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6:59PM

A’s pull a number on the Royals

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — He was wearing a Warriors T-shirt, as seemingly half the Bay Area is these days, the gold one passed out a day before, the one reading “Strength in Numbers.” But for Chris Bassitt, a Cleveland Cavaliers fan under that shirt — understandably, since he’s from Ohio — there was only one number Sunday, 114, the career-high number of pitches he threw for the Athletics.

He didn’t get a win for that effort, but the A’s did, beating the World Series champion Kansas City Royals 3-2, and suddenly everything was as joyful and upbeat at the Coliseum as it had been some 24 hours earlier next door at Oracle Arena.

The weather was the best of the weeks-old baseball season, only 70 degrees at first pitch but climbing to 79 at the final out of an efficient, tidy game that required only 2 hours 37 minutes. The A’s closed out a home stand that began with four straight losses and ended with two wins, both over K.C., of course. And the stadium, often as lonely as a graveyard at midnight, was nearly full, 29,668 fans, after 25,584 on Saturday.

John Axford got the pitching victory. He was the one in the lineup when, in the bottom of the eighth, Billy Burns tripled down the right field line. “It was this close to going foul,”  said Burns, pinching his fingers together, “and that close to being caught.” Burns then scored the tie-breaking, winning run on pinch hitter Josh Reddick’s sacrifice fly.

But the 6-foot-5 Bassitt was no less responsible for the victory than anyone in the Oakland clubhouse. He went the first seven innings, giving up two runs, one a homer by Mike Moustakas. “I was not committed on the pitch,” said Bassitt. That’s acceptable. The A’s — every team in the majors — would delight in their starter allowing only two runs.  

Sunshine and success alter everything at the Coliseum. Maybe it’s not AT&T Park, and yes, the A’s still need a ballpark, but with blue skies the figurative atmosphere is changed. So too are the A’s fortunes. Now, one game below .500, they head to New York for three games at Yankee Stadium.

“We’ve got some momentum,” said Burns. “Scratching out a win against (the Royals) is big.”

The Royals pride themselves on their late-inning relief. Their template for winning the World Series was to get through the sixth inning in front or tied, then call on a bullpen some would say is the best in the majors. So A’s manager Bob Melvin was particularly pleased the way his team, trailing 2-1 into the seventh, rallied to tie and win.

“Coming back against this team is something,” said Melvin. “Typically, in the seventh, eighth and ninth, it’s a big challenge.”

So many games in baseball, 162, and yet this one game, especially at home, where the A’s were 2-7, the second-worst home record in the American League, was important. Teams need to do well at home to make believers of the ticket buyers. People want to leave a ballpark in a good mood. And Sunday at the Coliseum, most of the people did.

“We’d been struggling at home,” confirmed Melvin. “Now we’re going on a 10-game trip against good teams.” Those teams, in order, are the Yankees, Blue Jays and Tigers. “This was significant,” Melvin added.

Ryan Madson pitched the ninth to get his fourth save (and the A’s only have six wins).

“He did the job,” said Melvin the onetime catcher.

Which Madson considered ordinary, or at least nothing out of the usual. Just get on the mound and throw strikes, whether it’s the Royals — with whom he won a World Series last season — or the Mariners. “The idea,” said Madson, “is to keep the pressure on the hitters.”

The pressure’s been on the A’s in many ways. They’ll always be in the shadow of the club across the Bay until they get that ballpark and then have the revenue to retain their stars. Also, having bottomed out in 2015, the Athletics need to prove they’ve put together a team that can win and also be attractive, not that one doesn’t follow the other.

So there’s Bassitt, wearing his shirt for the most attractive, winningest team in the region — and in basketball — that of the Warriors. “I’ll root for them until the finals,” said Bassitt, who played at the University of Akron, close to Cleveland. “Then I’ll root for the Cavs.”

Everybody makes mistakes.

12:03PM

S.F. Examiner: Even years and errors: Differing expectations await Bay Area MLB teams

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

The Even Year Odds. That’s the headline in the regional edition of Sports Illustrated. In baseball, in the West, those four words are enough. It’s the Giants’ time for a World Series. That is if the Giants have enough.

For the other team, the one across the Bay, the Athletics, the issue is less about picking up a pennant than, having led the majors in errors, picking up or throwing a ground ball. It is a problem that during the exhibition games in March appeared as serious — and uncorrectable — as during last season.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

4:52PM

Greatness of the A's lives on in Mesa

By Art Spander

MESA, Ariz. — Spring training is supposed to be about the future, about preparation for the season ahead. And while the Oakland Athletics are no less diligent than any other major league team in that assignment, so much here at their home ballpark, Hohokam Stadium, is about a glorious past.

