Ray Ratto

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

Patriots win one for the ages, but where does it rank?

The price of watching Roger Goodell being booed back to the Bronze Age is a subtle but real one, and one that people will feel very dearly soon enough.

The last great cathartic Super Bowl is now done, with the New England Patriots winning the brilliant and decisive battle to be sports’ new evil empire. In doing so, it rendered Goodell a permanent and risible punch line in National Football League history, the mall cop who wanted the death penalty for littering, and in the words of the song “got what he wanted but he lost what he had.”

True, $40 million a year can make the dissolution of your public persona a reasonably decent tradeoff, but we lost the argument about who won his windmill tilt with the Patriots. It’s done, and he is now permanently and irrevocably a figure of ridicule.

But that’s not the only debating point America lost Sunday night, and while you wouldn’t think it given how much time we are willing to shouting at each other, quality arguments are not easily replaced.

We have almost surely lost the mindless debate about the best quarterback ever, because there is nothing anyone can bring up that the words “Tom Brady” cannot rebut except calling his own plays, and since that is no longer allowed in football, it is a silly asterisk to apply.

We have almost surely lost the equally silly shouter about the best coach ever. Bill Belichick is defiantly not fun, but he has built, improved and bronzed an organizational model that is slowly swallowing the rest of the sport. That and five trophies makes him the equal if not better of the short list of Paul Brown, George Halas, Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh and Tom Landry.

Plus, Belichick locked up the most absurd response to a question in coaching history Monday when he said, “As great as today feels . . . we're five weeks behind the other teams for the 2017 season.” Even allowing for Gregg Popovich in-game interviews, the so-grim-he-could-make-a-robot-cry worship-the-process response has now become a cliché. If 2017 prep was so important, he should have skipped yesterday’s game, and he definitely should have chosen not to waste so much time on the trophy stand after the game when training camp drills needed to be scheduled.

Oh, and DeflateGate died. Dead. No zombie possibilities here.

We do have a meatheaded argument ahead of us about which championship in the last year is the best, which can be settled here.

1. Leicester City, because 5,000-1 is 5,000-1, and the whole world understands that. Plus, there was invaluable three-month buildup that engaged non-soccer fans.

2. Chicago Cubs, because 108 years is 108 years.

3. New England Patriots, because . . . well, I don’t have to explain it unless you have no useful memory span. “Down 25 In The Third Quarter” is the new “Down 3-1.”

4. Cleveland Cavaliers, because they slayed the first unbeatable Warrior team by coming from 3-1 down, and even as a silver medalist, it will always be an internet meme, which is what passes for memorable in our decrepit culture.

5. (tie) Villanova basketball and Clemson football in a tie, because they were essentially the same great game.

7. The Pittsburgh Penguins, because the Stanley Cup Final was devoid of drama or high moments, and only 14:53 of overtime. Feh.

But everything else is settled, and this Super Bowl will not be topped for a long time. Our current cycle of absurd championships is almost surely going to end soon, because “Down 3-1” has happened twice in eight months (three times, if you count Warriors over Thunder), and the bar has now been placed well beyond reasonable clearing.

Indeed, the only thing left is for a championship team to spontaneously combust on the award stand. But if they do so and ignite Roger Goodell along the way, that would be an ending America would cheerfully endorse.

But that also isn’t an argument any more, and yes, that includes Gary Bettman.

Trevor Cahill's career day moves A's into tie with Astros atop AL West

Trevor Cahill's career day moves A's into tie with Astros atop AL West

OAKLAND -- It is generally agreed that Trevor Cahill has been a very useful piece of an often suspect Oakland A's rotation. I mean, Sean Manaea is not starting every second day, and Edwin Jackson has only so much trickeration to go around for the benefit of his 13th team.
 
Saturday, though, was Cahill's masterwork by any metric analysis, and it came at one of the dandiest times in this decade of Elephant baseball. An equal share of first place in the AL West was there to be had, a big crowd was in the building, the day was warm, the beer was cold and the bat rack had been charged with vibranium.
 
