I get a kick out of those who continue to insist Gio Gonzalez battles “emotional demons” occasionally when he pitches. Listen, I don’t dispute the fact that the A’s lefthander is a high-energy extrovert, and that he had trouble controlling his emotions earlier in his career. But to still dig up that characterization is not only inaccurate, it’s unfair and discredits what he’s accomplished. Let’s face it, Gio has blossomed into one of the game’s best starting pitchers. And that’s not just me saying it; the numbers suggest it. Since the start of last season, the “Cuban Cannon” has rattled off a 24-15 record (.615 winning percentage) and 2.89 ERA while muzzling opposing hitters to the tune of a .224 average. His ERA and opponents’ batting average over that span both rank 5th in the American League, with only well-known names like Weaver, Verlander, Lester and King Felix perched above him. Additionally, our All-Star southpaw has exhibited some of the more electric stuff in the league during that season-and-a-half period, striking out 290 batters in 320.2 innings while allowing only 267 hits. When the A’s score three runs or more in his starts, Gio is absolutely money; money, as in he’s a whopping 26-1 in his career when he has three or more runs to work with. That’s right—TWENTY SIX wins, ONE loss. And even though he’s toed the rubber for an offense-challenged Oakland club, his 24 wins since the start of 2010 still rank eighth most in the American League.
It’s always nice to recall the early days of Gonzalez. I still remember that 2008 afternoon in Toronto, sitting on the team bus outside our hotel when a wide-eyed young man walked on board. Actually he kind of bounced on board. I had never met Gio, yet it was quite obvious that it was him, right there in the flesh, about to make his Major League debut that night at Rogers Centre. You might recall the story about how he had left his passport back in Hialeah, Fla. and had to meet his mother at the airport en-route to Canada so he could enter the country–and the first chapter of his big league career. To see Gio grow up before your very eyes, not only on the mound–where he learned, more than anything, to trust your stuff and also to minimize damage in making deep-in-the-game performances commonplace–but also in becoming just a fine young man. No one on the team is more caring or giving to others and no one is more grounded in this crazy hero-worship world of professional sports. It was a rare treat to watch Kate Longworth’s post-game Comcast interview on the field at Chase Field with Gio, his brothers and father, just minutes after the All-Star Game ended. Clearly, this is a tight-knit family and extremely proud of “little Gio.” We saw how one of his brothers was sporting a No. 47 AL batting practice jersey with the word, “Hialeah” on the back above the numerals. And that’s not the only place you’ll find the Gonzalez’ hometown. Gio has it stitched on his glove so he can see it before every pitch he throws. Talk about never forgetting where you came from. Reminds me of another effervescent lefthander who once shined at the Coliseum. He also had a cool name, hailed from a small southern town and was a real fan favorite. His name was Vida Blue.
Yesterday was truly MC Hammer Day at the ballpark, but it could have just as easy been Gio Day. He blanked the Angels on a workman-like four-hitter through seven innings that netted his ninth win of the year. The A’s crack marketing department unleashed something called “Celebrity Heads” during the game in celebration of 80′s Weekend, as these gargantuan heads of President Regan, Sylvester Stallone and Don Johnson raced across the field between innings. Johnson was clothed in wardrobe reminiscent of his role in the TV hit series, “Miami Vice.” Also, only appropriate, as our same marketing department was also selling the current issue of Athletics Magazine in the stadium. On the cover? Gio Gonzalez, with palm trees in pastel colors incorporated in the cover design. The cover headline? Miami Nice. Indeed.
Former MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti used to say that baseball was designed to break your heart. As we watched Josh Hamilton crush that Andrew Bailey fastball and send it soaring into the second deck at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Saturday night and a much-needed A’s victory suddenly became perhaps the season’s most devastating loss, I couldn’t help but think Mr. Giamatti might be on to something. That demoralizing 7-6, ninth-inning setback was Oakland’s 20th one-run loss of 2011. In other words, 20 of the A’s 53 losses this year have been decided by one foot tap of home plate. Alarmingly, that’s almost 40 percent of the team’s entire loss total!
