The Royals are 9-3: the Oakland fiasco, and a tale from my days as a pitcher.

It only happened once.

I was 18 years old. It was the summer following my senior year and one of my teammates had been hit hard in the back by the opposing pitcher. As my friend trotted down to first, this jerk of a pitcher decided to give my friend a head nod and blow him a kiss. What a punk. I don’t remember all the details about the game, but I remember losing and our whole team fuming. We went to Buffalo Wild Wings after pretty much every game, and that night we talked about what had transpired.

I was our team’s starting pitcher. My teammates, without much consent from me, elected that I plunk the kid the next time I faced him. I needed to respond on behalf of our mate. I agreed to the terms, but inside I was pretty apprehensive. Besides, I was way more worked up about avenging our loss with a win than I was about that kissyface pitcher.

Somehow, by the time we played them again, not only did my whole team know it was coming, but so did the other team and a decent number of our “fans.” There was a murmur in the crowd as the kid came to bat the first time. I still wasn’t certain whether I was going to go through with it.

He was leading off the inning. My catcher, Jim, dropped one finger and slapped his left thigh – fastball, inside. I turned the ball around in my glove as my index and ring finger found the seams. I nodded to Jim, wound up and delivered the pitch.

I hit him in the neck.

That was the only time I ever hit someone on purpose.

*********

The Royals and the Athletics don’t like each other much right now. A series that was supposed to feature the celebratory homecoming of Billy Butler turned out to be as heated as a mid-April series can possibly be. The benches cleared in all three games, and according to most national media outlets, a new rivalry was born.

It all started with a reckless slide from Brett Lawrie on Friday night injuring Alcides Escobar. The slide looked questionable to say the least.

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First of all, Lawrie would’ve been safe if he’d just gone straight to the bag, but he clearly goes far to the inside with his spikes up high. A major no-no. Lawrie’s left foot catches Escobar in the ankle and his right knee knocks into Escobar’s knee. Lawrie claims he was not intending to hurt Escober. I probably believe him. But he did. And it happened because he made a reckless and stupid decision. The Royals went on to win, 6-4.

On Saturday, the Royals teammates wanted to stand up for their fallen teammate by retaliating. Not only that, I think the Royals wanted to retaliate on a whole string of HBP injustice that had come their way. Throwing at Lawrie wouldn’t be a message simply to him, it would be a message to the entire league. We won’t just roll over for you. We’re here to fight back.

Surprisingly, Yordano Ventura chose not to throw at Lawrie the first time he faced him. Instead, he got him to ground out. It may have just been due to the game situation that he decided to not give him the pass to first base, but I was still happy about this turn of events. Despite the pressure to respond, Ventura might end up taking the high road, refusing to engage in such extracurricular shenanigans. Good for him.

Except then Yordano had somewhat of a meltdown. He gave up 5 runs in the 4th capped by a 3-run homer off the bat of Josh Reddic.k. Up next: Brett Lawrie. And with the game suddenly somewhat out of reach, it felt like it was going to happen. Sure enough, with his frustration mounting, Ventura threw a 99 mph fastball at Lawrie, plunking him hard on the elbow. Ventura was immediately ejected, and that was the only excitement the night had for us at The K. The Royals went quietly as the Athletics went on to win the game, 5-0.

*********

I remember my dugout going bananas. The opposing coach came out to argue with the umpire that I be thrown out of the game. Kissyface rolled around on the ground for a moment, but wanting to look strong, he pulled himself up, rubbed his neck and started walking to first base. He tried to convince one of his coaches that he was fine as he walked. I’m sure he probably was, it’s not like my fastball was anything to behold.

Jim trotted out to me on the mound and handed me the baseball. He took off his catchers mask and told me something encouraging, but I don’t remember what. He patted my fanny and jogged back behind the plate. I turned around and stood on the mound staring away from the action and out toward the scoreboard trying to act unaware of the commotion behind me. I refused to engage more of the drama – not because I was above it, but because I knew I was guilty.

I was ashamed. The mound can be a pretty lonely place.

*********

The Royals thought everything was square. Lawrie had taken out Escobar with an ugly slide. Ventura had responded by doinking him good. All done. Put a bow on it.

Apparently, Oakland thought differently.

Because Sunday, in the opening frame, Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain in the leg.

Both benches were warned – which seems to note that the umpires thought everything was square too…if they hadn’t, Kazmir would’ve been tossed a la Yordano. Royals pitching coach, Dave Eiland hollered out at Kazmir from the dugout which got Eiland ejected. Ned Yost then went out to ask what had happened, and he got ejected. Play continued without the two Royals coaches, but Scott Kazmir was not ejected.

