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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

Déjà Vu - 04/30/2004

All I can say is thank God the Giants are losing, because that’s the only comfort diehard Athletics fans have these days. After getting swept by the Yankees in the Bronx, the A’s find themselves two games under .500 for the first time in nearly two years. And make no mistake—they got worked by the Bronx bombers. With a lineup of eight all-stars (Ruben Sierra, who has been on nine different teams, was a four-time all-star as a Ranger) and five potential Hall of Famers, it was left to the odd man out, A’s reject Miguel Cairo, to deliver the coup de grace, the dreaded Earl Palmer special, thus giving notice to the baseball world who is still the best team in the American League. Despite Boston having the best record in baseball, the curse is alive and well. Am I clear, Red Sox fans? In the words of Tom Cruise as he defiantly glared at Jack Nicholson in ‘A Few Good Men’, “Yes, sir, crystal”. Fuggedaboutit.

When Derek Jeter—not him again--robbed Hatteberg in the top of the first last night, that sinking feeling set in, and when he put his 0-for-32 in the rear-view mirror by jacking Zito’s first offering over the fence, I reached for the Tylenol. We were already on the ropes after getting pummeled by the Angels over the weekend, and coming into the Big Apple to face an angry and frustrated Yankee team was exactly what the team did not need—let’s just pray the A’s get healthy in Tampa Bay.

So where are we after 22 games—panic city? Hardly, but there is cause for concern. Some astute observers (my son among them) think this slide began with a poor outing by Harden, and snowballed from there. Quite possibly, but don’t blame the young Canadian. Looking back on the past four regular seasons—all of which ended on a high note for the A’s—each year had a rocky beginning. The question on the floor is, could this year be different? Are the Athletics still the team to beat in the West? Perhaps not.

A quick look at the standings in the AL West shows the green and gold three games behind Texas and Anaheim, with the Mariners uncharacteristically bringing up the rear at 7-15. Texas will not be there at the end—they never are, right? They still don’t have pitching, at least the kind that can compete in this division. Seattle will eventually get their act together, but things look gray up there in coffee city, where bickering and doubt (must be the Bret Boone karma) are seeping into their veteran clubhouse. "We're shaking our heads," says Bob Melvin. Maybe they miss Arthur no-nonsense Rhodes.

It’s the Halos, who are a gaudy 9-4 on the road, that have me worried. With Vlad the Impaler in the middle of that already daunting lineup, you’d have to be brain-dead not to worry. And K-Rod? My lord that guy is scary. How can a pitcher in possession of that kind of sick stuff not be starting, or closing? What a luxury having him in “middle” relief, setting up the equally scary (looking) Troy Percival. Looking at Mike Scioscia’s expression as he paces the dugout, I’m reminded of Tony LaRussa’s steely determination in 1989, when the agony of Kirk Gibson’s homer off of Eck the previous October drove him to win it all. Scioscia wasn’t happy about last year, and his players weren’t either. Look for them to give the A’s fits all summer long…

Scrutinizing the early performance of the “K-crew”: Sex-symbol Mulder hasn’t looked right since his first start of the year and Zito is giving up gopher balls right and left (literally). Maybe those ridiculous commercials have taken their toll. Both pitchers have been getting behind consistently in counts, and to hear Ken, Bill and Ray describe it; many of their pitches are “batting practice fastballs.” In an eerie coincidence, the last time the Big Three were swept in a series was exactly three years ago, April 27-29, 2001—at Yankee Stadium. But Tim Hudson is still dealing, and with a vengeance. Nobody took the last four October meltdowns harder than the Auburn Tiger, and if anyone can lead this staff out of their slump it’s the real ace of the staff, Huddie.

Mark Ellis is missed, but the play of Marco Scutaro has been a pleasant surprise, softening that bad blow. The soft-spoken 28-year-old is the most recent in a long line of great Venezuelan middle infielders. Ponder these names: Chico Carrasquel, Luis Aparicio, Davey Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel. Scutaro is doing his part, making the most of his opportunity while leading the team with a .338 average.

What about Bobby Crosby? Well, he’s hit a few homers, made some great plays, committed just one error, and bounced back from an injury. His lowly .204 average is compounded by 21 whiffs, but he gets the rookie bye, at least for now. Meanwhile Miguel (yes, we miss him) Tejada, who just tonight escaped serious injury when a deflected throw hit his face, is hitting a brisk .338. C’est la vie, la $$$ vie…

What will it take to get the A’s back to the playoffs, where they would most likely take their chances one more time against the likes of the Yanks and the Red Sox? Both the starting pitching and the pen seem shaky now, but the 11 guys out there are, with the exception of Duchsherer (1.93 ERA) and Harden, proven commodities. However, do not underestimate the loss of Rick Peterson. The inscrutable jacket-wearing guru from Jersey is getting the most out of a Mets staff that is a cobbled together mix of old veterans (Tom Glavine, 38, Al Leiter, 38, Mike Stanton, 37, John Franco, 43) and young nobodies. Let’s hope that Curt Young has half the intuition Peterson has when it comes to handling pitchers.

The fear going into this season was that with Miggy and Ramon gone, our offense would be punchless. I think Jermaine Dye may have taken some exception to that comment, because he is torching the ball. Damien Miller is giving us solid defense behind the dish and some surprising offense, but the two new “K’s” in left and center have yet to come alive offensively. I guess I’ll join the conga line calling for more playing time for Eric Byrnes. Just get him in there, Ken…

McAfee Coliseum? And what will it be next year? Symantec Field? Cisco Park? The Oracle? Gimme a break. What’s the matter with the name, “The Coliseum?” For that matter, what is the matter with the place itself? I’ve been to Fenway (awe-inspiring but you can’t get a seat, or if you’re lucky you’ll pay up the wazoo), Camden Yards (awful neighborhood), Yankee Stadium (intimidating), Jacobs Field (pretty but has lost its luster) and several other parks, and I still like the Coliseum—it’s friendly, cheap (I know, that’s a problem) and easy to get to. Oh, yeah, what about that yuppified country club across the bay? Well, for starters, how ‘bout those wireless hookups? First cell phones, now laptops. Is that baseball? I don’t think so—it’s more like the end of Western Civilization as we know it. SBC Park—does that stand for “self-centered, boorish and clueless?” And, yes, the Giants are losing—at least I can feel good about that.


by Peter Elman

 

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