We all came into this season with higher expectations, based on the return of a brilliant young pitching staff and the offseason acquisitions of three proven Major League hitters and two accomplished relievers. So to watch this once promising club spin in a downward spiral the past few weeks has been tough on all of us. Perhaps the All-Star Break arrived at an opportune time. Players and coaches probably need a mental break from the game. GM Billy Beane and his top lieutenant David Forst can use this week to contemplate changes or ways to jump-start a struggling team. New skipper Bob Melvin, whose managerial moves and demeanor this past month seem to be beyond reproach, has flown home to New York for the break, no doubt digesting what he’s experienced since donning the A’s uniform and trying to devise a winning formula for the second half.
While fielding lineups with three or four players hitting .225 or below might be the first clue to why Oakland played at a .424 clip before the Break, the offense has not been the only culprit this season. Defense, thought to be a strength entering the campaign, has betrayed the A’s since Opening Day. Their 71 errors rank second most in the American League and third most in the majors. What has been of particular concern is the glove work on Oakland’s infield, as 67 of their 71 miscues this season have been committed around the diamond (the breakdown is: 18 by third basemen, 14 by shortstops, 13 by pitchers, nine by first basemen, seven by catchers and six by second basemen). So, this makes Beane’s and Forst’s challenge even more daunting, as they must weigh how much they can add offense at the expense of defense. Clearly, they are losing ball games as much because of an inefficient defense as with scoring the second fewest runs in the American League at the Break. That said, kudos should go out to Coco Crisp, who is batting a productive.267, with a team-leading 18 doubles, five triples and 26 stolen bases, not to mention eye-popping catches in center field, for his first half performance. The same can be said for two relative newcomers in second baseman Jemile Weeks, who’s hitting .287 with three triples, eight doubles, eight RBI and seven steals in only 31 games since his Jume call-up, and converted third baseman Scott Sizemore, who has also batted .287 with five doubles, four homers and 14 RBI in just 28 games since being acquired in a trade with Detroit.
One thing that has always struck me about baseball is, like no other sport, it is a soap opera that unfolds every day. Much can change in a matter of weeks, and every season is filled with ups and downs that can tear at your heartstrings. What’s in store for the Oakland A’s after the All-Star Break has yet to be written. Will the team rebound and begin to fulfill its preseason promise? Will player moves at the trading deadline dictate Melvin’s goals and lineup in the second half? Will there be more Jemile Weeks stories provided by further call-ups from Sacramento? How will pitching aces Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill finish their seasons? As we follow the A’s fortunes, beginning with a four-game series against the Angels this weekend, these answers will began to form. Stay tune for an interesting journey.
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?
The road trip from hell is over. Mercifully. It’s rare when a team returns home after a 10-game trip that produced one win. And it’s even more rare when such a woeful showing is not the focal point of the local media. Instead, most scribes and on-air folks are reporting on something even more rare: an in-season managerial change.
For me personally, it started with a red-eye flight to Chicago Wednesday night. I had received a heads up from GM Billy Beane earlier that afternoon that Bob Melvin would be replacing Bob Geren Thursday. While I was keenly aware of the media speculation about him, to actually hear the words that Geren would no longer be our manager was almost stunning to me. No matter his record, he was a good, decent man, and as Billy said in his briefing, a good baseball man. When you spend the kind of time together that we did every day in the clubhouse, in his office, on team charters and buses, your manager becomes part of your extended family. You emphathize with his every up and down, and you share in his victories. However, part of being a professional is you need to move quickly past the personal part.
The early notice Billy gave me was ample time to write a first draft press release, scribble some notes on how and when to best service the media the next day, and then join Billy and Assistant GM David Forst on a 10:53 pm flight from SFO to O’Hare. As I’ve experienced with previous news of this nature, the inner circle needs to be kept small to control the timing of the announcement. This becomes even more critical when there’s still private meetings and planning that need to occur prior to going public. Billy, David and I arrived at the downtown Chicago Westin Hotel on Michigan Avenue around 6 am, only to learn that–incredibly–we actually beat the team’s check-in from Baltimore. The team, already reeling from their ninth straight loss, did not pick up their keys in the Westin lobby until 6:30 am, thanks to stormy weather which detoured their flight with an unscheduled stop in Springfield, IL. The same treacherous conditions also delayed Melvin’s flight from New York, pushing back his arrival time from 10 am to almost noon at the hotel.