Danny Duffy, the Royals starter, didn’t seem rattled by the whole ordeal. He made short work of the Athletics in the 2nd inning, and it seemed that the Royals would just let the A’s have the last word and get back to winning baseball games. Who cares who retaliated last and whether or not teams are square? You win the game, and it doesn’t matter. Winning is the final blow, the last word, the ultimate silencer.

Which is why it was surprising Kazmir chose to hit Cain in the first place. Sure, the Royals retaliated to Lawrie’s initial gaffe, and if that didn’t make things square, surely Oakland coming away with the victory on Saturday was enough for both teams to move on and get back to baseball, right? Winning should’ve silenced it, even if the A’s felt Yordano’s retaliation was uncalled for.

Apparently that wasn’t the case, and Kazmir opened up a whole new can of worms.

In the 8th inning, with the Royals trailing 2-1, Kelvin Herrera decided the team needed to retaliate a second time. With Lawrie batting again, Herrera threw his first pitch way inside but it didn’t hit Lawrie. The second pitch didn’t either, but it didn’t matter. A 100 mph fastball, launched about 12 feet wide of the mark flew behind Lawrie’s back. Herrera was ejected. Headed into the dugout, Herrera pointed at Lawrie’s head. The HBP wasn’t successfully delivered, but the message certainly was. Benches cleared. Bullpens emptied. Acting manager and Royals bench coach, Don Wakamatsu, was ejected (twice?), and Alcides Escobar was ejected. Franklin Morales came in to finish the inning, getting Lawrie to pop up.

But from where I was sitting, the Royals looked really bad. Really really bad. They looked immature and whiney. Childish even. America’s Darling October Underdogs were suddenly looking like a bunch of cry babies shouting, “but he started it!” Being a good team will get you a lot of haters. It’s a natural thing. It makes sense. You beat a bunch of teams and suddenly you have a target on you. How a team responds to that hatred speaks volumes. I didn’t like that Herrera threw behind Lawrie. Not at all. It looked like a last ditch effort since the game was slipping away.

I was proud of Danny Duffy and the rest of the team for burying their emotions and getting back to playing the game. Don’t worry about Kazmir’s hit early, just play the game and get the last word by winning. But as the game went later, and the Royals were still down, I guess Herrera felt they needed to get their knocks in somehow. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I struggled to 100% back this team’s actions today. It was conflicting.

*********

I remember the whole ordeal being pretty embarrassing and confusing.

I never really wanted to hit the kid, but I felt like if I didn’t then I’d be letting my team down. I didn’t feel like we needed to retaliate beyond letting the scoreboard do the talking, but I’d done the deed anyway. I had always been taught that “two wrongs don’t make a right” and to “turn the other cheek” and all that business. I felt like I had betrayed my moral philosophy, and now everyone was mad at me pointing fingers. Worse: I was pointing the finger at myself.

I didn’t get tossed. The umpire walked out to the mound and told me to get things under control or else I might be next time. Which was a relief, sure, but now I had a runner on first base with nobody out. Fantastic. Not only did it make things worse relationally, it put our team in a worse position to win the game, and everyone and Herm Edwards knows that winning the game is the point. Putting him on base felt completely nonsensical to me, but my teammates seemed to think I had performed admirably.

And now he was over on first base clapping his hands and begging me to throw over. I was in a worse position because I’d chosen to retaliate. Why would I do that to myself?! Instead of just trying to get him out, I had allowed the situation to escalate. I had a chance to respond by striking the kid out. Instead, he was threatening to steal second base.

My teammates seemed pleased – I had stood up for my teammate and held true to the code of baseball which embraces such a response – but then why did I feel so crummy about it? It was conflicting to say the least.

*********

The ending of Sunday’s game was huge for the 2015 Royals. 

Following Herrera’s ejection, there were two different outcomes. Either the Royals don’t score and the Athletics take the series in front of an angry home crowd and we all come off looking like a bunch of punks. Or, we wind up winning the game, take the series, and the Athletics can revisit their frustration when we see them next in June.

Those two messages are drastically different. You don’t want to be known as a bunch of hotheads. You want to be known as a bunch of winners.

Thankfully, the Royals managed to respond in bottom of the 8th. Paulo Orlando walked. Moose moved him up with a ground out. Lorenzo Cain doubled, scoring Orlando. Cain stole third. Hosmer walked. Then Kendrys Morales hit a monster double to straight away center, scoring both Cain and Hosmer. The Royals went on to win 4-2.

