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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.

 

8:03AM

One day, but a day of homers and brilliance for the A’s

By Art Spander

OAKLAND — Sometimes you have to take a day out of context, have to appreciate what happened in those few innings or few hours, forget about what it means in the great scheme of things, the standings, the record book, and revel in what happened.

At the Coliseum on maybe the warmest Saturday of the season — the temperature hit 80 — and for the Oakland Athletics unquestionably the most exciting, seemingly everything happened, from a ton of home runs to an 8-3 victory over the Red Sox that all but silenced all those expatriate New Englanders.

Fine pitching? Absolutely. From Oakland starter Sean Manea, who went five innings, allowed three runs and got the win (he’s now 2-3), and relievers Frankie Montas and Josh Smith, who extended the A’s bullpen streak of scoreless innings at home to 25.

Power hitting? Certainly. Four Oakland home runs, including one to dead center in the fifth by Chad Pinder that landed in the seats of the plaza level, some 460 feet away. He joins Mark McGwire, Larry Walker and Jarrett Parker to have landed balls there in the lower region of Mt. Davis since the area opened in 1996.

Consternation? Indeed. A’s manager Bob Melvin was angry after a ruling in the second on a ball that was thrown by Boston catcher Christian Vazquez (for an error) into the right field visitors bullpen. Everyone believed that Melvin argued because he wanted an extra base, but he said after being ejected by crew chief Mike Winters that he had another issue.

The A’s are last in the American League West. Boston is in the middle of the AL East. So this one didn’t exactly quite change the standings. But it was wonderful for entertainment, and isn’t that what we most demand of sports?

The Red Sox fans who once filled the Coliseum are not quite what they used to be, in numbers or voice. Game one of this four-game series Thursday night drew only around 14,000 people — a number that you might expect for the Rangers. The gate was 24,378 Friday night, but Saturday, as fine an afternoon as one could imagine, there were only 20,235. Did Red Sox Nation shrink?

Oakland had home runs by Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, Mark Canha and that monster by Pinder. Well, shrugged Melvin, when the A’s are hitting, that’s their game. Especially when the weather is hot. Over the years, the cold nights in Oakland cost Reggie Jackson, Jose Canseco and McGwire so many chances on balls that were hit hard. But on a day like Saturday, everything takes off — as Melvin agreed.

”Everybody just sat up and watched,” said Manea. “We had a good time in the dugout. Never seen a ball hit as far as Pinder hit. He’s really built.”

Melvin said Pinder is no surprise, although he hardly expected that sort of shot. “Everybody raved about him,” Melvin said. “We just have to find a position for him.” On Saturday Pinder was the designated hitter — emphasis on the word hitter.

Pinder’s homer followed those of Canha and Khris Davis in a five-run A’s fifth. There were some walks and a single in the mix. What do we call these guys, the Lash Brothers?

"Day games, the ball carries a little more, but I don't know if any of them would have been affected," said Melvin. "It seems like they got longer and longer. Canha crushed that ball. K.D. (Khris Davis not Kevin Durant, Warriors fans), we've seen it, and the Pinder one, I don't even know how to explain that.

Neither does Pinder, but he doesn’t need to. "It's one of those swings where you kind of just black out," Pinder said. "You see it and you hit it, and you don't know what happens after."

What happens is the ball goes forever, and people who have seen it grab their head in disbelief. Including Khris Davis, who now has 13 homers himself.

"That was amazing," Davis said of the Pinder bomb. "He's got a great swing. That was impressive."

So, on this warm day of excitement and long balls, were the Oakland A’s.

9:19AM

Red Sox beat Giants at Fenway West

By Art Spander

SAN FRANCISCO — Bruce Bochy told us it was just a game. Of course, that was before it was played. That was two hours before the first pitch, and a reporter wondered if the Giants against the Red Sox would give both teams, particularly San Francisco, the chance to find out whether each was as good as some thought.

Including the players.

“Same thing when the Cubs came in,” said Bochy, the Giants manager. “What these guys (his Giants) have been through, I don’t think they have to measure themselves against anybody.” Then he added, “This is a tough group, Boston.”

Very tough. And if the game, which the Sox won 5-3 in 10 cold innings Tuesday night at AT&T Park, wasn’t a measure, for the Giants it had to be a disappointment — and proof that missed tags and wild throws will beat you just as quickly as big hits.

No, this one wasn’t ordinary. Maybe no game involving the Red Sox is ordinary. Boston people can’t get out of their city quick enough. They go to Florida, to California, everywhere.

But if they leave the premises, they don’t leave their fanaticism for the old town team. They take great delight in overwhelming visiting ballparks, chanting “Let’s go Boston,” and generally acting as if the Red Sox had never traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

It’s one thing when, say, the Boston expatriates fill the normally empty seats at the Oakland Coliseum when the Red Sox face the A’s. But to see them swarming sold out AT&T is a bit unnerving. The place looked and sounded like Fenway West.

“Boston has a huge following,” Bochy as much as warned pre-game when asked if this two-game series were special, “and so do we. Both are storied franchises that have been very successful the past decade. It creates interest. These two teams are having great years.”

The most recent part of the Giants’ year has been less than great. San Francisco now has dropped three straight, two on the road to the St. Louis Cardinals and then the return home against the Red Sox.

“The little things hurt us,” said Bochy. He meant catcher Trevor Brown throwing the ball into center field on Jackie Bradley Jr.’s steal in the seventh, then on a ground ball to short by pinch hitter David Ortiz, the runner from first, Chris Young, eluding the tag by a diving Brandon Crawford. What looked like it could have been a double play instead was only a single out, and Bradley dashed in from third to tie the game, 3-3.

In the 10th, with Santiago Casilla working his second inning for the Giants, Boston’s Mookie Betts laid down a bunt with two on and no one out — and beat it out. “We didn’t handle that one,” said Bochy. Not at all.

The Giants did get the runner from third on a force at home, but then with two strikes Xander Bogaerts blooped a ball in front of center fielder Denard Span, driving in the game-winners.

If there was any consolation for the Giants, it was the pitching of Albert Suarez, making his second start of the season. “We just want him to give us a chance,” Bochy said before the game. “I hope he throws like he did in his last start.”

He threw better, allowing only five hits, one walk and two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. “Albert did a great job,” affirmed Bochy. 

Which most of us wouldn’t say about Casilla, although Bochy wasn’t critical of his closer, especially since he pitched more than the normal one inning. Sandy Leon led off the 10th with a double, however, and Casilla and the Giants were in trouble.

“That’s a tough lineup,” said Bochy of the Red Sox. “They lead the majors in offense and scoring. I thought our pitching did a very good job.”

When someone wondered if he might change his closer, Bochy all but shrugged. “I still have confidence in Casilla,” he said.

11:26AM

RealClearSports: Red Sox Nation Invades Oakland

By Art Spander
For RealClearSports.com


OAKLAND — The old Mausoleum wasn't so empty or quiet Tuesday night. The exes were there, as in expatriates, as in Red Sox fans who wouldn't go back to New England for all the tea once dumped into Boston Harbor, but for reasons you don't want to hear cling preciously to the old ball club.

It's an interesting matchup when the Bosox, as the headlines in the old Sporting News called them, show up in Oakland. An interesting contrast too.

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2011