeat of lefthander David Price, who entered the game with a 1-0 record and a 2.25 earned run average.

Mengden started the day at 2-2 with a 4.50 ERA. It’s now 3.86. ”He’s able to go deep in the game,” said Melvin of Mengden. “He’s learned over the last year not to drown the strike zone.”

Pitching, pitching, pitching.

“It started with us holding them down,” said Melvin. “We know we can score. When we get pitching, our chances are good.”

They got pitching. They got hitting. No less important, they got attention. What a week.

 

9:22AM

One of 162, but for A’s — in 14 innings — one of a kind

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — It was just one of 162 games, but one of a kind. One that lasted seemingly forever. One the Oakland Athletics could have lost — and should have lost. But one to be remembered.

The long season. That’s baseball, but what also is baseball is one game that shows a team’s courage, a team’s ability, a team’s determination. For the A’s, that game very well may have been Wednesday afternoon, in front of a Coliseum crowd that was too small but with a result that was oh so big.

The numbers are remarkable, more than 500 pitches, more than five hours — in fact, at 5:48 very close to six — 49 players used, 14 innings played.

But the number that mattered most was one, the differential that the A’s — once behind 6-1, if early — and trailing most of the game, had in beating the Chicago White Sox, 12-11.

The ultimate run, with two out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 14th, with darkness approaching, with a position player, Jake Smolinski, warming up in the bullpen because Oakland was out of pitchers, was driven in on a single by Matt Olson, scoring Marcus Semien from third.

A crowd that, including some 3,000 Science of Baseball Education students, was announced at 13,321 but had dwindled to maybe 500. After all, it was 6:25 p.m., long after the first pitch at 12:37.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” had been sung twice, in the seventh inning and again in the 14th.

“You come back, you use your entire bullpen, you’re one inning away from using a position player (to pitch),” said A’s manager Bob Melvin, “after fighting that hard, one game seems to mean a little more than the others. This is one of them.”

The night before, the A’s celebrated their 50th anniversary in Oakland, moving from Kansas City to start the 1968 season. The gates at the Coliseum figuratively were flung open. Tickets were free. Attendance was enormous, 48,592.

In a season of getting off the mat, of possible progress for a needed stadium, of re-grabbing the interest and success of the 1980s, even of the mid 2000s, that game was momentous. Unlike so much of the Athletics' struggle, it could not be ignored.

And yet it could be argued that from a standpoint of pure baseball, playing the game, no less significantly winning the game, the victory on Wednesday, in the afterglow of Tuesday's excitement, was more newsworthy.

In a virtual vacuum, with the talk about the Sharks and the Warriors, the A’s, apparently headed for a loss, instead swept the White Sox. Not a broom in sight.

“These games,” said Melvin. “I remember I was with the Diamondbacks, we went 18 innings in a 1-0 game at San Francisco. Guys get antsy as the game goes along. They really want to end it and have a tendency to want to be that guy. That’s why the games go on a little bit longer. You don’t have the typical approach. But we did in the last inning.”

With two out and no one on in the 14th, Semien, a Cal guy as is Melvin, singled to left. Jed Lowrie, who had hit a two-run homer in the eighth for a brief 11-10 Oakland lead, came to bat and Semien stole second. Then Lowrie walked and so did Khris Davis, loading the bases.

“In that situation,” Melvin reminded, “it doesn’t take a home run, just finding a patch of grass somewhere.”

That patch was in left field, and Olson, with his fourth hit, found it. Oakland had won its fourth straight.

“It was like a heavyweight fight,” said Olson. “We just kept trading blows the whole game until we found a way to put one across. I’d never been in a game that long. That was a good win for us.

“I had been feeling a little off at the plate and did some extra work in the morning. As the game went on, I started feeling better.”

He went with the pitch by James Shields, the starter forced to pitch relief, and instantly seemed to be swarmed by more teammates than there were people in the stands.

Among the elated was the man who hours before had been the A’s starter, Andrew Triggs, who lasted a mere one and a third innings, getting pummeled for six runs including a grand slam in the second by Yoan Moncada.

“I didn’t have any feel on my pitches and didn’t have command,” said Triggs. “That’s a bad combination. I put us in a hole for sure. I didn’t do my job. But there was a silver lining. We won the game, which hands down is the most important thing.”

Even if it takes a long 14 innings.

8:55AM

Kerr on Klay: ‘His second half was just an explosion’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — The frustration was over. The game was as good as over. Klay Thompson, missing shots at the start — “they made it tough on us,” he said — hit a big one at the end. He raised his arms. The fans at Oracle raised the roof.

The Warriors were safe, winners at home once again over the San Antonio Spurs, 116-101.

A must win. The next two games of this first-round playoff are at San Antonio, where the Dubs could lose one. Maybe two. But now they won’t be in a hole either way.

Now they lead the series, 2-0, and as the cliché goes, they’ve held serve, keeping the home-court advantage. It was a struggle, as it figured to be. In the playoffs, the team that loses the opener does everything imaginable, tactically, physically, to win the second game — to turn the series in their direction.

“They just took it to us the whole first half,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “I think that’s the second-best defense in the league statistically, and they got after us. They took away everything we were trying to do.”

They held the Warriors to 47 points, while scoring 53. They held Thompson to 7 points.

“Klay didn’t have much going in the first half,” commented Kerr accurately. But there are two halves in a game, and the Warriors always have been a second-half team.

Monday night, Thompson was a second-half scorer.

Of his 31 points, one fewer than Kevin Durant, 24 came after intermission.

“His second half was just an explosion,” Kerr said of Thompson. “KD was just methodical as he always is.”

A fractured thumb kept Thompson out of eight games in March, and with Stephen Curry injured — he still isn’t ready — the Warrior offense was awful. But Kerr believes Klay may have benefitted from not being able to play.