Hitting players with pitches, to me, is rarely necessary. I understand that baseball has an unwritten code of retaliation. Pitchers are going to stand up for their hitters after they get plunked. It’s as old as baseball itself. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the right move. And I’m not sure the Royals didn’t come off as immature hotheads this weekend.

However, this has become a problem across the American League. Two of the Royals starting 9 are now injured due to questionable play on the part of their opponents. Along with Escobar, Alex Rios got hit in the hand (1 of the 14 Royals hit batsmen this young season) and is now on the 15-day DL. At a certain point, the Royals must send a message to the rest of the league stating that they refuse to allow teams to do things like that without repercussions. I think Ventura sent that message. After Sunday’s game, Brett Lawrie told CSN’s Joe Stiglich, “I can’t even get in the box and do my job without thinking, ‘he could miss with one up and in.'” This is a good thing. Other teams need to be aware that playing dirty against the Royals won’t be tolerated. We can’t let opponents pick off our players one by one. We must stay healthy if we’re going to succeed again this year.

That said, winning cures all sorrows, and if a team wants to get chippy with the Royals, fine. Because as long as Kansas City can hoist the “W” on the Hall of Fame, a different message is sent: it’s not that we don’t like you, we’re just better than you.

My take on this weekend’s happenings is this: even though I don’t like how Yordano Ventura went about it, I do think it’s important for us to declare to the league that if you mess with us, there may be a Yordano fastball headed at you soon. I think the HBP epidemic had hurt us enough that we needed to make that point clear. But…it could’ve and should’ve ended at that. I get that Kazmir started it back up again, but Herrera’s decision to throw at Lawrie was not remotely necessary. It was immature. The game was close and winning was still a possibility. The Royals would’ve looked much better having ended the conversation by just winning.

That last paragraph probably makes it seem like I’m flip flopping here, but I do think standing up for your players is important too. I just think 9 times out of 10 you can stand up by winning. Who cares what Oakland has to say, as long as they didn’t win?

They’re a good baseball team. They’re having fun, and other teams don’t like it. Well, the rest of the American League is going to have to get used to the Royals fun loving ways because it’s how they play the game. It might seem a bit off putting to some, but it’s genuine joy, and none of it has been mean spirited in the past. These guys are a family – it’s not about rubbing it in, it’s about celebrating their successes.

That late rally may have saved way more than we even know. Instead of ending frustrated, complaining about the opposing team, we ended with Lorenzo smiling and looking forward to the next series against the Minnesota Twins.

I think ultimately, the Royals had an opportunity to respond by winning. Don’t get caught up in the drama of retaliation. Retaliate by beating them. I felt like both times Oakland initiated – first with Lawrie’s slide, then with Kazmir’s pitch – we had an opportunity to respond by letting the game dictate the narrative. Then we got down 5-0 and Yordano snapped. Then we were down 2-1 and Herrera snapped.

But ultimately, we won the series, and got the last word. Unfortunately I think a lot of drama and heaped on hatred could’ve been avoided had we just stuck to playing to win. I get that the A’s were the initiators, but winning is the ultimate silencer.

We’re good. We know it. Let it speak for itself.

*********

Looking back, I’m not proud of what I did as an 18 year old. I gave in to the pressure from my teammates and intentionally threw a baseball at another person. That’s not cool, and I regret doing it to this day. I came off looking like a punk kid trying to pick a fight.

We went on to win the game. In fact, the kid tried to steal second base on the next pitch and Jim threw him out by a wide margin. And after that happened, I knew I’d made the wrong decision. Let the game send the messages for you – especially if you’re the better team. On the drive to Buffalo Wild Wings that night I remember thinking that it wouldn’t have mattered if I’d hit the kid or not after what ended up happening. We would’ve sent the same message anyway.

We had the last word – not because I hit the kid – because we won.

-apc.

Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images, accessed here

2015 MLB Predictions

Congratulations, baseball fans. You did it. You successfully navigated the miserable winter months. Spring has arrived. And, save for a flurry of offseason moves and meaningless spring training games, you’ve been deprived of the game you love. But the wait is over.

Thankfully, for those of us in Kansas City, the offseason went by much faster this year due to it being one month shorter than it has been the previous 29 years. Still, it’s good to have baseball back.

