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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

The Thunder Rolls - 09/08/1922

I’m away from home—far away—Sedona, Arizona, to be exact, and outside my sister-in-law’s window is the most incredible sight—two gigantic red-rocked mountains illuminated by bolts of lightning, and every few seconds, thunder, not just your common summer storm variety, but the loudest, scariest most primal sounding explosions that are found in nature is letting us know once again who’s really in charge.

A few folks may be wondering why this normally effusive scribe has had nothing to say during the Athletics’ remarkable run. Well, I have had lots to say, but being the superstitious baseball junkie that I am, couldn’t put it out there for the public. You see, my last column, dated August 12, was the last game the A’s lost before the streak. They won, and won, and kept winning, and there was no way that I would jinx them with my sophomoric rants. So I waited until now, when the record is behind them and they can hopefully get back to playing great baseball without the intense pressure they have been subjected to lately.

Wednesday’s game was perhaps the most amazing baseball game I have ever played in, coached, or witnessed as a fan. Those of us who were in attendance know that there were forces at work that night that had little to do with baseball. Monday the A’s had played poorly, only getting the win when Tony Pena made a crucial mistake in the last inning. They deserved to lose that game, and it was clear that it was just a matter of days when they would lose a game, and badly at that.

Wednesday started out with the A’s playing as relaxed and carefree as they have all season, coasting to an 11-0 lead that appeared insurmountable. But the forces of fate conspired to change it all, with the dreaded “wave” leading the way as Miguel Tejada, already frustrated after being hit and whiffing while the rest of his teammates were tearing the cover off the ball, booted an easy double play ball, opening the floodgates for five Royal runs. Tim Hudson, bulldog that he is, settled down and went to the bench after seven innings thinking that the win was in the bag.

Yet, once again, the baseball gods, and the fans, if you want to call them that, intervened to derail the inexorable march into history. A nervous Chad Bradford, no doubt distracted by a cadre of morons on Mt. Davis heaving rolls of Charmin into centerfield, uncharacteristically walked the first two Royals. And with the bases loaded, we saw what the pressure can do to an all-star player, maybe even the MVP. Tejada’s ill-advised throw home attempting to force Brent Mayne was a case of him trying to do too much. He has been carrying the team all season, and, like the rest of the team, was as tight as a drum.

As loose as they were early, that’s how tense they were late in the game. Only Scott Hatteberg’s heroics saved them from the indignity of choking an eleven-run lead and blowing their shot at the record. More importantly, a loss could have sent the team into a psychological tailspin possibly beyond repair. These are human beings, after all, not high-paid robots.

But was the victory worth it? At what point do you finally say, “We need to lose a game, because we are totally out-of-sync, lucky beyond belief, and so distracted by the national attention that we’re actually playing poorly?” Well, I, for one, am glad that it’s over, and fear that it might have come a couple of games too late. The Athletics have had a roller-coaster season which would give even the most iron stomach indigestion.

Yesterday at the “homerdome” the only guy who went deep was Mark Mulder, who pitched eight brilliant innings to get the A’s a much-needed win, especially in light of what transpired in the ninth inning last Sunday. While his alma mater was thrashing Rice on the gridiron, the former Michigan State star dispatched the Twins in, well, spartan fashion. And just as importantly, he kept the team loose, at one point turning to Mark Ellis and laughing after three infield hits loaded the bases.

Tonight’s game will be seen by the whole country, that is, everyone who has ESPN2. Barry Zito has apparently shrugged off those “dizzy spells” and is ready to deal. Some runs would be nice, but Eric Milton has been tough on the A’s over the years. Anaheim apparently cannot lose, and they will be hosting the A’s this week in a series which promises to be intense. The dogfight is on.

Just another, non-baseball note. The men’s final of the U.S. Open is about to start, and it is fitting, as we approach the anniversary of 9/11, that the greatest tennis tournament in the world (no apology to that overblown event in England every June) has come down to four Americans—the Williams’ sisters, perhaps the two best women players of all time, and Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, the two greatest champions of this era, in the twilight of their careers and about to slug it out on the big stage for probably the last time. The U.S. Open had just ended last year before the host city was shaken, and this year’s developments are welcome and symbolic.

The storm outside has abated, and a light cleansing rain is falling, cooling the desert air. The A’s streak is gone but not forgotten. A few months from now we’ll be able to reflect on those magical three weeks, and remember with pride the special moments, most notably Miguels’ amazing walkoff homer, which I was lucky enough to barely hear on a transistor radio while waiting for a BART train. Regardless of what happens from here on out, that group of young men has captured our attention, our interest, and our hearts. For that we should be grateful. And now, let the thunder roll…


by Peter Elman

 

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