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8:08PM

Crossing the bridge: A’s against the Giants

OAKLAND -- The great Roger Kahn called it “transpontine madness,’’ the baseball played across the East River in New York, across the bridge, alluding specifically to the Dodgers in Brooklyn, that borough of individuality.

The passion isn’t quite the same in the Bay Area, where the bridge is longer but the rivalry shorter and surely less intense. The years don’t extend back to the early part of the 20th century. The feeling doesn’t preclude fans wearing hats that carry the logos and colors of both teams.

But there is something special when the Athletics face the Giants, which they do this weekend in three games at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. Oakland figuratively is the unwanted child, living in, well, not poverty, but hardly in the elegance and with the history of the Giants.

The A’s, however, as the upper management used to tout in the commercials and on the billboards, have won four World Series since they took up residence in Northern California in 1968. Or four more than San Francisco since the Giants came to the region 10 years earlier.

Interleague play it is, and if the purists want to find fault, what would you rather have, Giants against the Nationals, A’s against the Royals?

The fans love this stuff. So do the players, especially the A’s, who Thursday, down 3-0, rallied to beat the Minnesota Twins, 4-3 at the Coliseum.

Especially the A’s because, as fate would dictate, Rajai Davis, claimed off waivers a year ago April from those Giants, singled home pinch runner Chris Denofria in the bottom of the ninth of a game then tied 3-3.

“We’re happy to come out on top,’’ said A’s manager Bob Geren. A two-game losing streak had ended. A seven-game home stand had ended with five wins.

“Now,’’ said Geren, “let’s go across the bay.’’

Now let’s see the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, 5-1, 2008 National League Cy Young winner, against the A’s Vin Mazzaro, 2-0, earned run average 0.00.

“They’re playing well,’’ Geren said of the Giants, who did lose at Arizona, 2-1, on Thursday but finished their road trip 6-4. “We’re going to be seeing three outstanding pitchers, and we got some good-looking ones of our own.”

Lincecum, 300-game winner Randy Johnson and 8-1 Matt Cain are scheduled for the Giants, with, in order, Mazzaro, Josh Outman (4-0) and Brett Anderson (3-6) for the A’s.

“Lincecum throws hard and has a good breaking ball,’’ Geren said, emphasizing what everyone knows. “Mazzaro is off to a great start, and except maybe for spring training they haven’t seen him at all, It’s a good park to pitch in, so it should be a nice pitchers’ duel.’’

Then, showing a perverse nature too often missing, Geren added, “Watch, it will be 11-10.’’

Whatever it is, it will be enjoyable. Not a lot of hatred when the teams meet, not like the Cubs and White Sox or the Yankees and Mets. We’re too mellow. And somewhat lacking in intolerance. But not in interest.

“It’s going to be fun,’’ said Mazzaro, brought up a couple of weeks back from Sacramento. “There’s going to be a good crowd. I’m excited. I’m going against a Cy Young winner. I’m pumped.’’

He and the other A’s pitchers also will be going against the Giants from the batter’s box. No designated hitter in the National League park. “My swing is not too good,’’ said Mazzaro, “but I think I can get the bunts down. I’m happy to swing the bat against (Lincecum). I can’t wait until Friday.’’

AT&T will be filled or virtually filled. For the A’s, that will be a change. On Thursday, the A’s, who had won seven of their previous nine games, drew a disgraceful 13,383 fans to the Coliseum.

“The atmosphere will be different over there,’’ said Trevor Cahill. He was the A’s starter Thursday and was effective for the most part, other than the fourth when Joe Crede went after a sinker Geren said usually results in a ground out but this time resulted in a three-run homer.

“(Wednesday) night, they kind of snatched one from us,’’ said Geren. “Today we won one they probably should have won. To bounce back and win this one is a pretty good feeling.’’

Cahill was feeling more than pretty good even if had no decision, Brad Ziegler earning the victory.