Billy and David opted to meet with the coaching staff around 11 am, at which time David gave me the green light to email our prepared press release to the Bay Area, national and Japanese media, along with all A’s front office staff. Our planned sequence continued to unfold, hour by hour, through the afternoon. Beane and Forst met with Melvin in the hotel just prior to a 1 pm media conference call where Billy patiently took questions from a wide range of journalists and tried his best to explain the rationale for the managerial change. As soon as the call ended, we were all headed downstairs to the 2 pm team bus to the stadium. The frenetic pace continued when we got to U.S. Cellular Field, as equipment man Steve Vucinich outfitted Bob Melvin in his new uniform, including his requested No. 6 jersey to honor Sal Bando, captain of those three straight World Series championship teams of the early 70′s.
Minutes later, I was ushering Melvin and Beane to an interview room across the corridor from our clubhouse for a 3:30 pm media conference. It turned out to be comprised mostly of TV cameras, including one feeding the conference live to our partner Comcast SportsNet California back home. There was only a sprinkling of sports writers in attendance, with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser one of the only A’s beat writers in attendance. Most Bay Area and Japanese writers had been delayed en route from Maryland by the same horrendous weather that had effected all of us. Melvin seemed to wear his heart on his shirt sleeves a bit during the 15-minute conference, harkening back to his childhood days when he used to watch Captain Sal and those great A’s teams at the Coliseum and how excited he was to be wearing those same white shoes and green-and-yellow caps his heroes once wore.
Following the conference, the new A’s skipper got a chance to return to his office for about a half hour of game preparation, then introducing himself to some of his new players, and finally joining Ken Korach in doing the first-ever edition of The Bob Melvin Show that will now precede every remaining game this season. The second bus from the hotel arrived around 4:30 pm, which signalled us to close the clubhouse so Melvin could conduct an introductory team meeting. I’ll never forget June 9, as not only was it historic in the naming of Bob Melvin as interim manager, but it was just a rather bizarre scene in general. It seemed almost like a scene from the Land of the Living Dead, as whether sportswriters, players, coaches or A’s front office types, we were all doing splendid renditions of modern-day zombies. Sleep deprivation and all-night travel will do that to a person.
Before I conclude this “Anatomy of a Managerial Change” blog, let me offer some early observations of our new field general. First, make no mistake about it, this is a Bay Area guy through and through. He’s clearly coming home. When he speaks of Bay Area sports history, or merely his old stomping grounds in Menlo Park and Palo Alto, you can feel the excitement and passion in his voice. It’s one thing to be a manager in the major leagues, but it’s entirely something else to be a big league manager of your childhood team.
Judging by what I’ve seen so far, this is a man who is going to be real “hands on” as a manager. I saw him numerous times seeking out players in the clubhouse, whether it be to stress a baseball point or merely to start a relationship. Same went for his early dealings with the media. He has been extremely accomodating, not to mention thoughtful and forthcoming (hey, the guy went to Cal!). When discussing our glut of quality outfielders on the roster the other day, I was struck by how honest he was and willing to share his feelings: “Ryan (Sweeney) is kind of the odd man out today, and I feel bad about that because we need to get him some at-bats.” And comments from players, PR directors or writers who have dealt with Bob in the past seem to only confirm my first impressions. White Sox beat writer Mark Gonzalez of the Chicago Tribune, who covered Melvin in Phoenix when he wrote for the Arizona Republic, raved about his managing style and people skills. Conor Jackson, the only current Athletic who previously played for Bob (Diamondbacks), was just as effusive with his praise. And Mike Swanson, former D-Backs PR man who now works with the Royals, told my assistant how thrilled he was for Bob and how much he was looking forward to seeing him this week when Kansas City plays in Oakland. We know none of these glowing reports guarantees success on the field in this fickle game of baseball, but it certainly gives all of us hope. Now, I hope to see you at the Coliseum this week when we host the Royals and Giants in a short six-game homestand. Come out and welcome our new manager. He’ll be the one wearing Captain Sal’s old uniform.