The result: Cahill’s best start ever, with a palindromic pitching line of 7 1 0 0 1 7 and (dork alert) a game score of 85, his highest ever and one of the 150 best, give or take, in franchise history. Oh, and the A’s beat Houston, 7-1, to move into a flat-footed tie for first place in the AL West with only too many games left to play.
 
“I think it’s so early in the year for that,” Cahill said afterward said of dealing with the rarefied air of mid-August baseball. “It’s not even September yet. I mean, it’s a divisional rival and all, so it’s not like I wouldn’t think about it, but...”
 
But Cahill isn’t going to get giddy on command. He knows he pitched well, very well, but rather than trip down memory lane for the 2010 start against Pittsburgh when he threw 7 2/3 innings of two-hit, 10- strikeout ball, or the late 2009 start against Texas in which he matched Saturday’s pitching line save for a second hit, he fretted about his mid-game changeup (“but I got some outs and the defense backed me up and we got some hits”).
 
Yes. Some hits – 11 of them, including eight doubles, only one of which (Stephen Piscotty’s one-out drive in the fourth) did not lead to a run in Oakland’s binge-and-purge attack. Indeed, this game had breezy shutout written all over it until the ninth inning, and only because backup left fielder Tony Kemp explained to a 90-mph fastball from Yusmeiro Petit what happens to most 90-mph fastballs these days.
 
But in hindsight, the key moment in the game was back in the second when Houston’s Yuli Gurriel hit a grounder that shortstop Marcus Semien couldn’t come to terms with. There was no reason for the moment to resonate at the time, but it was Houston’s only baserunner off Cahill until the seventh, and the only hit he allowed all day.

Had Semien made the play (which in fairness was not an easy bit of business), Cahill would have walked off the mound in the seventh with 100 pitches and a hammer over manager Bob Melvin’s head. Instead of an easy call to pull Cahill, Melvin would have had to wrestle with removing a pitcher on the cusp of a no-hitter, as he did April 21 with Sean Manaea.
 
“Oh, Cahill’s pretty easygoing, and I don’t think it would have been a problem,” Melvin said, lying only about 40 percent. “But yeah, that would have been interesting.”
 
Not just interesting though, but a much more tortuous decision given that Manaea was only at 84 pitches through seven innings back in April while Cahill’s 100 marked only the 14th time all season an Oakland starter has thrown that many pitches.
 
In other words, Melvin had a potential conundrum removed for him, with 32,000-some-odd angry customers on one shoulder and a glowering Billy Beane on the other.

So even when they don’t get outs these days, it still works fine for everyone.

As for the bigger picture, the A’s won their second straight against Houston, and their sixth in seven games, 13th in 16, 19th in 25, and 43th in 53, plus their 20th of 24 at home. They have wiped all 12 games they had spotted the Astros this year, 14 from Seattle, 10 from the Yankees, and even a half-game from the Boston Red Sox, who seem to have actually won more games than they have played this season.
 
And for the even bigger picture, they did all this in front of the sixth-biggest crowd of the year, and the first that didn’t feature the Giants, free admission or fireworks. This winning-80-percent-of-your-games thing may actually be catching on, even if they audience got screwed out of a Cahill no-hitter, a record-setting ninth double, or a chance to take the division lead outright.
 
But hey, that’s tomorrow’s plan. And if you don’t get all of that and then some, be sure to complain to club busybody-in-chief Dave Kaval. He’s the customer service jockey around here, and now that the standard for daily joy has been set, he had damned well better be prepared to meet it, or explain the failure.

A's becoming even harder to ignore after wild walk-off win vs Astros

A's becoming even harder to ignore after wild walk-off win vs Astros

OAKLAND -- August is a nice time for October. For one thing, the weather’s better.
 
The baseball, on the other hand, looked very autumnal, at least here at the corner of 66th and Are You Kidding Me – where The Magic Is In The Concrete.
 
