Ray Ratto

Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

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USATSI

Once be-all, end-all, Big Game now just friends-and-alumni-only party

The 97th Big Game is upon us, and that means you scratching your head and asking, “What? Already?”

Cal and Stanford meet for the 120th time, and as is their custom, only one of the two teams is good. Indeed, Stanford has owned this game for most of the last three and a half decades (they are 10-22-1 since 1984, and has won the last seven game in succession by an average score of 40-18).

Indeed, since 1975, the two teams have had winning records at the same time only five times, a yin-and-yang relationship that has no real logic to it.

But in a changing world and an increasingly professional-sports-driven region, the thing that truly reduced the Big Game from a big event to a friends-and-alumni-only party was the decision to move the game around to accommodate other scheduling issues. It used to be safe the week before Thanksgiving, only rarely straying from its comfortable pocket between November 17 and 23.

Once it had to adjust to demands like the Notre Dame game and the Pacific-12 Conference television demands, the Big Game became just part of the schedule rather than the be-all and end-all of the season. And while true believers like Stanford head coach David Shaw, who has proven after Stanford down to his last molecule by not entertaining NFL jobs, still find it an essential highlight of each season, the more casual fan has moved on to other pastimes.

This is partly due to the transient nature of the modern graduate, but also due to college football’s recent playoff-or-bust mentality, of which the only sniff the Bay Area is likely to have is next year’s championship game at Levi’s Stadium, The Stadium That Creature Comforts Forgot.

But enough about why the Big Game isn’t actually “big.” The truth is, it’s big enough for what it needs to be, and maybe that is its true historical value. The last time Cal and Stanford finished 1-2 in the conference was 1937, so maybe this game, in which Stanford is 7-3 and Cal is 5-5, is about what it is supposed to be.

Something fun for the folks already in the tent.

Odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the longest at-bat ever

Odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the longest at-bat ever

Brandon Belt’s 21-pitch at-bat in Sunday’s Giants’ 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels is the stuff of nerdley legend. It must also have made Rob Manfred pull off his own head in exasperation.

Baseball games are quicker this year because of the new speed diktats, all of them part of the Manfredian compulsion that pace is the thing that is keeping baseball from becoming the cool kids’ sport.

But here is Belt, laying down a 12-minute batting opus that droned on so long that Belt admitted later that he hates that sort of thing when he is in the field. He, too, understands where Manfred’s bread is buttered.

But it was also described as “the longest at-bat ever” by people who should know better but clearly don’t. It might have been the longest at-bat ever, but people have only been counting this for 20 years, and there have been long at-bats before. The odds are that there have been longer at-bats in baseball history, and that Belt’s extended soliloquy doesn’t rank first, but maybe 12th, or 29th, or 214th. According to BaseballReference.com, there have been 14,689,043 at-bats, so the odds are relatively strong that Belt actually doesn’t have the record at all.

So what we have here, then, is a fascinating oddity but not necessarily an epochal one. Frankly, if Belt really cared about the record, he would have fouled off seven or eight more pitches and made a better claim for having a record that nobody actually can make.

But every day is a new set of at-bats, and while Belt can never truly have a totally true record, he could make Rob Manfred turn purple with rage. That’s better than any record right there.

The meaning of Sean Manaea's no-hitter

The meaning of Sean Manaea's no-hitter

Sean Manaea has a memory that will last him forever. The Oakland Athletics have a touchstone they can use to trump whatever other misfortunes befall them.

That is the beauty of a no-hitter, which Manaea threw at the Boston Red Sox Saturday night in a 3-0 victory before a healthy crowd of 25,746. It means a lot for one day, then its magnificence fades, and the season plays out as it must.

In the meantime, it is an exemplary moment for a middle-of-the-road team trying to find its core. It doesn’t lead to anything else, it doesn’t change the course of a season, it is simply one moment in time for a player who has just had his one shining moment, and a team trying to figure out what will resonate with its fan base.

And Manaea’s performance will remind the customer base that anything can happen on any given day over the course of a six-month season, and that when in doubt, going to the ballpark to take in a game is not all that bad an idea.

And that, for anyone outside the circle of Manaea and his immediate family, friends and teammates, is the lesson. No-hitters are a singular and individual moment, and Manaea has one. That never fades...for him.

For the A’s, though, it can mean whatever they want it to mean. Maybe they learn more confidence in Manaea. Maybe he becomes the go-to guy they thought Kendall Graveman would be. Maybe subduing the best hitting team in the American League provides a level of confidence that the A’s need to be thought of as more than just a modest also-ran.

Maybe all these things happen. Maybe none of them do. But this is immutable:

9 0 0 0 2 10 108-75 1.23

That is Manaea’s box score line, and whatever other explanations result from this performance, the line still speaks for itself.

Put another way, a game with free admission doesn’t hold a candle to a no-hitter. Sean Manaea is now an official badass on a team that can use all it can get, and you need to take that at face value because face value is the only thing in which no-hitters pay. It’s a moment that can be much more, or just what it is, but what it is is more than sufficient.