Working for a professional baseball team can be a surreal experience on occasion. The life I lead as the A’s public relations director represents an entirely different world than the one I live in as a father and husband in my off hours at our home in Berkeley. One moment, I may be arranging for a FOX interview with Andrew Bailey or working with our merry band of Japanese media that chronicles Hideki Matsui’s every step, then the next minute I’m taking the BART Richmond line home that night so I can buy groceries and cook dinner for my wife and son before we tune into The Colbert Report on the Comedy Channel. It’s maybe not quite as exciting as a big league ball game, but definitely more rewarding.
Yesterday, however, my two worlds intersected in the most unlikely way. While sitting in our draft “war room” at the Coliseum, the A’s selected left-handed pitcher, Christopher Lamb of Davidson College, with their 11th round pick. My first thought was “how can this be?” And could you really blame me? To me, this wasn’t Christopher Lamb of Davidson; this was little Chris Lamb of Albany Little League and Berkeley High School! This was Chris Lamb, that skinny kid who used to hang around the local baseball fields and pitch batting practice to younger kids like my son, Luke. Talk about a local boy made good story. We’ve known the Lamb family since Chris’ father, Marvin, chairman of the psychology department at Cal State East Bay, used to coach my son in Albany Little League. I cannot think of a kid with better manners or a nicer disposition than Chris Lamb. While he was four years older than Luke, we always saw him at University Village where the Albany Little League fields are located. Sometimes Chris was just there to support his younger brother Nick, who played with my son and now is a virtuoso jazz pianist at Berkeley High. Sometimes Chris would actually umpire their games. And then, as I said, there were times when he would volunteer his talents as BP pitcher to the younger kids. He almost seemed like a big brother to everyone, not just his real bother Nick.
Beyond being a sports family, the Lambs are very education oriented (Chris’ mother is also a college professor at San Jose State and Cal). So it was no surprise that Chris not only excelled on the diamond but also in the classroom at Berkeley High. With superlative grades and test scores, he entertained thoughts of attending various Ivy League schools before accepting a baseball scholarship to Davidson, another elite academic institution. Along the way, Chris continued to grow and blossom into a legitimate prospect. As he added some MPHs to his fastball and refined his off-speed pitches, suddenly the adjective “crafty” was starting to precede his name.
While hundreds of high school and college players are drafted each year, what dawned on me yesterday is every single kid has a personal story and a community that shares in the pride their families must feel on such a special, milestone day. I had hoped to see Chris Monday night in Berkeley–his younger brother Nick was performing at the famed Berkeley music venue Freight & Salvage–and wish him well the night before his big day. We opted for a late dinner at home instead. When Eric Kubota and our baseball folks chose his name on the 11th round, I knew I had to call Chris to congratulate him. “So, Chris, do you have any white cleats lying around?” I asked. He laughed and said he and the family were very excited to be picked by a hometown team. He didn’t have to say it. The emotion in his voice told me all I needed to know.
Many years ago, the words “Tommy John” were simply used to describe a crafty left-handed pitcher whose nasty sinker induced countless groundballs every time he took the mound. Today those words, of course, tend to appear ahead of one other word: surgery. John, who won 288 games over 26 Major League seasons, would have had his career cut short had it not been for a revolutionary new medical procedure that reconstructed his ulnar collateral ligament in 1975.
Since then, hundreds of pitchers have successfully undergone the same surgery. As I witnessed the Sacramento call-ups of Josh Outman and Joey Devine last week, it dawned on me that 2011 might just be the year of Tommy John for the A’s pitching staff.
Outman, who hadn’t pitched since 2009, certainly gave a ringing endorsement to TJ surgery when he twirled a brilliant five-hitter over seven innings Monday against the Angels in his first big league start of the year. He and his new-and-improved left arm will need to play a key role in the Oakland rotation, at least for the next couple months, as Brandon McCarthy (stress shoulder fracture) and Tyson Ross (strained oblique) continue to mend. Then add to the bullpen a rejuvenated Devine–he of the 0.59 ERA in 2008 before Tommy John surgery–who seems to have recaptured his old form with three scoreless innings in his three relief appearances after a two-year layoff.
