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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

No Time to Jump Ship - 06/01/2001

26 and 26—that doesn’t sound so good, does it? But upon further inspection it looks great, considering a short while back the home nine was a pathetic 8-18. How many of us were ready to bail, to give up hope, to write the season off and secretly start following the…Giants?!

Not this lifer, not today, not anyday. While the naysayers (Giants’ fans?) proclaim that “it’s over, they’ll never make the playoffs,” I say strap it on (your seat belt, that is) and get ready for a wild ride, or should I say, a WILD CARD, ‘cause this year’s edition of the swingin’ A’s are in it for the long haul. What’s left, only 110 games? I, for one, am not panicking.

Yeah, we’re an obscene 14 games behind Seattle, and that will be very difficult to make up, what with Lou’s Coffetown crew tearing up the league. Suzuki and Sasaki--who would have thought that the Japanese bookends of the Mariner lineup, the leadoff wizard and the Zen closer, would be leading their team to a possible record-breaking year? And that retreads like Bret Boone and Mark McLemore would be having career years?

So what do we have to do, you ask? Simple—play consistent baseball and not worry about the rest of the league. Let’s look at the competition: in the East it’s the same old story—Toronto is already fading behind horrible pitching, the Red Sox break 20,000,000 New Englanders’ hearts for the umpteenth time (despite Pedro’s brilliance—what planet is he from—Pluto, home of Manny Ramirez?) and, inevitably, the rich-get-richer Bronx Bombers take the division and maybe more.

The Central? Does anyone remember what the Indians did last September? They were from a different solar system, and but for one game in the standings they probably would have won the World Series. And this year they actually have better hitting! If their pitching holds fast, they will outlast the Twinkies, who are a great story but…beatable.

So the Athletics, in order to get the wild card, will most likely have to get past the Twins and the Red Sox in the overall standings. If they’re not up to that task, then they deserve to watch TV come October. Something tells me Jason Giambi and Tim Hudson—and one Frankie Menechino from Staten Island—won’t let them go down without a fight. There is always one position player every year who comes out of nowhere to spark the team, and when Jose Ortiz went down and Frank came up (big), images of Wally Pipp linger.

Of course we still have problems—one glaring one out in sunny right field, where here it is June 1 and nobody has asserted themselves. Eenie, meenie, minee, mo--Piatt, Jennings, Jeremy—oh, no! When will Olmeido Saenz start rolling out of bed and hit ropes like we know he can and be the DH/cleanup man now that Big John is out again? And, finally, how about the 800-pound gorilla that noone wants to look at—the one that exists between Jason Isringhausen’s ears? He obviously has the stuff—a wicked heater and a curveball that rivals Zito’s Koufax-like deuce. But will he ever get the first guy out? This could be Rick Peterson’s biggest challenge since he arrived in Oakland, a mystery man with no past, a guy so cool he wears a jacket when it’s 95 degrees outside. If Izzy continues to struggle, there’s a tough guy named Mecir in the bullpen, Rick, and we know what he can do.

But the nucleus is in place. The Athletics still have the best young top three starters in baseball (sorry, Twins fans) and a solid group of current and potential superstars. When Chavez, Long and Tejada learn to lay off the tantalizing high stuff and the befuddling breaking junk, they will be perennial all-stars. Johnny Damon is coming around at the plate, and yesterday he scored from first easily on a single—when was the last time we had someone who could do that? And how ‘bout the locked-in, in-a-zone, out-of-his-mind MVP? Like they say in Staten Island, “fugeddaboutit—pitch around him.”

So don’t dial up Mayday on your cell phones yet, A’s fans—there’s a lot of ball left, and if the Athletics want it bad enough, they will be there at the end. Does any one doubt that the baseball gods exist? Just look at the Texas Rangers and their pathetic situation. There is such a thing as karma, folks. Anything is possible…

p.s.—I visited PacBell park for the first time recently, and despite some real nice amenities—no foul territory, great bleachers, great view--I prefer a place where you can go from the first deck to the second deck or third deck in 30 seconds, not 30 minutes. A place where you can watch the game while walking down an aisle to your seat. A place where you can wander without being yelled at by officious ushers, a place where the pretzels are fresh and the sausages are Saag’s, not tasteless dogs, a place like…the Coliseum.

by Peter Elman