Before I make my predictions for the 2015 season, let me quickly point out how wildly successful my 2014 predictions were. I, along with everyone else who predicted these things, whiffed on the AL East. I missed on the Pirates too, and made the mistake of picking against the A’s. But 7/10 ain’t bad.

So here we go. Let’s look into the future together. Postseason picks in italics. I’ve added ALCS/NLCS/WS/MVP/Cy Young winners this year too.

AL East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Baltimore Orioles
  3. Toronto Blue Jays
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Tampa Bay Rays

Another year of uncertainty in the AL East. The Red Sox reloaded adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees did nothing and appear fragile. The Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson but are young and lack a rotation. The Orioles were predicted to stink it up last year but ran away with the division and are likely under projected in 2015. The Rays are a dark horse as always.

Typically I refuse to buy into teams that spend tons of money to restock their teams. I think it takes a year to gel as a unit and establish an identity. However, the Red Sox rotation is already strong and on paper this is the best team in the division. Look for Mookie Betts to break out this year too.

AL Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins

Another wide open division, and one where I am obviously biased. The Indians return basically the same team but their defense is terrible. The Tigers added Yoenis Cespedes but lost Max Scherzer, and now Verlander is injured. The Royals are defending AL Champs and have lots of swagger, lost Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki but added Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen. The White Sox had perhaps the best offseason of any AL team. The Twins will not contend.

But I’m picking my hometown boys. People keep saying the Royals got worse in the offseason but I just don’t see it. Morales and Rios are both upgrades. Shields is gone, but Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura both have the potential to match his production. Plus they have three of the most sustainable strengths to their advantage: bullpen, defense and speed. I believe in this team, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Indians and Royals swap spots. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers absolutely tank and finish 4th.

AL West

  1. Seattle Mariners
  2. Oakland Athletics
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Texas Rangers

I’m not going to make the mistake of picking against Oakland two years in a row. The A’s blew up their entire team and look like they’re probably going to win the Cactus League this year too, whatever that’s good for (absolutely nothing). The Angels and Mariners are both really good though and it’s hard to pick one of the three to miss. The Mariners just missed the playoffs last year. If they can stay healthy, I think they’ll run away with this division in 2015. The Angels will likely regress slightly and should still contend, but I think they’ll end up on the outside looking in. Houston will continue to improve – they appear to be trying out the Royals model of success in bolstering up their bullpen. The Rangers are going to be bad.

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Miami Marlins
  3. New York Mets
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

While the American League has all sorts of intrigue, the National League is a joke. Washington is going to run away with this division. They were already the best, and then they added Max Scherzer. The Marlins and Mets are both no slouch, but the Nats could win 100 games this year. The Marlins added Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Mat Latos. They extended Giancarlos Stanton and get Jose Fernandez back from injury. The Mets get their ace back too in Matt Harvey. Plus both teams get 18 games against the Phillies and the Braves which ought to inflate their records a bit. They’ll be in the mix come September.

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

As has become the norm, this division race will be good, but the Cardinals will eventually pull away and the Pirates will separate themselves form the rest. The Cubs obviously got much better with the acquisition of Jon Lester, and if they can get their prospect trio – Kris Bryant, Jorge Solar and Javier Baez – into the majors sooner than later, they could manage to make a push in the second half. But I do think 2016 is their year to return to the playoffs.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Diego Padres
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. Colorado Rockies

The Dodgers are only going to be better from last year. They added Jimmy Rollins and dropped Matt Kemp. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher and best player in baseball, in my opinion. You can talk about Trout all you want, but Kershaw has the power to completely dominate a game. The Padres added Justin Upton, Kemp, and former Royal and Ray, Wil Myers. Their biggest addition is James Shields. Their bullpen is dominant too. They could do some damage, but I see them finishing as the first team out. The Giants got much worse this offseason with the loss of Panda, and with the injury to Pence. Plus, Madison Bumgarner is super overrated. The Rockies and D-Backs are…not great.

So my postseason looks like this:

AL: Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, Indians, Athletics
NL: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, Marlins

ALCS: Mariners over Athletics
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals

WS: Dodgers over Mariners

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Yasiel Puig

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

Here’s to a great 2015 MLB season! As always, I’ll be rooting for a 1985 rematch. (Which nearly happened last year. So close.)

-apc.

Cactus League: Billy Butler, Pete LaCock and Lee Smith.

Day 2 from Spring Training. 

Let’s get to it.