“We wanted to get back on track,’’ he said. “It’s going to be a huge series against the Giants. When we cross over the bridge, it’s going to be so good to go over there with some confidence.’’

Not much madness around here, but indeed a great deal of anticipation.
9:37PM

A’s Beane: “We’re doing the best we can with what we have’’

OAKLAND -- This was the week that was for the Oakland Athletics, the week that presaged what very well might be. This was the week the A’s could step off the treadmill and not so much take a deep breath as a long look at the future.

All we’ve heard, because of rumors, because of speculation, is who the A’s will trade. There’s Matt Holliday, the well-paid slugger. Or Bobby Crosby, the struggling infielder. Or Orlando Cabrera, because every team needs a shortstop. Every team including the A’s.

But Billy Beane, Mr. Moneyball, the general manager, who literally was on a treadmill, because he chooses to work out in the facility next to the clubhouse while the game is on, tells us to stop speculating and guessing. Tells us to stop dealing in extremes.

“People say you’re going for it or you’re not going for it,’’ Beane said Sunday, not long after Oakland went for its sixth straight win and a three-game series sweep, beating the Baltimore Orioles, 3-0.

“Sometimes you just are trying to do the best you can with what you have. We spend what we have here. OK, we got this; we can trade for Matt Holliday. We can sign Jason Giambi, sign (Nomar) Garciaparra to help our young players. You cut the piece of the pie into as many bites as you can.’’

Six in a row for the first time in three seasons. Seven and a third shutout innings by rookie Vin Mazzaro, the real Jersey Boy, in his second start. His total 13 2/3 scoreless innings is the longest streak for a starter beginning his career with Oakland.

Six in a row and questions whether Beane, as we’ve read, plans to dismantle this group, once more dealing the reality of the present for the possibility of the future. Beane contends he does not.

“One of the most important things coming into the season was to develop our young pitching staff,’’ said Beane. “For a small or mid-market team to sustain success for any amount of time, they have to have pitching that comes from within.

“In the off-season we brought in some veteran guys, and one reason was to give these young pitchers as much of a cushion as we could. We were hoping we would be a better offensive team to give the young guys room for error. It didn’t start out that way, because of injuries and the fact we just weren’t hitting. But what’s happened now, quite frankly, is the young pitchers have taken the bull by the horns, and we sort of responded by hitting better.

“So it’s kind of the young guys leading the other guys.’’

The young guys are Mazzaro, 22, Darren Cahill, 21, Brett Anderson, 21, and Josh Outman, 24. Add 25-year-old Dallas Braden, and every A’s starter has at least one win in those last six games.

“It’s nice to see,’’ said Beane, “the last two weeks, the last 20 games or so, these kids have a sub-3.00 ERA. The starting pitching has been pretty amazing. And if you got that, you’ve got a chance every game.’’

Across the Bay, the Giants have that in Lincecum, Cain, Zito and Randy Johnson. Now the A’s have it. And should have it the coming years. It’s the early 2000s all over again, with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. It’s visions of contending teams, if not immediately then not far away.

“When Hudson, Mulder and Zito came up,’’ said Beane, “they not only were good but they were good right away, and so we had them for a long time and didn’t have to spend much time developing them.

“Everyone wants to win every year. When we traded some of our guys, we acquired a lot of pitching, knowing that once again for us to maintain long-term success, we have to have that pitching.’’

They’ve got it. Those six games, when the bleeding as stopped, when the A’s staggered back from a 19-30 record on June 1, the Oakland starters have allowed only five earned runs in 40 1/3 innings, a 1.12 earned run average. It’s hard to lose if the other team doesn’t score.

The real question was whether the A’s were going to lose players. Whether Holliday, now up to a .282 batting average after sinking to .227, would be swapped. When Cabrera, signed during spring training, would be dealt.

