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The Giants’ opener

The pre-game introductions are going on right now out here at the Big Phone by the Bay, and the cheers drowned out the boos when Armando Benitez was introduced before the game. Whether the same thing will happen when he’s asked to protect a one-run lead in the ninth is a different story.

One thing to keep an eye on early is Barry Bonds. The old round-headed guy seems in great spirits, and he was unusually friendly with his media adversaries during his state of the Barry address. Thing with Bonds is that the nicer he is, the worse he plays. Wonder, too, how his mood will be affected when he sees the string of pitches outside the strike zone that come from opposing hitters.

Barry Zito gets the ball. Anticipation reigns.

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In the books

You could tell it was going to be a difficult day for A’s hitters the minute you saw Felix Hernandez in the first inning Monday. And indeed, it was. King Felix struck out 12 in eight innings, and the A’s produced a goose egg for the second time in three Opening Days, 4-0 at Safeco Field.

Not a lot to read into this one, other than that Bobby Crosby should skip further Opening Days (he did stay healthy, so that’s a small step). Dan Haren was awfully good, save for one pitch. Travis Buck made an impression with a double that was the hardest ball hit against Hernandez. And good pitching beats any kind of hitting.

Now, 161 more to go.

Happy Opening Day.

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Bobby Crosby

Maybe Bobby Crosby should just skip all future Opening Days.

I mean, can you remember when one guy was so snake-bit by a single contest? Last year, he injured his finger against the New York Yankees. Two years ago, he hurt his back swinging-and-missing against the Baltimore Orioles and missed six weeks.

Now? Well, he’s made two errors, the second of which opened the door to a four-run Seattle Mariners explosion that has broken a scoreless tie in the sixth inning at Safeco Field.

Dan Haren, who had pitched so well, allowed a pair of singles with one out, then coaxed a soft grounder back to the hill from Jose Vidro. Haren made a perfect throw to second to start a 1-6-3 double play, but the ball glanced off Crosby’s glove for an error. Two batters later, Richie Sexson belted a three-run home run (a sac fly by Raul Ibanez followed the error) to center on the one awful pitch Haren has made.

Crosby’s first error occurred when a routine grounder scooted underneath him. Replays showed his footwork was not the best. Bad habits developing in the wake of infielder coach Ron Washington? Just something to think about.

At least Crosby is healthy to this point. So, too, is Haren, but not without a scary moment. He slipped and fell following one pitch and landed hard on his right knee. Of course, that pitch, like the one to Sexson, he would not have been making had Crosby turned the double play. And have we mentioned he’s hitless against Felix Hernandez (OK, let’s let that one slide).

Oh well, for Crosby, there’s always 2008.

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Sign of things to come?

Years ago, I attended a Giants opener at Candlestick Park (it was still called that back then), and a buddy of mine was sitting in another part of the stadium. A half-hour before the first pitch, he was leanding forward, elbows on knees, rubbing his hands together, breathing heavy.

“Opening day,” he said, “sets the tone for the rest of the season.”

In the case of Dan Haren, the A’s can only hope so. Haren has pitched five shutout innings at Safeco Field to match Seattle ace Felix Hernandez zero for zero. Haren set down the first 11 before allowing a hit, and the only Mariners runner to get as far as second base came courtesy an error by shortstop Bobby Crosby.

(On the other hand, Crosby hasn’t gotten hurt like the past two Opening Days, so I suppose you can say he’s having a good day).

Haren has to be huge for the A’s to get where they want to go this year. He’ll be matching up against the aces of other teams more times than he has in previous years, and he and Rich Harden will be the guys the A’s look to when they need to stop a losing streak.

So far, he appears up to the challenge.

By the way, in a postscript to the story. Dan Quisenberry blew a save for the Giants that night many years ago, and the Giants suffered a year of bullpen meltdowns. So in some ways, yeah, Opening Day can set the tone for the whole year.

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So much for perfection

Well, Travis Buck got his welcome to the majors. Felix Hernandez sent him to the dugout — good morning, good afternoon, good night — to start the top of the third. So much for hitting 1.000.

Buck is wearing No. 6, which as A’s commentator Ray Fosse mentioned, is the same one that was worn by Sal Bando during the early 70′s A’s dynasty. Not a bad guy to try to emulate.

I anticipate Buck will struggle early. The hurlers flip a switch on Opening Day, and commence with actual pitching. During the spring, they work on refining their stuff and don’t give much thought to what to throw in what count, etc. Now that they will, Buck’s going to get a swift education.

Still, it will be good for him to be here and be exposed to the majors. And just so I’m not mistaken, I don’t think he’ll be a complete flop. He’ll have his moments.

Meantime, Felix Hernandez just whiffed Mark Ellis for strikout No. 5 through the first five innings. So as Buck knows, no shame in starting a career by striking out against King Felix.

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More picks

Forgot to mention over the weekend that I’ve made my additional picks for 2007. In quick order here they are:

AL MVP: Grady Sizemore, Indians
NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
AL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Twins
NL Cy Young: Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
AL Rookie of the Year: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
NL Rookie of the Year: Homer Bailey, Reds
AL Comeback Player: Rich Harden, A’s
NL Comeback Player: Josh Hamilton, Reds
AL Breakout Player: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
NL Breakout Player: Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks
AL Flop: Gary Matthews Jr., Angels
NL Flop: Ray Durham, Giants

Nailed a couple of these choices last year, most notably picking Matt Holliday as my NL Breakout Player. Also whiffed on a couple. I’m still not showing my face after predicting Chan Ho Park as the NL Comeback Player.

