The first sign that baseball playoff races are heating up in the East Bay is the faded yard lines on the field at the Coliseum. The second is the river of complaints about the yard lines on the field at the Coliseum, which run neck by jowl with the complaints by football fans of the indignity of their precious heroes having to play practice games on infield dirt.
The last sign, of course, is in the attendance. But isn’t that typically the way with the A’s? The folks who want them to entertain are typically the last to know.
But here’s the fun they missed Monday in the Elephants’ hilarious come-from-way-ahead-to-damned-near-behind 7-6 win over Seattle, a victory that strengthened their hold on the second wild-card space (now 2½ games over the Mariners), narrowed the distance between themselves and division-leading Houston (now two games), not to mention the first-wild-carded Yankees (3½ and shrinking):
-- They missed three more doubles by third baseman Matt Chapman, who will win no awards but almost surely will feature on many of the 30 American League Most Valuable Player ballots.
Hey, in the olden days, he’d have been a Minnesota Twin by July 23.
-- They missed two more doubles and four runs batted in by Jed Lowrie, who might get a couple of votes himself.
And he WAS going to be traded before smarted heads than those engaged in the various rumor mills prevailed.
-- They missed Sean Manaea’s most effective start since his no-hitter in April, as he stifled the Mariners’ fly-ball-laden lineup into a series of groundouts that not only kept him in the game into the eighth inning (his second longest start since the second day of the season) but allowed manager Bob Melvin to almost, but actually not at all, leave his bullpen in the bubble wrap for a change.
Hey, why have five closers if you can’t use a couple whenever you want?
-- They missed a brilliant two-out, 6-3-5 double play to end the fourth inning, starting with a smart pickup and throw by shortstop Marcus Semien to retire Ryon Healy and then an excellent cross-diamond throw by first baseman Matt Olson to third to get Kyle Seager with the extraneous but still delightful fourth out.
Hey, even superfluous athleticism should get noticed, if not tangibly rewarded.
-- And they missed the indisputable proof that some people already have Pachyderm Fever. Melvin hooked Manaea after seeing his starter get Guillermo Heredia and Andrew Romine to start the eighth before allowing a single to Ryan Haniger. Melvin replaced him with Emilio Pagan, who immediate gave up singles to Cameron Maybin and Jean Segura, and as Melvin walked out to replace Pagan with Lou Trivino, a fan in the second deck yelled (and I’m quoting here), “Boo Melvin! You idiot!”
Yes, the man SAID “boo.” He didn’t actually boo. He said the word “boo” the way you would say “Pass the sugar.” Fans are the best, no matter how many there are.
-- Finally, they missed the thigh-slapping, commode-hugging ninth inning, in which they aggressively tried to blow Manaea’s six-run lead. Jeurys Familia started the inning and quickly threw 17 pitches, five of them for strikes, thus loading the bases with no outs for closer Blake Treinen, who had pitched the day before and was probably looking forward to a well-earned night off.
He quickly taught Familia a valuable lesson about wasting pitches by throwing a wild pitch to score Ryon Healy, and then giving up a two-run single to Mitch Haniger to score the other two Familia walks, Mike Zunino and pinch-hitter Denard Span.
And the reason all this mattered in the long run? The 10,400 fans rose after the Haniger single and started chanting “Let’s Go Oakland” as though there were 13,873 of them. They demanded their heroes rise from their knees, and they got a response, albeit delayed.
Treinen struck out Maybin, gave up a single to Segura and, because it has to be this way with these guys, struck out power-hitting Nelson Cruz to win the game before a relieved mob that sounded more like 18,101.
See? The crowds ARE building, even if the math calls us all liars.
Besides, the 2002 A’s didn’t catch the area’s notice, in the year of their 20-game winning streak (2002) until after Game 15 of their 20-game winning streak in which Games 6 through 15 were played on the road. So maybe it isn’t that A’s fans are incapable of reacting to normal baseball stimulus after all. Maybe they just have a higher threshold the boys must reach before they fully commit to the concept.
Game Two is Tuesday. It will almost certainly be weirder than Monday’s, though it’s hard to imagine how. But at least the field will look a little less football-y.