So much Rich Harden. So much for Nick Swisher. And so much for the big, bad Angels. Nice, isn’t it, that there were more than a couple of A’s-related items going on in the opening round of the baseball playoffs. Here’s my take on them:
A’s fans will want to pull out their hair when I write this (the jinx factor, after all), but have to pull it out now, because it’s a sentence that may not be written again in 2008.
Boston’s David Ortiz is 0-for-10 and has now left seven men in scoring position. He grounded out against Joe Blanton with the bases loaded in the fifth, preserving a 1-1 tie. Ortiz has also failed twice with the bases loaded in the three games.
An hour away from the A’s christening the domestic portion of their schedule, and just go give you an idea as to what the mood is like in the hours leading up to such a high-adrenaline game, consider:
— Huston Street and Andrew Brown were quietly playing a game of chess, striking the same pose they’ll likely have for the next 159 games.
— Travis Buck was pulling on his socks, chatting amiably with me. He’s on the cover of the team’s Opening Day program. Just three years ago, he was still doing the college thing at Arizona State. “Pretty crazy, huh?” he said.
— Daric Barton was desperately in search of some tickets. “Five of them,” he said. “Family members, and then one for my agent.” Sigh. Shame that last part ever became a part of the American lexicon.
— Reliever Henry Rodriguez, the Rule 5 pick, sat by himself at his locker. In the 45 minutes or so that I was in the clubhouse, I’m not sure he exchanged a word with anybody.
So you see, Opening Day (or Re-Opening Day) might be full of pomp and circumstance. But for most of the players, in many ways, it really is just another day.
The A’s are homeward bound a .500 team. A clean 5-1 win closed out their season-opening series with the Boston Red Sox in Tokyo.
Highlights: They showed some timely hitting, and got contributions from many new faces. Emil Brown had a three-run homer in the victory, Jeff Fiorentino (who may not be on the roster come the domestic opener Monday), had an insurance-adding single, and Mike Sweeney had two hits. Jack Hannahan, not a new face but the first third baseman not named Eric Chavez to open the season at the position in the past decade, played great in both games, both offensively and defensively. And, as I blogged earlier, Rich Harden whet the imagination with a dominant effort.
Lowlights: Pretty much only Huston Street, who was awful in the opener. Only one game though.
As for all-night ball? It was fun, but let’s hope it’s only a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Rich Harden’s 2008 debut is in the books, and it was a doozy. Six innings, nine strikeouts and only a lone run — a homer by Boston’s Manny Ramirez, and obviously there’s no shame in that.
Take it with the proper caution, however. Harden has tantalized like this before. Two Aprils ago, I remember watching him mow down the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field and thinking he was going to win at least 20. Last year, I called our beat writer Joe Stiglich at the Coliseum while watching Harden make the Yankees look like fools, and moments after hanging up the phone, he walked off with an injury that essentially ruined his season.
That said, it is easy to let the mind wander. Harden is so much fun to watch when he’s right, because he makes it look so effortless. This morning, he spotted all his pitches consistently and was clocking 95 mph at times, according to the ESPN radar.
Now, it’s reliever Santiago Casilla. The A’s couldn’t close out a one-run lead late yesterday. Let’s see if they can protect a 4-1 lead in this one.
Great thing about baseball is the way it gives players a chance to erase the memory of a failure one day by doing something big the next.
Emil Brown is living that right now. He just uncorked a three-run homer off a hanging Jon Lester breaking ball for a 4-0 lead. Brown has been talked up by former Royals teammate Mike Sweeney this spring, and the A’s brass seems to think he can have a huge impact.
He did in the opener, with his ridiculous attempt to take third base after his double in the 10th inning. That mistake led to his being out in a rundown, and prevented the A’s from tying the game when the next two batters responded with hits. I still say that might be the biggest baserunning gaffe you see in baseball this season.
But more moments like the one Brown just had in the third will make that mistake easier to live with. Brown has hit 38 homers over the past two seasons, so he’s definitely got some offensive ability. He’s a former A’s draft pick (1994), and perhaps he’ll be another example of Billy Beane’s smarts. Didn’t look that way in the opener, but in baseball, things sure change quickly.
The A’s have struck first for the second straight night. Chris Denorfia’s RBI single off Boston starter Jon Lester in the second inning scored Bobby Crosby for a 1-0 lead.
Crosby got the inning started with a laser double down the left-field line, and his start has been encouraging. With runners in scoring position in the opener, he avoided striking out and got enough wood on a tough pitch from Daisuke Matsuzaka to drive in a run. He also smoked a single against Jonathan Papelbon in a 1oth-inning rally that fell just short. Now this.
Rich Harden’s initial start has been encouraging, too, at least through two innings. Fastball has zip. Breaking ball is sharp. Thing is, can’t get too excited about anything that Harden does, because he’s had periods the past two years when he appears to be cruising. In essence, you hold your breath on every pitch. That’s a hard reality when a guy is making his first start of the season, but only Harden can change that reality.
Back for a return engagement of 3 a.m. baseball. The A’s and Red Sox are under way from Tokyo. And I’ll I can tell you is that we have to stop meeting this way. The 2:45 a.m. alarm seemed to come even quicker than it did last night.
Anyway, the big news is that Rich Harden is on the hill. It’s only the 14th time that’s happened since the start of 2006. Please, no over/under bets on how many innings he pitches before he breaks down. No room for pessimism in the middle of the night.
Besides, Harden got through the first inning unscathed. He struck out Dustin Pedroia on a nasty splitter to start it, and after a two-out walk to David Ortiz, fanned Manny Ramirez.
A’s lineup very similar to last night. Baserunning guru Emil Brown is back in there in left field, and his former Royals teammate Mike Sweeney gets his first start of the season. Travis Buck, leading off, swung at the first pitch in the first inning against Jon Lester, the second night in a row he’s swung at the first pitch as a leadoff hitter.
I’ll be blogging until it’s over. Hope I’m not the only night owl out here.
Emil Brown just committed what may go down as the most boneheaded running play of 2008. His 10th-inning double scored Daric Barton to make it 6-5, but he then inexplicably tried to advance to third and was tagged out in a rundown.
What else to expect from a former Royal?
Cost the A’s a tie game, too. Bobby Crosby and Jack Hannahan followed the blunder with hits off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, but Papelbon gives up three hits in a row about as often as Eric Chavez misses openers. And he got Kurt Suzuki on a ground out to first to end it.
Red Sox 6, A’s 5.
Time to catch a quick nap.
Several years ago, went to a Giants home opener at Candlestick Park and wandered into the upper deck to meet a buddy. It was an hour before game time, and he was on the edge of his seat, the heart about to pump out of his chest.
“This game,” he said, “is gonna set the tone for the whole season.”
I bring this up, because Huston Street may be in for a brutal 2008 if that theory applies. He’s just been raked for a two-run double by Manny Ramirez, the capper on an Opening Night in which he’s blown a save and now given up a tie. Just what you want, especially when you’re team is supposed to be one of the league’s dregs.
If nothing else, the A’s are going to find out just how mentally tough Street is, because this was a brutal one. Street is as sound as they come in that area, probably because his old man was a football star at Texas and passed on knowledge of failure as well as success.
Still, you have to wonder where this will lead. On that night in Candlestick, the late Dan Quisenberry blew a lead late and proceeded to have a miserable year.