The Oakland A’s, for whom cheating gravity is merely pregame stretching, stole game one of this very playoff-y series with the Houston Astros, 4-3, on Matt Olson’s 10th-inning home run – and when we say stole, we mean swindled.
 
They won the game because Olson turned on an 82-mph slider from  Tony Sipp. They got to Olson because Ramon Laureano is a masterful second-story man.
 
Laureano, pinch-running for Chad Pinder (who had drawn a particularly diabolical walk to start the ninth inning), raced home from first on Nick Martini’s one-out double down the right field line – except that he was called out at home by umpire Alfonso Marquez because of shortstop Carlos Correa’s brilliant cutoff and throw home.
 
Only Laureano jumped up after his head-first slide, Mutombo-fingered manager Bob Melvin and demanded a review of the play. After three fairly agonizing minutes, the call was reversed and the game was tied, en route to being won.
 
In other words, the Astros won all the way until they didn’t, 23,535 fans went home captivated, and the American League playoff race is a little more on than ever.
 
The last two innings were indeed quite highlightable, for both aesthetics and weirdness, and Oakland’s role as the impish mega-underdog was enhanced. The A's cut their deficit behind Houston back to one game, are three games behind the New York Yankees, who beat Toronto 7-5 in a rain-shortened game, and 3 ½ ahead of Seattle, who was comprehensively mauled, 11-1, by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
 
But the momento dei momenti was Martini’s line smash off the right field wall, Laureano’s mad dash from first, third base coach Matt Williams’ emphatic windmilling to send him home, Houston third baseman Alex Bregman’s seeming indecision on how best to avoid Laureano, Correa’s throw, catcher Martin Maldonado’s tag and the out that wasn’t.
 
“I wanted to know about possible interference by (third baseman Alex) Bregman,” Melvin said afterward, explaining how thorough he intended to be in getting the call overturned. “I wanted to know about blocking the plate (by Maldonado), and I thought he (Laureano) definitely got his hand in. I thought the tag was a little delayed.
 
“Of course,” he added, “I’m obviously biased.”
 
Indeed, the call looked too close to overturn, but after a dawdly 3:06 of study time, Marquez reversed himself, and the die was cast for Olson, who crushed Sipp’s fourth slider in a six-pitch at-bat to improve the Elephants’ vistas both ahead and behind.
 
And speaking of bias, Josh Reddick is biased too, and the Houston right fielder and Oakland ex-pat who chased down Martini’s drive was not in an understanding mood.
 
“From everything I saw, he was out,” Reddick said. “I have no idea what they saw. There was no angle that showed otherwise. I’m tired of getting screwed by replays. That’s not the first time. I’m upset by a call that controls everything. I threw it gunning for home plate all the way; I wanted to get the ball to Carlos. He has the best arm in the infield and the most accurate arm. I knew the longer they looked at it they were trying to get it right. Obviously they didn’t.”
 
But there was no doubting Olson’s drive, which left the bat with clear intent to travel far.
 
“It’s definitely one of the cooler things I’ve done in my career,” Olson said. “It’s the most juiced I’ve gotten on a field for sure, just for us to stay in that game.”
 
And to reaffirm what the nation is beginning to understand – that the A’s die harder than most.
 
“We’ve known that we’re a capable team, we’re a very good team all along,” Olson said. “We knew it going into the year that we were going to have a chance to make a run, so glad to finally get a little recognition for it and when we go out and win games like that, people are looking at us a little bit.”
 
Well, actually, a lot. Friday’s game was not a statement by any means – there are still 40 more games to navigate for both teams, and Seattle has 39, and the schedule is sufficiently entwined to recreate games like this again and again before the playoffs are sorted out.
 
But the A’s gave further notice to the reluctant eyes, feet and wallets of the greater East Bay that they will be increasingly difficult to ignore. Friday’s game was a clear worth-the-price extravaganza, and if they keep piling those up, they’ll be nearly irresistible.
 
Nearly, that is. One never assumes they’ve turned that particular corner until they’ve actually completed the turn. For the bandwagon, it's early yet.