“It’s natural speculation because of our market place,’’ said Beane. The A’s drew only 17,208 on Sunday. “And because of our history. But we don’t have payroll issues. We’ve managed our payroll. And at the end of the day, we want to have as good a year as we can.

“Where that puts us I don’t know, but the last week at least shows what can happen.’’
7:55AM

A’s make a mess of game in which Giambi makes history

OAKLAND –  History? The Athletics made some Saturday night. At least Jason Giambi did. They also made a mess of a game they should have won, but of course did not win.

Because they are the Athletics.

This one was as bad it gets for a team that’s become very bad.  That’s become terrible. That’s become atrocious. That’s always been agonizing.

A team that has the second worst record in the American League, the third worst in the majors.

A team that carried a 5-1 lead into the eighth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who are almost as awful as the A’s, and then ended up losing to the D-backs, 8-7, in 11 excruciating innings.

Remember that Sinatra song, “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week’’? Not this Saturday night. Not with 21,295 people in the stands at the Coliseum. Maybe a majority came for the post-game fireworks show, not that it matters. Maybe a majority came for the in-game fireworks.

Four home runs by the A’s, including the 400th of his career by Giambi. Another by Jack Cust, who, with practically every living soul in the stadium playing him to pull to right, where he had homered in the first, bunted safely down the third-base line. Another by Adam Kennedy. Another by Nomar Garciaparra.

Four home runs, and a seventh loss in the last nine games. And a 25th loss in 40 games overall.

Four home runs and no pitching. If you don’t count Edgar Gonzalez, up from the minors and making his first start for Oakland, against his last big-league team, Arizona. Went five innings and gave up only a run. You mean the A’s were going to win one? Ha!

Russ Springer, the third of seven – yes, seven – A’s pitchers started the eighth for the A’s and gave up three straight hits. He was replaced by Andrew Bailey, who after an out allowed a single to Eric Byrnes that scored two runs and a double to Chad Tracy that scored two more. And it was 5-5.

Where it stayed until the 11th, when Craig Breslow and Santiago Casilla combined to disprove the label “reliever’’ as Arizona scored three runs. That Oakland got a couple in the bottom of the inning only proved all the more agitating.

Especially for Giambi, who in the 13th year of his career returned to the A’s with the idea he might provide a bit of power, which finally he has done, and some credibility.

“We’ve got to stop giving away games,’’ said Giambi. “Hopefully we can turn it around before we bury ourselves.’’

They’ve already been buried. The season is done. All that’s left is pride. And it’s not even June.

Giambi drew some cheers from a crowd that at game’s close, 3 hours and 44 minutes after the beginning, was given to booing. Understandably.

“It’s an incredible thing,’’ Giambi said of becoming the 44th player to reach the 400-homer mark. “I had lots of ups and downs. The biggest thing is it was here in Oakland . I wish it could have been sooner, but I’m glad they got to see it where I started.’’

What they also saw was an A’s team unable to free itself from failure. Oakland hit those four home runs off the man the A’s traded to Arizona, Dan Haren, the most he ever allowed in a game. But you’ve got to stop the other team, and Oakland could not.

How’s it going to change? In a stretch of four games at Detroit and Tampa Bay a few days ago, the A’s were outscored a combined 47-13. That’s not baseball, that’s a debacle.

Those billboards advertise that the A’s are “100 percent baseball.’’  In truth, they’re 100 percent sad. The A’s play them close, and they lose. The A’s get smacked around, they lose. As if we needed any additional proof, that’s the mark of a team without hope.

Oakland signed Giambi and Matt Holliday, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra. But none is a pitcher. None comes out of the bullpen.

Even the bottom feeders in baseball win 60 to 70 games, but that won’t do around here. For the last year we kept hearing all that wasted talk about the A’s building a ballpark. What they need to build is a team.