Along the main concourse that leads from the entrance to the stands are posted huge photo murals of former A’s greats, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, the late Catfish Hunter and others, memories of the championship years, of the last franchise in baseball to win three World Series in succession.

So far away, and these days apparently so unattainable. In 2015, the A’s had the worst record in the American League. Such a contrast to the success reflected in the photos. Still, this is the time of hope and optimism in baseball. And on Friday afternoon, with the A's 9-4 winners over the Colorado Rockies, there was a great deal of both.

Now in his sixth year as manager of the A’s, Bob Melvin sees last year as an aberration, a failure unusual for the organization, a failure created by an obscenely high number of injuries.

“We were in the postseason three years in a row, so last year did not sit well with anybody who’s still here,” said Melvin. “Look at the injuries we had to the guys who were performing well. We’re completely redoing our bullpen, which was a big issue for us. So we didn’t feel like we were that far off.”

Melvin is 54, a onetime catcher from Cal whose career began with Detroit and continued with the Giants. “My first day at Candlestick Park in 1986,” recalled Melvin, “and Willie Mays (coaching) and Willie McCovey have the lockers on either side of me.” If that wouldn’t intimidate a young player, nothing would.

The trades by A’s GM Billy Beane are just another issue, part of the job. Melvin managed the Diamondbacks to first place in the National League West in 2006, then did the same thing with the A’s in the AL West in 2012 and 2013.

“We didn’t feel we were that far off,” said Melvin about the current A’s. “Shore up a couple areas, and we feel we’ll be a lot better.”

The area where the A’s were supreme was pitching, and Melvin, hardly alone in the dugout or the clubhouse, was enthralled with the performance of Sean Manaea, the lefthander Oakland obtained last July from Kansas City who was making his first start. It was impressive.

Manaea went two innings, allowed one hit and struck out four.

“Up to 97,” said Melvin, “throwing four changeups in a row, which is kind of his work-on pitch to get a strikeout, breaking balls, two-seamer (fastball), four-seamer. We were impressed with him before, but even more so right now.”

Manaea is from Indiana State, Larry Bird’s school. Maybe he can’t hit 20-foot jumpers, but he can hit the corners of the plate. He did miss the first baseman on a pickoff, but that didn’t bother Melvin, who said, “He likes to throw over, and he had him off balance, he would have picked him off.

“When you see a young kid like that trying to perfect his game, something we talked about early in camp, the little things to get yourself ready, get better every day, it’s definitely impressive.”

So the A’s have pitching, they believe. They also have hitting. Franklin Barreto, who was with Stockton in the Cal League last season, homered as a pinch hitter. “Didn’t take him time to get going,” said Melvin.

Asked if it were a surprise, Melvin said, “No. When you watch him take batting practice, watch him go about his business here, he knows what he’s doing. When he steps up like that, first time up, that was...”

That was what's making the A’s impatient for this season and beyond. Khris Davis, picked up only a couple weeks ago in a trade, had a double and three runs batted in.

“We’re always optimistic here,” said Melvin.

Just keep looking at those photos of the good old days. If the A’s could do it then, certainly they could do it now.

9:39AM

S.F. Examiner: Can Washington rescue the no-D, no-win A’s?

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

OAKLAND — The old guy looks good in green and gold. To the A's, anyone who can show them how to pick up a moving ball looks good.

It's been Warriors fans chanting, "Defense, defense," but it's the Athletics' fans who needed to be shouting it. Which is the reason A's management brought back the old guy, Ron Washington, whose head is clear after personal issues prompted his resignation as manager of a Texas Rangers team that won two American League pennants on his watch.

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner 

9:13AM

S.F. Examiner: For A’s, it’s more of same old same new

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

The guy for the A’s invariably is named Billy. There was manager Billy Martin in the early 1980s, virtually homegrown (Berkeley, next door), who knew what he had in roster talent. So he created a force-the-issue style, which the late columnist Ralph Wiley labeled “Billy Ball.”

The man in charge nearly the last 18 years, from 1997 to the present to be specific, has been general manager Billy Beane. He knew what he didn’t have, mainly cash. Aided by a few people who brought new thinking to the sport, he developed an idea that author Michael Lewis called “Moneyball.”

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner

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