I Spent a Year in Oakland One Week: Scenes from another Early October Exit
The A’s and their loud and loyal fans couldn’t match Justin Verlander or break the Curse of Game 5
This time last week I was a ball of energy and nerves. I was unable to sleep, excited, anxious, sending wild text messages to A’s friends around the country asking how they felt and then reassured that my condition that day wasn’t unique. I had looked forward to October 4,2013 for so long and had already planned the day out so precisely in my mind that I feel into a slight anxiety attack when my fiancé and I arrived slightly late to the game and my imaginary plans went south. When the series itself began my concerns over parking and metal detectors took a back seat to a hopeful, joyous, exciting, confusing and ultimately heartbreaking week of baseball.
Part One: Spare Parts v. Detroit Muscle
Game one was a raucous start to the ALDS but all post-season games in The House of Thrills are so it was a treat just to be back in that atmosphere. Big Bad Bartolo actually threw pretty well and if not for that first inning, the homer Yoenis Cespedes hit off of Max Scherzer that probably just landed somewhere in Antioch would have made the difference. Instead, Scherzer kept dealing and the A’s bats couldn’t get on track. There was still hope though. After all, it was only game one.
Game two was just one of those games you’ll never forget. Justin Verlander who is essentially now public enemy number 1 in Oakland took the hill against the young Sonny Gray who, moving forward, will always have a bit of mythology around him. The kid went toe-to-toe Verlander for eight innings and failed to even bend to the motor city kitties scratching at the door. It was a career defining performance but in Sonny’s case, a career coming out party as he introduced himself to the world with a powerful curve ball and a nasty fastball. He wasn’t fazed in the slightest by the big stage either. When Tori Hunter threw a temper tantrum to try and get in Sonny’s head, he came back with some nasty gas and got the old-timer to strike out. All this of course set the stage for Stephen Vogt’s game winning hit and A’s fans were treated to one last walk off for the year. It’s always Sonny in Oakland and that forecast should remain the same in the coming years.
Game three was the coming out party for the man who fuels the A’s day-after-day, Coco Crisp. Coco had already won over the hearts and minds of A’s fans ages ago so there wasn’t much he could have done to make us love the guy even more but he did. Jarrod Parker, although without his best stuff, still battled and got the A’s in a place to win. Power showed up at the door step of Brandon Moss and Seth Smith which was nice. Even Josh Reddick got into the power game. After getting through Scherzer and Verlander with one win and getting this game 3 easily wrapped up, it looked as if for the first time in 7 years the A’s would advance past the ALDS into the ALCS and it looked like the A’s would finally make good on their potential. But then Grant Balfour got the kitties riled up for no reason at all except for his raging pride’s sake and for the rest of the series, the A’s would never really look as good again.
Granted, game four was a great start. Dan Straily came out strong and pitched four scoreless innings before getting tagged by a three run shot. No worries though, the A’s bats came right back and took the lead. It looked as if the A’s could go back and forth and rely on their bullpen to take them home. Even when the kitties went up once more and brought Scherzer in, the A’s responded right back by loading the bases with no outs but then Josh Reddick came up and in all honesty, there went the season. After Reddick struck out on a ball four with no outs and the tying run on third with the bases juiced, the rest of the series would, sadly, be a formality.
That strike out took all the wind out of the A’s sails. If Reddick walks like he should of, Vogt doesn’t have any pressure on him to strike out as the game is now tied and Alberto Callaspo can hit a hard liner and give the A’s one more insurance run. But after that Reddick “K”, you could tell the A’s had run out of gas. Even with the late surge in the ninth with 2 outs, there wasn’t anything a hundred Seth Smiths could do to unfortunately avoid being Seth Smith in that situation where you just don’t have the tools to take your team to the next level.
Game five was Verlander and Sonny Gray the sequel and although Sonny pitched his heart out, even with a broken thumb, deep in my heart I knew that entering into the House of Thrills that night that Verlander wasn’t going home without some champagne. Sure, we hoped and even made a little comeback in the ninth but even with MC Hammer in the stands, there was nothing that could be done about Verlander and the A’s achilles heal: Game 5’s. We stuck around after the final fly out by Seth Smith and tried to get the A’s to make a curtain call like last year after they lost game 5 but this year we expected to be there and expected to win deep into the post-season. From my seat, you could see the A’s quickly heading into the locker room knowing full well that they felt the same way. I took one last look around the baseball configuration of The House of Thrills, put my fiancés hand in mine and headed out into the cold Oakland night.
Part Two: Memories fit for a King
The Oakland Athletics, beyond all the discussion of their bargain basement name players, their small budget in a small market with an outdated stadium, are a living and breathing symbolic organism of what Oakland is as a whole: a city with a lot of potential, a lot of diversity, a lot of opinions on how to make it work with a horrible infrastructure and ultimately a lot of problems. The more dedicated, loyal fans seem to grab on to the potential and hopeful excitement the team brings to the table all the while stomaching the painful wounds the infrastructure of Lew Wolff and his partners have inflicted resulting in a fan experience that only a die-hard green and gold bleeder can not necessarily enjoy, but tolerate. The local media seems to grab hold of the aging stadium story and can never seem to get past the easy-to-fault inadequacies when compared to other, more modern ballparks resulting in a symbolic escalation of the problems Oakland’s image as a city face and this ultimately leads to the A’s and Oakland vulnerable to being picked on for not conforming or being like all the rest. It almost feels at times that Lew Wolff and the local media are in cahoots together to discourage fans from coming out to games altogether, but then the A’s, like Oakland, create a unique sub-culture of misfits and castaways which is mirrored in its fan base and then do something great like win the A.L. West in back-to-back years making teams like the Rangers and Angles look foolish in the process. When the A’s win and pull feats like this off it feels like we win because when we say who we root for and where we live, we get the same concerned, slightly scared looked that the A’s themselves must feel. We may not have much but in a strange way, we have each other I guess.
So now that the 2013 season comes to an end for the A’s, one large market team that was expected to make the post-season will eventually face off against another large market team that was expected to make the post-season in the Fall Classic and Tim MacCarver and Joe Buck will say dumb and obvious things and make everyone angry and then before you know it it’ll all be over. In Oakland we’ll have some great memories of this last season that will last a long time and will make for great stories that we’ll tell for years to come. But as the late, great Johnny Thunders once sang, “You can’t put your arms around a memory” and I guess that’s true in some sense. But in another sense, tonight I’ll be at a bar in Oakland celebrating a buddy’s birthday called The Kona Club. It used to be called The King’s X and The King’s X is where the 1988 A’s went to go party at once they won the AL West. Steve “Chili” Bowles will be there and so will Kelly “Brew” Maughn and Matt “Chops” Siee. I even heard that Luis “Mule” Argueta and Michael “Cadaver” Sanchez may show up as well. So will the wives and girlfriends of good friends who’ll humor us as we toast to the passage of time and to the unknown promise that the future holds. We’ll laugh loudly, talk about MC Hammer, joke about Mike “Gags” Gallego and ponder what Billy Beane and Bob Melvin know that we don’t all while sharing our stories and our time together. You can’t put your arms around a memory, but you can put your arms around your friends and loved ones. So even though we’ve lost the A’s for the year, we still have each other.
The A’s and their Fans will keep scratching at the door until it breaks down and lets a glorious stream of green and golden light flood the Bay Area with a World Series Championship