Jason Giambi and the batters did what they could. It wasn’t enough. It’s never enough when a game that should be won turns into a game that’s a reflection of a season beyond repair.
9:31AM

A’s show life on Geren’s ejection, Giambi’s homers

OAKLAND -- The manager finally showed some life. So did his first baseman. Not the afternoon the Oakland Athletics had wished, but one that offered a great deal of possibility, and in May baseball that is not to be underestimated.

Bob Geren got bounced. Indeed, the guy in charge of the A’s, the man who seemingly never displays any emotion, who treats the old national pastime as if he were wearing a suit and tie rather than a uniform, was ejected.

“It was nice to see Bob support his players,’’ said Jason Giambi. It was nicer to see Giambi have his first multi-home run game since last June, when he hit the 398th and 399th of his career.

All that, the excitement, the ejection, the long balls, only proved to be diversionary, as the Toronto Blue Jays beat the A’s 6-4 on Saturday, before only 15,817 at the Oakland Coliseum. The Athletics did virtually zilch until the ninth -- for a while they had more errors (two) than hits (one), when at least they rallied enough to get the winning run to first with two outs.

A’s general manager Billy Beane likes his non-playing employees to not to lose their cool -- in other words to be the opposite of the Billy Martins and Earl Weavers. Not much for the TV cameras or journalists seeking inflammatory quotes, but that’s the way it is. And Geren, pleasant, informed, is the way he is.

It was the way home plate umpire Paul Nauert was that irritated A’s cleanup batter Matt Holliday, who having been called out on strikes on a questionable pitch in the first was agitated when he was called out on strikes on a questionable pitch in the seventh.

When Holliday started arguing, Geren jogged from the dugout, said something to Nauert and with the ump’s theatrical wave of the arm and thumb was tossed.

“I didn’t really ask for an explanation,’’ Geren would say later. “I just told my part of the call. But you can’t argue balls and strikes. There wasn’t much to it.’’

There’s a great deal to Giambi’s best day since he was signed by Oakland in January with the thought he might bring back some of the magic from 2000 and 2001 before he joined the Yankees. Jason was hitting only .202 and had just one homer in 26 games.

Then, Saturday after a walk and strikeout against Toronto starter Brian Tallet, Giambi homered off Tallet in the seventh and off Scott Downs in the ninth.

“I’m swinging the bat better and better,’’ said Giambi. “I swung it good the other night, but I didn’t get any hits. That’s part of the process. You can’t worry about results. You just have to worry about the ingredients.’’

For some, the worry was that the 38-year-old Giambi had lost bat speed, that after the injuries and the steroid use, he had been down a road too extended and too hard to allow him to recapture the past.

The 399 home runs? “It means I’ve played the game a long time,’’ said Giambi. Indeed, he arrived in the majors in 1995. “I’m hoping to get this team going. That’s what I’m here for, to help lead this team in the right direction.’’

Neither Giambi nor the A’s have succeeded so far. Oakland did have a two-game win streak, after four straight defeats, but against the Jays it was down quickly. Yes, the rally indicated the A’s haven’t quit. But something more than tenacity and hustle are needed when you’re in last place in the American League West.

The A’s wore their awful-looking black jerseys Saturday, and while  laundry never will be as important as the players who wear it, the franchise has too much history to go around looking like the Rays or Marlins. Especially when the Athletics’ home whites are as classy as any baseball attire.

You wouldn’t see the Yankees or Dodgers in black at home (or on the road), so the A’s should dispense with the idea and the jerseys.

What Geren said the rest of us should get rid of is the belief that Giambi still can’t hit a baseball.

“Ever since a week ago in Seattle, when he hit a ball to the opposite field about as far as you can, 420 feet, without leaving the stadium, his swing has been shorter, crisper.

“Reaching 399 home runs is quite a milestone. Just to play in the major leagues 10 years is very hard to accomplish. And he’s averaged a lot of home runs, almost 40 a year. That’s tremendous.’’

