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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

Time Marches On (and it just turned February) - 02/01/2004

Well, Tom Brady and his sidekick (pun intended) Adam Vinatieri have done it again, this time holding off an upstart Carolina team that didn’t know the meaning of quit. Flashing back to the “tuck rule” fiasco in the snow, I was hoping that John Fox’s boys could make one, just one, defensive stop and send the Patriots back to Boston losers, thus settling the score for backing into the 2001 championship on the backs of the Raiders. (Who?)

But it just wasn’t meant to be, like so many things in sports. The Patriots deserved to win this game, and they deserve the Super Bowl, and now maybe some of those tormented Red Sox fans can enjoy a celebratory respite from the real hurt that will never go away. Because from that kind of pain there is no real escape, it only lingers and festers and eats you up until there’s nothing left but frustration, sorrow, resignation and endless hate for the Yankees. Now I am learning what it feels like to be a Red Sox fan…

A’s fans, you think we have it bad? What happened to us against the Red Sox this year may have been the culmination of possibly the worst streak in modern playoff history, but it pales by comparison to what happened to the pride of New England two weeks later. When Grady Little pulled Pedro with a lead in game seven, the inevitable transpired. I swear I saw the red, beer-bloated mug of the Babe himself breaking through the crisp fall Bronx night, looking down on the field, and saying to the Red Sox, in his besotted Prohibition-era voice, “Not in my house—not in my house!” And, of course, he was right, piano or no goddamn piano.

And it came to pass, and the Yankees prevailed, only to lose to Pudge and the rent-a-title Marlins, who are already, as they were in 1997, busted up worse than a corked Sammy Sosa Louisville Slugger. When the scribes took predictable aim at Little, my first reaction was, “Are you kidding? This guy is being second-guessed (and later fired) for sticking with one of the best pitchers in baseball rather than bring in—Alan Embree?” Well, it didn’t make any difference, because the Red Sox had no chance against the Curse.

But the Oakland A’s did have their chances. Boy, did we ever. And to think back on how high we were after game two—the team didn’t even need a plane to get back to Fenway, by God! This time, there was no stopping us! Right? Wrong. The Red Sox were pathetic that night—they didn’t beat us—we beat ourselves. And four months later I cannot get the image of Miguel booting that routine double-play grounder in the second inning out of my head. I figured after that, well, we’ll lose this one, but we can still win the series. After all, we’ve got the pitching, and game five is at the Coliseum. Wrong again. The inning from hell was about to unfold, and the Athletics featured not one, but two, of the stupidest base-running gaffes ever seen in these parts. And they paid for it. After that inning, I turned to my partner Rich and he gave me the look—you know, the one that says, oh s—t, we’re gonna lose in game five of the first round for the fourth straight year. And I gave him the look right back. We all know the rest. I could not bring myself to attend game five. It was so painful on television; it would have been unbearable live. All I can say is, thank God for Billy Beane and his decision to stay put. I guess California is good for something. (Wait, did we just elect Arnold, or was I dreaming?) Beane has managed, as only he can do, to assemble a pitching staff—with a recycled Curt Young (!) at the helm—that may be even better than last year’s edition. It looks like old Curt will have a majority of fellow lefties on his staff. The now departed Ted Lilly was dealing—with guts--at the end, but Redman is a proven starter, and Harden will surely improve over last year’s inconsistent debut—rumor has it that he’s actually developing a second pitch. Mark Mulder claims that he’s 100%, which is good news. Barry Zito is getting to that point in his career where he wants more than awards—he wants some post-season success. And, of course, the Georgia Bulldog has probably spent the entire off-season getting his “mad” on. The look on his face after the A’s gave away the farm said it all--Hudson is not done.

The bullpen looks solid to me. OK, we lost Foulke, who, by the way, you may remember, lost his nerve in the playoffs. Who better than Arthur Rhodes to have waiting in the wings in the late innings, getting all psyched up? I used to dread it when he came in against the A’s Hey, if Art wants to wear 25 gold chains around his neck to throw off the hitters, more power to him, —he’s ours now! Chad Bradford, bless his heart, is ready to emerge as one of the top setup men in the American League. There are questions, of course. Will Chris Hammond and Ricardo Rincon provide an experienced lefty setup one-two punch, or are they near the end? I don’t know--recently retired Jesse Orosco proved that if you’re a lefty reliever, you can pitch until you’re 65. Will Chad Harville finally make the squad as the fifth reliever? Or will it be Mike Wood, who showed some promise last season. Finally, is Jim Mecir still walking, for God’s sake?!

The 14 position players will be the place where we rise or fall. It looks like the consistent Eric Karros will be part of the holy trinity at first base/DH, along with Erubiel and “Rutheberg”, neither of who had seasons to write home about. I can think of worse moves. But there are certainly some major unknowns, like Bobby Kielty, Mark Kotsay, Damian Miller and the biggest gamble of them all, AAA wunderkind Bobby Crosby, who has yet to get a hit in the big leagues.

The bench looks serviceable with Frankie, Melhuse, McMillan and Eric (will we ever forgive him?) Byrnes. But what about Jermaine? Can he put together an entire season of injury-free baseball? I hope so. I’m glad we have Ellis, deserving of a gold glove last season, (get Bret Boone outta there, for chrissake!) whose steady professionalism is a big plus. The only (near) sure thing offensively is Eric Chavez, who with Stew in his corner may have the peace of mind he needs to be a legitimate MVP candidate (Oh, no, not that word again!)

So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The unimaginable, what we all feared and knew deep down would happen, has come to pass, and Tejada is an Oriole, of all things. I hope Miggy makes those Birds fans forget the grossly overrated Cal Ripken for just five minutes so they can appreciate his amazing skills. It will be weird seeing Miguel in a Baltimore uniform, but get used to it. But I’ll wager that he, unlike Giambi, will not get booed when he returns. I, for one, will give him the standing ovation he so richly deserves. It was a totally different situation. Schott blew it, and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. Oh, the dreaded dollar…

The more things change, the more they stay the same around here. The Giants can’t come up with a new name for Cellphone Park, the Raiders are suffering because of Al’s awful Oakland karma, and the snake bit Warriors are stuck in second gear, despite their terrific young coach. Only the Sharks, of all teams, are racking up wins.

After 15 months, I’m coming out of semi-retirement to write this column, in the hopes that the diehard fans of the OAFC may find some laughs, some hope and maybe some controversy from my words. And also to exorcise some demons. After all, it is an election year. And this is a big one, with a whole lot more than just “steroids” at stake. So, cross your fingers for the A’s, and while you’re at it, make the sign of the cross for our country. We could all use a little divine intervention in times like this. I can’t explain it, maybe it’s being around two wonderful, enthusiastic, funny children, but something tells me we’re gonna be OK…

by Peter Elman


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