My First Game of the Season
My friend Bruce couldn’t use his ticket to the A’s versus Tigers game at the Oakland Coliseum this past Saturday night, and gave it to me instead. The ride on BART was uneventful, and I even got a Bob Melvin Bobblehead on my way into the ballpark. After a Louisiana Hot Link and a diet cola, I settled in just four rows behind home plate for an evening of baseball.
Since I got the ticket on Friday, I had time to do some research on the clubs. I was curious to see how they stacked up statistically, so I spent a few minutes looking at some numbers. Going into this weekend series, here’s how the Tigers and Athletics ranked in a variety of offensive categories among the American League’s fifteen teams:
Category Tigers Athletics
Doubles 2nd 2nd
Triples 3rd 6th
Home Runs 7th 5th
Runs 5th 14th
Stolen Bases 11th 12th
On Base Percentage 6th 10th
So both clubs were on the slow side, with low totals for stolen bases. Otherwise, the Tigers were the better club offensively, and this was without J.D. Martinez, who was on the disabled list, and Ian Kinsler, who missed the weekend with a minor injury. On the pitching side of the equation, both teams had very high earned run averages, with poor grades in many other pitching categories.
The weather was delightful and the game started at 6:05 pm, an hour earlier than usual. Jesse Hahn started for the A’s, and you could tell right away that he wasn’t sharp. His fastball was okay, but his breaking stuff was missing the mark. He got two quick ground outs before loading the bases on a walk, single and another walk before getting a third ground out to close the top of the first. Jordan Zimmerman took his spot on the pitcher’s mound for the bottom of the first. I did a double take when I saw his season stats included an ERA in excess of 6.5. Ouch! He breezed through the top of the first, however, with a ground out, a walk, a liner caught in right field and a fly to shallow center field. Here are the two starting pitchers on their 2017 Topps cards:
The scoring started in the second inning as both pitchers encountered trouble. In the top of the second, an error on a ground ball and a single placed two Tigers on base, and Andrew Romine’s triple to center field knocked them in. Then a single to left field by Nicholas Castellanos knocked Romine in and the Tigers led 3 to 0. In the bottom half, A’s third baseman Ryon Healy smacked a line drive home run down the left field line, and the A’s were on the board. But Zimmerman minimized the damage by getting the next three A’s batters out, and the second ended with the Tigers leading, 3 to 1.
Life got a lot more interesting for me in the third inning when I started conversing with the seven year old seated next to me. What was better, cotton candy or ice cream? Did I want to sing Jingle Bells? Is this harder than little league? Did I want to see him shake his Bob Melvin bobble head until the head came off? Which uniform did I like more? How come the stadium lights are already on even though it’s still light outside? How old is Grandma? Where are the Tigers stripes?
His questions ranged from hilarious to provocative and they kept coming as I somehow continued to follow the game. Both pitchers had a relatively easy time of it in the third, although wildness had pushed A’s stater Jesse Hahn’s pitch total to about 80 pitches. This would be a bullpen game for the A’s for sure, and it became one very quickly when the Tigers chased Hahn in the top of the fourth with two walks and a single. After 101 pitches over the course of 3.2 innings, A’s Manager Bob Melvin brought in left hander Daniel Coulombe, who walked the first batter he faced before getting out of the inning, with the Tigers leading 4 to 1. But the A’s got a run back in an otherwise quiet bottom of the 4th when first baseman Yonder Alonzo slugged a home run to deep center field and now it’s Tigers 4, A’s 2. Then the Tigers nicked Coulombe for two hits and a run in the top of the fifth and lead the A’s, 5 to 2. It stays quiet for a little while until Yonder Alonzo hits his second home run of the night in the bottom of the sixth, this time with a runner on as the A’s pull closer to the Tigers who now lead, 5 to 4. After allowing another hit Zimmerman is replaced by left hander Blaine Hardy, and now it’s a bullpen game for both sides.
I frequently refer to the portion of the game after both starters have been pulled as the march of the relievers. By the end of the game we had seen nine different relievers. For my part, I was at a loss how to explain the expression “a game of specialization” to a seven-year old. Sometimes I have trouble explaining it to myself.
Which brings us to the bottom of the ninth inning, and it’s now or never for the A’s, who are still trailing, 5 to 4. However, there’s some promising signs of life for the A’s when the Tigers bring in Francisco Rodriguez, their closer, and I use that word loosely, to finish the game. I’ve got an opinion about this guy, and it’s not good. I can tell you he’s got two nicknames, K-Rod and Frankie. I know he’s had some success over the course of his sixteen years in the major leagues, but that was during the early part of his career and I haven’t trusted him in years.How does a guy like this survive this long in the majors, anyway? Is it because it’s a game or specialization? Is it because the Tigers haven’t figured their bullpen out in years? I don’t know. Maybe you can tell me.
Frankie gets the first batter to strike out, and the second to line out to the left fielder. C’mon, Frankie, don’t let the home crowd down. Then almost on cue he walks the next batter and the A’s have a glimmer of hope. Then the next batter doubles and the A’s have runners on second and third with shortstop Adam Rosales stepping up to the plate. Of course the 16, 651 fans by now are sounding like 16 million with many standing up, cheering excitedly and hoping for a game-winning hit. Then Rosales smacks a single to left field, and both runners score. Just like that Rosales has a walk-off, game-winning hit and the A’s have won, 6 to 5! Wow! This does not go unnoticed by the folks at Topps as their Topps Now division immediately brought out a card celebrating the moment. Here it is:
So my night of baseball came to an end. The home crowd left the stadium happy, and I’m happy for the A’s and their fans. The A’s won’t be a serious contender this season, so moments like this are to be savored. That’s when I heard the voice of my new young friend ask, now do you want to sing Jingle Bells?