Bob Melvin & The Fightin’ Bananas
As we return home from a 2-4 road trip, I offer you some random–yet hopefully insightful–observations about your Oakland A’s. First, it starts with the mystical powers of those magnificent gold jerseys. By now, I’m sure you know the mercurial history of Oakland’s alternate tops. Clearly, they were not designed to accompany our gray pants on the road, but when you rattle off a five-game home winning streak like we did last week, fashion statements be damned. We’re talking baseball superstition here. And while the winning streak ended, Bob Melvin and the “Fightin’ Bananas” accorded themselves quite well in the near-fluorescent jerseys in New York and Philadelphia. It took 13 innings and a graze-of-the-jersey pitch from Brad Ziegler to end the magic in 13 innings Wednesday. Equipment man Steve “Voos” Vucinich put them back on the shelf for the Mets’ finale and series opener in Philly, but pitching ace Trevor Cahill decided to channel the power once again, and the Fightin’ Bananas were back on display Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. Like the Mets broadcasters before, the Phillies’ announcers just reamed us for the garish look and the fact the tops and bottoms don’t seem to match. Of course, they’re entitled to their opinions. But thanks to a Cahill masterpiece and some timely hitting, the Athletics rose up to tag Cole Hamels with only his fourth loss of the season. And while Melvin and his Plantain Men didn’t fare quite as well yesterday, the fact remained that they mustered–or is that mustard –eight hits off Roy Halladay and kept the game’s outcome in doubt until the waning moments. So, maybe those shockingly bright gold jerseys are worth wearing when the A’s need an added jolt. Who knows, maybe this will end up being known as The Season of the Fightin’ Bananas.
Another week of working with our new manager continues to reveal more about Bob Melvin. After yesterday’s narrow loss, he was a picture of dejection and frustration. Clearly, this is not a man who will ever accept losing. He could have easily rationalized the 3-1 defeat, chalking it up to facing one of the game’s elite pitchers. But instead, he would have no part of it. He wanted to tell his players, the media, even his PR man, that it was not okay to lose this game or the series, because we can’t think that way. You could tell he believed that his club could, maybe even should, beat a Halladay who wasn’t at his most dominant yesterday. It’s that competitive spirit that has served Melvin well whereever he’s managed. And it fits into his pro-active, aggressive approach to the game. A Josh Willingham steal of third base led to a win over the Tim Lincecum and the Giants last week.
The same have-no-fear mantra has been preached by Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson whenever he visits the team. And perhaps their top disciple is rookie Jemile Weeks, who seemed to thrive on the big stage of New York and Philadelphia. Not only has he provided a .300 hitter and stolen base threat at the top of the order, as evidenced by his two-steal, three-run performance in the NY opener Tuesday and three-hit outburst in Saturday’s win over the Phils, but he has shown a flair at second base that has made him a fan favorite almost overnight. You want to talk about swagger? How about making a back-handed flip from his glove to start a 4-6-3 double play to slam the lid on Saturday’s win? And he chose to do it before a sellout crowd of over 45,000 howling fans in South Philly–fans who have razzed players much more prominent than Weeks, not to mention booed future Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and also a guy named Santa Claus.
As I watched our injury-riddled starting rotation continue to pitch impressively on the trip, I couldn’t help but think, “what other team in baseball can run out their No. 8 and No. 9 pitchers on the depth chart and get these kind of results?” That’s exactly what we did in the Giants series, when Graham Godfrey and Guillermo Moscoso outpitched Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez in beating San Francisco, and that pair, along with Josh Outman, continued to deliver sterling efforts on the trip. In fact, Moscoso (2.68 ERA) and Outman (3.10 ERA) have both posted outstanding ERA as emergency fill-ins. The good news is reinforcements are on the way, as Brandon McCarthy, Rich Harden and Tyson Ross should join the big club from rehab assignments by the end of the week or early in July, it would appear.
And for those of you looking to enjoy Bay Area summer weather and A’s baseball, we’ve got an intriguing homestand on the way. This Tuesday, the Florida Marlins and their new–or is that old–manager, the 80-year-old Jack McKeon, invade the Coliseum for a three-game interleague set. Then Oakland concludes its interleague schedule this weekend, when Melvin’s old club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, pay the East Bay a visit. And the homestand continues when Seattle, the AL West’s most surprising team, kicks off a three-game series on the 4th of July. Four of the nine home games will be played in the bright sunshine of day baseball. And who knows, they may also be played in the brightness of those crazy gold jerseys. I wonder if Dole or Chiquitas might be interested in sponsoring them?