“He finally got some time off,” said Kerr of Thompson. “He has to defend the opponent’s best guard night in and night out. He never misses a game. He’s been in the league seven years, and I don’t know how many games he’s missed, but not a lot. So I think in hindsight that probably wasn’t the worst thing for him to get a few weeks off. He looks really fresh and sharp right now.”

Thompson, elated with his finish (he ended up 12 of 20, 5 of 8 on threes) didn’t disagree with the theory. “Unfortunately it hurts when you do,” he said, and the explanation could have been taken literally, “but in the long run we try to play ‘til June every season.”

In the first quarter Monday night, Thompson had only two points, three shots, one basket. He would fail on four of his first five.

“I don’t think it was focus,” he said. “It’s the playoffs. It’s hard to have a good game every game, especially against the Spurs, because I’m sure they’re motivated, and they played so hard in the first half.

“They were so physical and knocking us off our cuts, fighting every screen, forcing turnovers. Some of it was on us, not being sure at the ball. But give them credit.”

What the Warriors were giving the Spurs was the ball, 11 turnovers in the first half; that was reduced to four in the second half.

You’ve heard it before. Cold or hot, a shooter must keep shooting. Thompson, cold, did that and got hot.

“It doesn’t matter whether I make five in a row or miss five in a row,” said Thompson. “I’m going to have the same mentality down the road: That’s being aggressive to make a good play. That doesn’t mean just getting a shot. That means making the right play, because that usually will get you in rhythm, if you just make a play for a teammate.”

One of those teammates, Curry, is unable to get on the floor because of a severe knee injury. As Thompson is well aware.

“I mean, there’s definitely extra pressure,” said Thompson about Curry’s absence, “but in my mind, no, I don’t need to put pressure. I just go out there and be myself, be free-minded and have fun.”

As he did in the second half.

8:19AM

Newsday (N.Y.): Warriors defeat Spurs with recharged defense

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Golden State Warriors went big in the lineup, and in their first playoff game in defense of their NBA championship, went big on the scoreboard.

With 6-6 Andre Iguodala at guard in place of the injured Steph Curry, the Warriors controlled the ball and the boards and overwhelmed the Spurs, 113-92, in the opener of their Western Conference first-round series Saturday. They outrebounded San Antonio 51-30.

Read the full story here.

Copyright © 2018 Newsday. All rights reserved. 

9:43PM

Giants: Glass half full, bleachers half empty

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — So we deal with that question of whether the glass is half full or the bleachers are half empty, which they were again Wednesday at AT&T Park when the Giants played well enough to tease but not to win.

These are new times for the San Francisco nine. You lose nearly 100 games, you’re not thinking of championships — unless your brain is half empty — but of progress.

And although the home stand ended with a 7-3 loss to the Goldschmidts, a.k.a., the Diamondbacks, the Giants seem to be improved.

They are 5-6 in this young season. A year ago after 11 games they were 4-7. One small step for the Giants, one big leap for, well, not Hunter Pence, who has lurched and swung (and missed) his away to a .194 batting average so far.

Of course, one of the new guys in town, Evan Longoria, is — yikes —hitting .132.  What’s with these free agents who changed teams and leagues? Longoria and the guy the Giants wanted but didn’t get, Giancarlo Stanton, about to strike out more in two weeks than Joe DiMaggio did in a season?  

Yes, the Giants need power, as verified again by losing to Arizona. On Tuesday night, slumping Paul Goldschmidt of the D-backs hit a ball nearly to Alameda, although the Giants managed to win.

On Wednesday, he hit another just as far for another homer and one far enough for a double, prompting a journalist to semi-seriously ask Giants manager Bruce Bochy whether Goldschmidt ought to be walked at every at bat, as opponents once did with Barry Bonds.

“He was one of the coldest hitters when he came here,” Bochy said of Goldschmidt, who still is only at .190 with two homers. “He took advantage of some mistakes, some pitches up in the strike zone. But the guy behind him (A.J. Pollock) has been swinging the bat pretty good (now .283), and you don’t want to start putting a lot of guys on right away.”

The Giants had their own guys on, early, and Buster Posey hit a two-run homer to tie the game, 3-3, in the fifth. But San Francisco is missing its three top starting pitchers, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija, forcing new kids to start and everyone to work in relief.

The new kids, Tyler Beede on Tuesday night and Andrew Suarez on Wednesday, both making their major league debuts, weren’t bad at all. The bullpen? Can we talk about the attendance (35,041)? Yes, a new era.

In six of their 11 games, the Giants have scored two runs or fewer. So after the Wednesday defeat, someone asked Bochy about the offense, as it were. “These guys are too good,” he replied, implying the hitters will hit eventually.

On the trip, the Giants play the Padres, the Diamondbacks (yes, again) and then the Angels. Scoring a run or two against Los Angeles or Arizona won’t be enough.

“Hunter Pence’s timing is off,” said Bochy, still believing his outfielder can overcome the years and the injuries. “He’s pulling out a little bit. Maybe he’s trying to hit home runs.”

He doesn’t have a single one.

What Sam Dyson is trying to do as a relief pitcher is get batters out when runners are on. In the top of the sixth, he failed. Replacing Suarez after Ketel Marte doubled, Dyson faced Goldschmidt, who banged one off the left field fence for his own double, an RBI and a D-backs lead.

“He’s been up and down,” Bochy said of Dyson. “He’s a guy with experience. We put him in a tight ballgame. We’ve got to get him on track. I’d like to think he’s going to find his game here. That pitch to Goldschmidt was nowhere near where he wanted it.

“This bullpen has been taxed quite a bit. He knew we needed him.“

That they do. They need everybody. They also need a man who can hit home runs like Paul Goldschmidt.