Payback=post-season=pennant? Thoughts on a night of triumph… - 10/02/2000
One of the most galling, overused cliches in all of sports is "payback", a phrase tossed around by media, players and fans to the point of exhaustion. Rarely does it legitimately apply. Yesterday was one of those instances, and boy was it sweet. REVENGE!! PAYBACK!! Say it loud, y’all, like Jason and Jeremy. Sunday the Athletics evened the score on the Texas Rangers—and then some.
Last year the upstart A’s were still in the hunt as of late September, trying to stay abreast of the Red Sox for the wild card, when the Rangers unceremoniously swept them out of the race. To add insult to injury, Texas then went out and promptly got smoked—again--by the Yankees in the first round of the ALCS, yet another pathetic post-season showing by the AL West.
This season started slow for the home team, and in early May the A’s suffered two of the most humiliating losses in team history at the hand of the Rangers, 17-16 and 11-10, back-to-back demoralizing defeats on Cinco de Mayo that made fans wonder if the team was really going backwards, rather than improving on 1999’s success. Once again, the Rangers wore the black hats.
For four long months the A’s inched back into the race, performing better on the road than at home, perhaps uncomfortable in the empty, cavernous coliseum. On Labor Day weekend the Athletics lost 8-3 to Toronto in a game that left a hollow feeling in the hearts of all true believers. Seattle was playing out of their minds and Giambi was hurt. Could it be that this young team had hit the wall? Were they…done?
We all know what happened. Showing class, grit, heart and yes, dammit, courage—the "kids" as Ken Korach so lovingly calls them showed the world what they are made of. And the last weekend could not have been scripted any better. With nothing on the line, a beaten Texas team came into the Net trying to salvage some pride from a season where everything went wrong. Perhaps the baseball gods were trying to make a statement about boring teams that perenially get blown out in the first round of the playoffs, or maybe they just flat-out don’t like the fact that the team was owned by a spoiled, rich frat rat who’s trying to pull a fast one on the American people.
The A’s made what was a season-ending series we feared all summer long a one-sided affair. Saturday’s 23-2 hitfest was the fireworks, but the real payback came on Sunday. With the exception of the classy Rafael Palmiero, there isn’t much to like about the Rangers. In fact, there’s a few guys not to like, most notably Chad Curtis, whose Neanderthal tendencies—remember when he called Derek Jeter a "p---y" for not retaliating in a pileup?--overshadow his hustle and talent, and the forgotten but not gone Ruben Sierra, who came back to the big leagues long enough to get booed and whiffed by the indomitable Tim Hudson. Let us also not forget Kenny Rogers, who once said that he wanted out of Oakland because this team "didn’t have what it takes" to get to the post-season. He’ll be watching the playoffs on television.
It wasn’t until native-born Texan RandyVelarde drove the insurance homer over the 400-foot sign in centerfield that the A’s began to grasp the magnitude of what they had accomplished. The fact that it was at Rangers’ expense made it all that much sweeter.
So bring on the Yankees, the team of the 20th century. There are sub-plots galore in this series as well, and it’s the Yankees this time whose chances for "payback" are many. The homecoming of Jose Canseco, (who was traded for Sierra while in the on-deck circle!), the return of little Luis Polonia, a fan favorite while he was here (what seemed like eons ago), and of course Scott Brosius, the consummate pro who toiled in anonymity here until he found gold in the Big Apple.
But no player has more to prove in this opening series than first-game Yankee starter Roger Clemens. With a lifetime record at the Coliseum he’d just as soon forget about, the emotional Clemens, (a Texan, of course) has a serious monkey he’d like to get off his back, perhaps even an 800-pound gorilla, whispering in his ear, "remember 1990, Roger?" Many of us were at that ALCS game when an already upset and unbalanced Rocket went ballistic on the home-plate umpire, spewing out a hate-filled torrent of vulgarities that was surprising even for a baseball player. After Clemens was ejected fellow Red Sox Marty Barrett stopped the game for 15 minutes when he threw a full container of Gatorade out onto the field. It was the closest thing to a forfeit I’ve ever seen in pro sports, and permanently placed Clemens near the top of the pantheon of players A’s fans love to hate. So he has something to prove Tuesday night. One other thing—it would be best to forget all that stuff about the hottest team in September playing the coldest one. It’s still the Yankees, and they ARE the world champions.
Yes, payback is a tired cliché, but when it truly happens, there’s nothing more rewarding—or painful--in all of sports. See y’all at the Net…
by Peter Elman