Outman and Devine are by no means the only A’s members of the Tommy John fraternity. Where would we be without the Man from Sydney, Grant Balfour? He benefited from TJ surgery back in 2005, and has risen to great heights since, including three appearances in the 2008 World Series with the Rays, not to mention a 3-1 mark and 2.08 ERA in 15 games with Oakland thus far this year.
And there’s 25-year-old righthander Fautino De Los Santos, part of the Nick Swisher deal with the White Sox, who filled a roster spot briefly this past week after a Triple-A call up. While De Los Santos did not see any action during his Oakland stint, he figures prominently in the A’s future after successfully responding from 2008 Tommy John surgery.
Yet, the most significant TJ alumnus is two-time All-Star closer Andrew Bailey, who should rejoin the club in the next week or two after rehabbing a strained right forearm that has sidelined him since spring training. We all held our collective breaths when Andrew had to halt his spring appearance against Cleveland in mid-inning, clutching his right arm–and knowing that he once sat on the operating table of Dr. James Andrew, the Godfather of Tommy John surgeries.
So, next time you come out to the Coliseum or watch a road game on Comcast SportsNet California, and you glance down to the A’s bullpen or watch Outman fire his first pitch as the team’s starter, raise a glass to the old lefthander, Tommy John, who perhaps unknowingly, chan
ged the course of baseball history with a radical surgery that has now become commonplace.
And if Bailey, Outman, Devine, Balfour or De Los Santos need any reinforcements from Sacramento, maybe later this year the team will call up Willie Eyre, who’s 3-2 with a save and 2.08 ERA in 18 relief appearances. Eyre would feel right at home. After pitching for the Texas Rangers, he had Tommy John surgery in 2007.
There was no Dallas in Dallas yesterday, but the sad news about our beloved southpaw reviberated throughout the visitor’s clubhouse in Texas. After seeking three different medical opinions, the diagnosis was clear and unavoidable. Stockton’s unofficial mayor will undergo shoulder surgery Monday in New York. The timeframe for his recovery won’t be determined until the procedure is done, but it’s already a bitter pill to swallow for his teammates and coaches. We’ve all missed his leadership, competitive spirit, and yes, even his, at times, off-centered approach to life. However, I can guarantee you no one is taking this news as hard as the man himself. If ever there was a guy who bleeds green and gold, it’s Mr. 209. I’m sure he’s been bored to tears for the past several weeks on the DL, but for him to now contemplate possible months of inactivity must be unfathomable.
Gio Gonzalez, someone who looked up to the Dean of the starting staff, got a Major League reprieve when the Texas thunderstorms flushed Rangers Ballpark with the intensity one would expect in the Lone Star State. But I found the scene rather ironic as the rain pelted the tarp on the field. As a one hour delay became two hours and then more, I couldn’t help but remember Braden’s comical antics during a game stoppage in Detroit last year. Only weeks after his perfect game and only days since he tweaked his ankle, there was the diminutive lefthander making a mad dash onto the wet tarp at Comerica Park, diving head first with gusto that would have made Rick Dempsey proud. Now in Arlington, on the day when it wouldn’t have taken much coaxing from his A’s teammates for a repeat performance, Dallas remained in Stockton as he tried to come to terms with the physcial journey he’s about to embark on. While the uber-talented Tyson Ross has already shown flashes of brilliance as Braden’s replacement in the rotation, don’t confuse that with what the absence of Dallas will mean to this staff. It’s more about his spirited pep talks and gung-ho attitude than his baffling change-up. But as I told him in a text I sent him yesterday, he’s been through worse and I know he’ll come back with a vengeance.
Okay, A’s fans, your team continues to toy with you. One day, they’re a game below the .500 mark, two days later they’re two games above .500. The rhetorical question is this: is that a good or bad thing? Well perched around .500 can have different connotations to different people. For those who think our 19-17 record is merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe the .500 mark is a negative. And with our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”
However, my view is a bit more encouraging. First, last year the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our fans, was we pretty much maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish. This year, the vibe is much different. This team expects to win and is clearly not satisfied with being only one game north of the .500 mark at this juncture of the early season. I think these guys know they’re a better club this year. In fact, they knew it in spring training. And when you think about it, the vital signs are more postive then you might think for an 19-17 team. First, we sport a .550 record (11-9) on the road, playing top-rate competition. The axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road–as evidenced by back-to-back road wins over the last two days.