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“We’re underway.”

The A’s are going to have a tough chore ahead of them this afternoon, if first appearances are any indication. The roof reportedly is closed up in Safeco Field, but the lights haven’t taken great effect yet. The result is a dark, shady appearance.

Just what they need facing Seattle gunslinger Felix Hernandez. King Felix lost 20 pounds in teh offseason and look great. He’s pumping in fastballs at 97 and just dropped a nasty hook on Shannon Stewart.

Dan Haren, in his first Opening Day start for the A’s, had better be sharp. Runs are at a premium.

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The real Opening Day

Happy Opening Day.

Yep, you heard that right. I know the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets commenced the regular season last night, but in my eyes, that’s just another game. I’d like to know how many of you out there in cyberspace actually sit down and watch ESPN’s annual Sunday night opener?

Reason I ask is that I annually boycott that game on purpose. It’s my own private protest. Years ago, baseball veered away from having the traditional opener in Cincinnati, and that’s fine. The Reds may be our country’s oldest professional team, but if you discontinue that tradition in the name of progress, I can live with it.

But holding one game on a Sunday night, even while exhibition games are still being played, is just something I can’t get enjoy. So I listened to the Cards-Mets on radio last night, then woke up this morning primed for some viewing.

First thing I saw was Tampa Bay’s precocious youngster, Elijah Dukes, going yard to deep right-center at Yankee Stadium. The Devil Rays will lose a lot this year, but you can’t deny they have some impressive young talent in their everyday lineup.

By the way, Alex Rodriguez has already made an error in this game. The ESPN folks are having a lot of fun panning in on him after every move he makes. Should be a fun year for A-Rod in the Bronx.

The A’s open in about 3 1/2 hours at Seattle, and I’ll be blogging periodically throughout the contest.

One other thing. The Q&A page on our Web site is being discontinued (at least that’s what I’ve been told). So if you have questions for me, please leave them in the comment box or e-mail them to me at rhurd@cctimes.com.

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The Rosters

The Travis Buck era is here.

Well, for now anyway. The A’s announced before their exhibition finale vs. the Giants that their best prospect not only has made the Opening Day roster but that he’ll be playing regularly, too.

That’s the great thing about the A’s, and it was true even in the days when I covered them. They rarely do things you think makes logical sense. So, not surprisingly, my best guess for how the final cuts would look were wrong. I’m sure you’re shocked to hear that.

Anyway, Buck stays, as does the just-signed Todd Walker, left-handed pitcher Lenny DiNardo and Rule 5 lefty specialist Jay Marshall (that one wasn’t a surprise). Gone are lefty pitcher Brad Halsey (optioned to Triple-A Sacramento) and utility infielder Antonio Perez (designated for assignment). As expected, starter Esteban Loaiza goes on the 15-day disabled list, and Chad Gaudin will step into the rotation. (I got that one right).

As for the Giants, they didn’t release Mark Sweeney as anticipated (but that might be coming eventually). Instead they put him on the disabled list with a foot injury he supposedly incurred fouling a ball off it on Wednesday. Funny, I didn’t see said injury reported by anyone. And unlike I erroneously posted in my earlier blog (my math skills led me into this business), that didn’t mean both Jason Ellison and Todd Linden have earned spots. At 12:28 p.m., the Giants announced that Linden earned the final spot and that Ellison was traded to the Seattle Mariners for left-handed pitcher Travis Black.

Anyway, the big news is Buck. According to manager Bob Geren and general manager Billy Beane, he’ll be treated as the everyday right fielder. Buck earned the spot with a great spring, and injuries to first baseman Dan Johnson and outfielder Mark Kotsay opened up a spot for him.

The ascension of Buck also means Nick Swisher goes back to first base. That’ll be interesting to watch, because Swisher hasn’t played the position much during the spring. I asked him during batting practice if going back there will be like riding a bike, and he said, “I hope so.” So keep an eye on that. Walker becomes a backup first baseman who can also fill in at second base and, in an emergency, at third base.

To see the A’s and Giants’ Opening Day rosters, proceed to the expanded entry section. and take these decisions with a grain of salt. As Beane said to reporters, there’s “more pagentry than actual substance” to the Opening Day roster.

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Cut down to size

Mere hours to go until the A’s and the Giants have to set their 25-man rosters — the deadline is noon today — and here’s my best guess.

The A’s will keep Todd Walker to play first base primarily, as well as DH. Walker put it best Saturday when he said he “didn’t fly here from Phoenix for one game.” The release of Erubiel Durazo on Saturday only seemed to solidify Walker’s thinking (And it will make one loyal reader in Seattle very happy).

Travis Buck, on the other hand, will head to the minors so he can continue to get at-bats. The A’s have never been a team that’s rushed young talent, and keeping Buck this time would be doing exactly that.

Chad Gaudin enters the rotation for the time being, and Esteban Loaiza goes on the disabled list with his strained right trapezius. No-brainer here. Loaiza is simply not ready for the regular season, yet, and Gaudin gets the nod over Brad Halsey, because Halsey hasn’t had the greatest spring. Halsey, however, remains to be a part of the bullpen. Antonio Perez, who’s been out with a non-baseball related manner, stays and can be used as a fifth outfielder, if necessary.

For the Giants, Mark Sweeney will be cut. He’s a nice pinch-hitter and good glove as an extra first baseman, but his age, 37, works against him. He’ll latch on somewhere else. That will allow the Giants to keep Lance Niekro and Jason Ellison, both of whom have had terrific springs, and both of whom are out of minor-league options.

Check back later this afternoon, when we know officially.