A’S TRIP TO ATLANTA REKINDLES MEMORIES OF ANOTHER GREAT DIVISIONAL RACE
Hotlanta. Heat and humidity that’s almost suffocating. That’s what the A’s will be facing this weekend when they resume interleague play in the Capitol of the South. In one of my better “veteran moves,” I opted to stay home this trip. I mean, Kansas City and Atlanta in August? I don’t think so. Of course, Bob Melvin and his club have no choice but to embrace the challenge with salt tablets and courage. Thankfully, Georgians Brandon Moss and Josh Reddick and Alabaman Josh Donaldson will feel right at home.
Twenty-one seasons ago, when I was in the midst of my first season as a Major League PR man, I can remember visiting Atlanta-Fulton County Coliseum in August of 1993. The Giants and Braves were locked in a pennant race for the ages. The dog days had arrived, with closers operating on fumes and hitters wilting under the oppressive air of the Deep South. John Schuerholz had traded for Fred McGriff the previous month. The kitchen in the stadium had caught on fire soon thereafter during a game, and figuratively, it was that night that the Braves were ignited. McGriff and Atlanta went on a 28-8 spree heading into a late August series with San Francisco. Two decades later, I still remember the tension of that series as baseball’s two behemoths went toe to toe in the national spotlight. The reason I share this story is the A’s and Angels, owners of the two best records in the Majors, will be playing 10 games against each other over the final six weeks of the season, including three-game series in Oakland Aug. 22-24 and Sept. 22-24.
Much like the final Rangers series of 2012 is indelibly etched in A’s fans’ minds, these Oakland-LA showdowns promise to leave lasting memories. Lester, Gray, Kazmir and Samardzija staring down the likes of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton. Donaldson, Moss and Norris trying to catch up to Richards’ blazing fastballs. Coco Crisp striding to the plate with the bases loaded in extra innings (“Here we go now, here we go now!) and delivering yet another clutch walk-off hit. Trout leaping above the fence to rob some deserving hitter of a go-ahead home run. And Bob Melvin and Mike Scioscia, this week rated as the top two managers in the American League by their fellow managers in a Baseball America poll, matching baseball wits pitch by pitch.
Looking back to that August night in 1993, what still strikes me most is the look of urgency on the players’ faces, that every play did matter. Called “The Last Pure Pennant Race” by Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Anderson of the New York Times in his book, Pennant Races, the Giants won 14 of their last 16 games entering the final day of the regular season while the Braves claimed 13 of their last 18 games leading up to the last game. Atlanta won the season finale against Colorado, giving Bobby Cox’s club 104 victories. San Francisco lost their last game at Dodger Stadium and finished with 103 wins. It was the last season that MLB would be without a wild card, so the Giants missed the playoffs. Twenty-one years later, the A’s and Angels will not endure such an indignity if they continue to win at their current pace (Oakland is on pace for 99 wins, LA 95). With two wild card spots now created, it’s not a certainty but it is a probability that both clubs could enter the postseason in 2014.
And if you’re a fan of either team, or even the sport in general, these final 10 games will be “must-see” baseball. Something tells me the A’s-Angels rivalry will only heighten after these games are played and history is written. Enjoy baseball theater at its best. It doesn’t happen every season.