Then consider some other good omens. We’re in AL West contention even though we’re missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales). And, with our two wins in KC and series-opening win in Texas have come on the heels of a solid 4-3 homestand against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team this year, the Cleveland Indians. That homestand featured some stirring wins triggered by the clutch hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run last Monday) and Josh Willingham (game-tying homer and double last Monday). Then add slump-busting efforts by Daric Barton, Mark Ellis and Kevin Kouzmanoff on Sunday, plus the apparent return of Michael Wuertz’s devastating slider out of the pen and recent dominating performances by new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving in the right direction, .500 mark or not.
I had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key is to stick around .500. If you can hang around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your move. It’s the teams that dig a hole early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t despair. My friend Dusty would say, “it’s not a race, it’s a marathon.” So, as we head into game 2 in Texas with much hope and promise, keep the faith, A’s Nation. I think this group knows it can hit better than it has. And they also know it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it. Time, as it always does, will tell.
A’s fans, your team is currently resting uncomfortably at the .500 mark after
32 games. The rhetorical question is
this: is that a good or bad thing? Well perched at
.500 can have different connotations to different people. For those who think our 16-16 record is
merely a continuation of last year’s team that carved out an 81-81 mark, maybe
the .500 mark is a negative. And with
our early season bloated with superior pitching and anemic hitting, it’s no
wonder some frustrated A’s fans will declare “same old, same old.”
my view is a bit more encouraging.
First, the general feeling in the clubhouse, as well among our
fans, was that last year we pretty much
maxed out by posting an 81-81 record and second-place finish. This year, the vibe is much different. This
team expects to win and is clearly frustrated with a .500 mark at
this juncture of the early season. I
think these guys know they’re a better club this season. In fact, they knew it in spring
training. And when you think about it,
the vital signs are more postive then you might think for a 16-16 team. First, we sport a .500 record (8-8) on the
road, playing top-rate competition. The
axiom that championship teams play .500 baseball on the road is true, so even
though we really haven’t consistently played good baseball this past month, the
fact remains that we’re getting it done on the road. Then consider some other other omens. We’re in AL West contention even though we’re
missing our All-Star closer (Andrew Bailey), Perfect Game starter (Dallas
Braden) and last year’s most valuable supersub (Adam Rosales). And, we’re coming off a solid 4-3 homestand
against the defending AL champion Texas Rangers and baseball’s winningest team
this year, the Cleveland Indians, with recent wins triggered by the clutch
hitting of the three key offseason lineup acquisitions in David DeJesus (two
homers Wednesday), Hideki Matsui (walk-off home run Monday) and Josh Willingham
(game-tying homer and double Monday). Then add the apparent return of Michael
Wuertz’s devastating slider out of the pen and the recent dominating
performance of new starting pitcher Tyson Ross, and this club clearly is moving
in the right direction, .500 mark or not.
had the distinct pleasure to work with Dusty Baker for nearly 10 years when he
managed the Giants and Dusty always told me, “early in the season, the key
is to stick around .500. If you can hang
around .500, eventually you’ll catch a hot streak and you can make your
move. It’s the teams that dig a hole
early that have trouble getting into contention.” So folks, don’t
despair. I know yesterday’s 12-inning heart-breaker
wears on all of us. A win would have
clinched another series win and a 5-2 homestand. But as my friend Dusty would also say, it’s
not a race, it’s a marathon. So, we jet
to Kansas City, where I plan to grab some big league barbeque–some place called
LC’s, located in a former gas filing station (ambience, yes!)–and also expect
our boys to grab two or three wins (sauce optional). Keep the faith, A’s Nation. I think this group knows it can hit
better than it has. And they also know
it’s up to them, and no one else, to prove it.
Time, as it always does, will tell.