Ray Ratto

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.

After sweeping Ducks, Sharks now become the designated Other Team vs Vegas

After sweeping Ducks, Sharks now become the designated Other Team vs Vegas

The San Jose Sharks don’t typically have series go this easily or cleanly, so the benefit of sweeping the Anaheim Ducks with Thursday’s 2-1 win is not immediately evident to the outside world.

After all, they’re probably still trying to figure out where all the expected grind of this series went. This series was supposed to be a difficult and extended slog, and instead it was by far the least difficult series of the eight this year, and the second least difficult in club history. And Thursday’s game was the most competitive but least interesting of the four.

But now that they are the designated Other Team against the Vegas Golden Knights, they will have a week to consider the difficulties both emotionally and physically of not only playing the concept but also the reality of Vegas.

Emotionally, because the Knights will be America’s darlings.

“I haven’t dove into them enough,” head coach Peter DeBoer said, fibbing at least a bit. “We’ll be heavy, heavy underdogs, and I hope you guys will write that.”

And physically, because the Knights and Sharks are far more similar than one would think at first glance. They are both devoted four-line teams (San Jose got five of their 16 goals from their fourth line in this series, a departure from their historical over-reliance on two lines and hope-for-the-best), they use speed as a prime instrument (although San Jose’s approach could change some if Joe Thornton returns), their defense corps are deep without being spectacular, and their goaltenders (Martin Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury) are equally responsive in times of high stress situations.

Plus, they are coming into this series, that will start no sooner than next Wednesday, coming off easier-than-expected series wins against slower and older teams (the Knights swept Los Angeles in similar fashion, though each game ended with a one-goal margin) that failed in their attempts to use brawn and chippiness to derail faster and more disciplined ones. The adjustments from the series just ended to the one about to start will be considerable.

In short, this series will show which team is better at doing the very same things the very same way as their opponents. There will be no clash of styles, no generational tactical differences, no brain-vs.-brawn matchups. It could well be called Sharks-v.-Sharks, or Knights-v.-Knights.

Except that Vegas is just the exciting new thing on the menu, trying to do one more thing no other team has ever done before, while San Jose will be attacking this problem again, and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again,  and again.

If you can quantify that difference, then you’re better at this than most.

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Why the Sharks are about to be the NHL's biggest villains

Anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, nothing is done until it’s done, the fourth win is the hardest, and blah-blah-blah-de-blah-blah. I’m still going to say this – the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Embryos are second-round opponents, and that’s the deal.
 
This means that for perhaps the first time since the Philadelphia Flyers’ terror cell known as the Broad Street Bullies of the mid-70s, there will be a clear, unambiguous and almost universal interest on one side of this equation.
 
And it isn’t going to be San Jose.
 
Vegas is Turbo-Cinderella, the expansion team that can’t be killed, a heartwarming tale of the meek kicking Earth’s ass. By winning more games by themselves than most full expansion classes in either hockey or basketball, the Knights have enveloped themselves in the admiration of the industry and even casual fans who know that expansion teams are required by federal and dominion law to stink. They are the perfect antidote to the inherent cynicism in any system. They are love in a world that runs on hate.
 
There, I think we’ve made the point.
 
On the other side is San Jose, a team who has succeeded on the periphery of the NHL diaspora. They have never been darlings outside the 408, and have been criticized more for losing consistently to the hump they should have gotten over by now. But essentially, they are good but inoffensive, and their fan base is loud but neither deep nor truly rabid. They have taken good and made it their base camp without venturing too far from it.
 
None of which matters in these circumstances, though. Everybody with an opinion wants Vegas because The Narrative, which means that nobody with an interest wants the Sharks. And when we say “nobody,” we mean “nobody except Sharks fans and the Vegas books,” which will be taking more bets on Vegas than they have taken on the last 15 Cup Finals combined.
 
But you get the point. Everyone wants Vegas. Vegas wants Vegas, the other 29 teams wants Vegas, the league office wants Vegas, television wants Vegas, radio wants Vegas, web sites and newspapers want Vegas. People who hate hockey want Vegas. The only entity with this kind of popular unanimity is Beyonce.
 
That means San Jose is the villain, and worse, a bland villain. They don’t play dirty, they don’t cheat, they don’t talk smack, they don’t have a great player anyone truly hates they haven’t inflated pucks or illegally filmed opponents’ practices, their coach isn’t a contemptuous jerk, their owner isn’t a notoriously financial predator, none of it. They will be hated simply for existing in the path of the Vegas Goodwill Train over the next two weeks. And fair has nothing to do with it.
 
So if you say “Go Sharks!” do it with a smile, and prepare to duck. You are swimming against a massive tide, and the only way to survive it is to ride the wave.
 
And if you cannot hold your temper and simply must get yours back, then just snarl, “I hope you get a Columbus-Winnipeg Cup Final,” and then walk away. It may not be much of a retort, but let’s face it, you’re not playing a strong hand. North America hates you. Deal with it.