Two homers for one man and an ejection for another. Now that’s baseball we haven’t seen from the A’s for a long while.
10:15PM

Cust becomes A’s designated viewer and slammer

OAKLAND -- Jack Cust isn’t much different from a lot of men who love baseball, other than the fact he can hit one over a fence. Jennifer Cust isn’t much different from a lot of wives whose husbands probably spend too much time around the game, even if it’s the game where Jack makes his living.

Cust is the Oakland Athletics’ designated hitter, if he’s not playing outfield. On Wednesday night, in the A’s 3-2 loss to Texas, Cust went 3-for-4 and then returned to his residence and watched highlights on ESPN.

Not of his game -- of the Dodgers’ game in Los Angeles.

“I slowed down Manny Ramirez’s swing,’’ Cust said, alluding to recording and playing back the sequence, “and I show it to my wife. She said, ‘Enough of this baseball stuff. You’re playing all day and then you come home and show me Manny Ramirez’s swing on TV?’ She’d had it.’’

We know what happened a few hours later to Ramirez. He was suspended for 50 games after failing a drug test. What happened to Cust not long after, Thursday afternoon, was he hit a grand slam to get the A’s rolling in their 9-4 win over the Rangers at the Coliseum.

Cust thus became the focus of journalists who wanted to know about his homer and naturally about Manny’s figurative fall. Cust wasn’t terribly enlightening about either, but that was acceptable. His requirement is to help unleash the A’s offense, and in the previous three games that hadn’t happened.

“There’s not a lot of pressure on a hitter when you have the bases loaded and nobody out,’’ said Cust, describing his at bat in the fourth. “You’re just trying to hit the ball in the air (for a sacrifice fly). I wasn’t trying to hit a home run.’’

But when he did, the dugout of an A’s team that had scored 13 runs in the previous three games combined became energized.  “You could feel the excitement,’’ said Cust after his second career slam. “It was something we hadn’t had for a while.

Not after four straight defeats -- three to open their home stand. In the warmth of the best weather by the Bay in two weeks, things suddenly become more encouraging.

Asked the obligatory question on his feelings about Ramirez, Cust said, “Well, we’ve got Alex (Rodriguez) and Manny, now, two of the best hitters who ever played (both having failed tests). People are going to have questions. You don’t know about anybody, including our favorite players when we were growing up.’’

What we know about Cust is on DH days, which means most of the time, he has his own in-game agenda. Thursday it kept him from seeing very much of teammate Trevor Cahill getting his first major league victory.

Cahill had made five starts and pitched decently in four of them, but his record was 0-2. At last he got off the schneid in a game in which Cahill didn’t walk anyone and allowed only five hits in seven innings.

“He looked good,’’ said Cust of Cahill. “But honestly I wasn’t watching him. When I’m DH I don’t watch much of the game. I just kind of watch our at bats and then go to the video room to watch my swing and how their pitcher is throwing to the other guys. Really, it kind of stinks, because I enjoy watching both sides of the game, enjoy playing defense.

“I saw some of his strikeouts, a lot of stuff. But I also didn’t see lot of stuff.’’

Cust, however, was watching when in the bottom of the fourth Matt Holliday, apparently out of the doldrums, hit a three-run homer to left.

“I was on deck,’’ said Cust. “When he hit it, I knew it was out. Then it hung up for a while, and I said, ‘Oh, oh, I hope that gets out.’ It did. I’m happy for him, because Matt has worked as hard as anybody. He’s a great teammate. You wouldn’t know he’s been struggling.’’

Holliday had been down to a .222 batting average. He’s now .233 and moving in what he believes is the proper direction.

“We’re humans, and confidence is always an issue,’’ said Holliday, a lifetime .319 hitter signed as a free agent. “But enough of us have had careers where our past indicates it’s there and eventually it’s going to come out. It’s been frustrating. You feel you’re not helping the team. But I promise you, I’ve been doing all I can.’’

Short of videotaping Manny Ramirez’s swing.