In an interleague matchup of little note on Sunday, the San Diego Padres avoided being swept by the Oakland Athletics.
The A’s scored 10 runs on Friday night, and six runs on Saturday, but one run was all they could come up with on Coco Crisp Chia Pet day. That’s right. The A’s used a clay Coco Crisp bust that will sprout an organic replica of Crisp’s signature afro to reel ‘em in. And reel ‘em in it did. More than 21,000 fans showed up. In their defense, the A’s had won five games in a row thanks to powerful, exciting offense.
And since it was Father’s Day, it seems only natural that Bay Area dads would want to see a Padres game. Get it? Unfortunately, the game seemed destined for a snooze fest from the get go. I’ll confess, I nodded off twice as I struggled with the effects of a Father’s Day breakfast consisting of bacon, hash browns, and a jalapeno and cheese omelet. Nice.
Things started badly for the A’s. In the third inning A’s starter Bartolo Colon injured himself trying to play baseball. No doubt he’s now in consultation with his conditioning coach, the Hamburgler. It became a bullpen game for the A’s, and things didn’t look much better for the Padres. Their starter, Clayton Richards, was a dismal 3 – 7 coming into the game. The final score of 2 – 1 would seem to confirm there wasn’t much to see in Oakland on Sunday. But the funny thing about baseball is, if you’re paying attention, even a 2 – 1 game can have plenty to offer. And this one did.
For starters, every time a Padres base runner was on first, you couldn’t help seeing their first base coach, Dave Roberts. Roberts is the proud owner of arguably the most transformative stolen base in MLB post-season history. As a result of the base he swiped in 2004, with the Red Sox on the verge of being swept by the Yankees in the ALCS, Roberts will never have to buy a drink in any bar in Boston, guaranteed. I can’t help thinking about that stolen base every time I see him.
On a less dramatic note, Oakland sent reliever Jerry Blevins in to pitch in the 8th inning. Now Blevins looks like he should be bagging groceries and then turning over the full bag to someone who might be able to lift it. The lefty is listed at 6’6”, 175 pounds, which is at least 10 pounds more than he weighs after a shower, in his uniform, wearing his cleats, and holding his water-logged glove. But Blevins can deal. So far this year, the league’s hitting just .221 off him, and he has 25 strikeouts in 28 and 1/3 innings. He’s been up and down between Oakland and the Sacramento River Cats since 2007, but there are plenty of bullpen pitchers who would love to have his numbers this year. Guys like Blevins have a lot to do with why I keep coming back to baseball.
And it turned out that Padres’ starter Clayton Richards was more than solid. He lasted 7 and 2/3 innings, threw 115 pitches, gave up only five hits, struck out six, and held the A’s scoreless; an unexpected performance from a guy who was 3 – 7 coming into the game.
Another moment to appreciate came when Richards was pulled in the 8th inning. Oakland fans got to see a former favorite, Huston Street, replace him. Street was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2005. He had 23 saves for Oakland that year, and 37 the next. But injuries limited his effectiveness the next two years, and he was dealt to the Colorado Rockies after the 2008 season. Bud Black called on Street to get the last out of the 8th inning. At the time San Diego was ahead 1 – 0, and Oakland had Jonny Gomes, the Pride of Petaluma, on first.
Oakland fans likely remember the difficulty Street had getting 4-out saves. Something about sitting down between innings seriously eroded his effectiveness. My guess is San Diego fans had the same concerns on Sunday. But after Street got the 3rd out in the eighth, he went to the bullpen to continue throwing while the Padres batted. Whatever Street gained from the between-innings bullpen session, whether it was more work on his fastball and slider, or just staying loose and in rhythm, he got through the 9th for the save. Other managers may have done this with other pitchers, but I’ve never seen it in 45 years of watching baseball. It knocks me out when I see something I’ve never seen before at a baseball game.
Finally, in spite of the fact that the only team in MLB with a record worse than San Diego’s is the Chicago Cubs, and the only team in the AL west with a record worse than Oakland’s is the Seattle Mariners, as the game progressed both teams played with heart and hustle on this beautiful Bay Area day.
Cliff Pennington, Brandon Moss, and Jim Miller turned a fine 3-6-1 double play for the A’s in the 6th inning. In the 8th, San Diego’s Will Venable broke up a potential double play on a Chris Denorfia ground ball to Pennington. His hard slide prevented Jemile Weeks from completing a double play. Here’s a guy on a team that, from a won-loss standpoint, is next to last in all of baseball, and he’s still hustling, playing the game as it’s meant to be played. On the next play, Cliff Pennington dove to his left to keep a Chase Headley grounder from going for a hit. Pennington, while still practically face down in the dirt, sent a backhanded toss to Jemile Weeks to get the force at second and retire the side. Again, Pennington’s on a team that, even after winning five games in a row, was still four games under .500 and he’s hustling like he’s in a pennant race.
By the late innings, the 21,000 Chia Pet seekers were clearly into the action. They were cheering like the game was something other than just number 67 in a year that’s shaping up to be as bad as the previous five. And the A’s nearly delivered. In the bottom of the 9th, Coco Crisp singled scoring Seth Smith, and sending Cliff Pennington to third. Fittingly, the A’s lone RBI of the day belonged to its honoree. The crowd was on its feet cheering for more. With a man on third and the lead on the line, Street abandoned the slider that he used to close out the 8th. Instead, he struck out Jemile Weeks using three fastballs and a changeup to end the game.
Except for the result where the A’s and their fans are concerned, honestly, what’s not to like about a game like that? A beautiful day, a fired-up crowd, a starting pitcher delivering a fine performance, a bullpen stepping up for seven innings, hustle, defense, 9th inning drama from former and current fan favorites Street and Crisp. This is good stuff, and I don’t care if these two teams aren’t going anywhere. On this Sunday afternoon, they played good, hard baseball and delighted 21,000 plus in the bargain. As I’ve said before, I love this game.