Cubs Welcome Country Breakfast

We spent yesterday the Cubs facilities checking in on Billy Butler and the visiting Oakland Athletics. As we all know, the Royals let Billy walk after declining to pick up his 2015 option. Negotiations were extensive, but ultimately Billy took a 3 year, $30M deal to play for the A’s.

I have a rocky past with Billy. I generally cannot stand the designated hitter, and Billy has historically been a frustrating player at that “position.” He hits singles and doubles. He does not hit for power. He does not play defense (although, Oakland plans to give him a lot of time there). I’ve never seen him throw a baseball. He was one of the least valuable baserunners in baseball last year.

So he’s one-dimensional. A one-tool player. He hits for average, and that’s it.

Late in the season, Ned Yost benched Butler. Butler whined. He was obnoxious, and I couldn’t wait for the Royals to let him walk. If the Royals postseason run hadn’t happened, Billy would’ve left town without eliciting any emotion whatsoever.

BUT…then he stole that base.

And the Royals did go on that postseason run, and suddenly Billy Butler became the face of the resurrected franchise. The guy who had been there through the darkest times and came out on the other side a winner.

So strangely, over the course of about 6 weeks, my emotions surrounding Billy Butler were transformed. Which is how I somehow found myself wanting to check in on his yesterday in Mesa, AZ. I’m going to miss Billy – I think Kendrys Morales is a better player and putting aside emotions, it’s the right move for the franchise – but Billy was Billy, and he can’t be replaced.

Except yesterday’s game did nothing but help me forget him quickly.

First, he completely ignored me and Dan as he walked into the visitors dugout. We were 3 feet away. I was wearing my #16 Billy Butler powder blue jersey. I told him we miss him in KC. And he gave us the cold shoulder.

Then he went 0-3 at the plate. Snoozer. Not doing much to keep me interested. The A’s come to Kauffman Stadium on April 17-19. I’ll be there on April 18 – which is Billy’s birthday.

Thankfully, there were other happenings that more that made up for Billy’s disappointing day.



Pete LaCock’s 1980 AL Champions ring

There were a group of former Cubs players signing autographs during the game. Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith were the big names. But I made eye contact with Pete LaCock and he was noticeably excited that I was decked out in Royals gear.

We talked for about 10 minutes. I asked him about his time in KC, how the 1980 World Series loss compared to the 2014. He answered by taking off his 1980 AL Champs ring and handing it to me. Didn’t even ask. Just gave it to me and told me to try it on. Pretty cool.

Look how faded the front is – it looks like the photo is out of focus it’s so worn. Pretty cool experience as long as I ignored Pete’s complaining about the Royals disrespecting him by only giving him upper deck tickets to the World Series. The nerve.

Meeting Lee Smith

The highlight of the day was meeting Lee Smith. 

He was sitting next to Pete LaCock and I spent most of the time with Pete trying to figure out what I was going to say to Smith when the conversation shifted.

I decided to share the story that I wrote about a few months ago – my experience as a 7 year old watching him pitch for the Cardinals in 1993. We laughed about how long he used to take walking to the mound. He said Tony La Russa’s word for his walk was an “amble.”

“I don’t even know what that word means!” said Smith.

I shook his hand twice and both times was shocked at how massive his hands are. I was tempted to ask him to hold a ball for me, but that felt weird. 

Instead, he brought up how short the Cardinals infield felt while he was on the mound. Ozzie Smith (5’11”), Terry Pendleton (5’9″) and Jose Oquendo (5’10”) all had “short man syndrome” according to Lee, who stand at 6’5″. Add an additional 11 inches from the height of the mound, those infielders would come in for a conference and he felt like he could “scoop em all up and put em in his pocket.” 

Great guy. Huge smile. Very friendly. An honor to meet him. My only regrets: not getting a photo with him and not being prepared with his card to sign. Drat.

***

Today is Yordano Day and my final day in Arizona. Headed to Goodyear to watch the Good Guys take on the Tribe this afternoon. Big win yesterday – Cheslor Cuthbert with a 2-run walkoff in the bottom of the 9th to take down the Rangers for the second straight day. 

Miguel Almonte looked great according to Vahe Gregorian of the Star. Escobar and Morales both had two hits apiece. Bubba Starling went 0-3 with three strikeouts. Woof

-apc.

The Royals are headed to the ALDS.

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Tell me what the headline should be here. I have no idea how to communicate such an insane experience.

The night was an emotionally draining blur and this morning my voice sounds like Frogman from Little Rascals. It is with zero hesitation that I label last night’s 9-8 come-from-behind 12th-inning walkoff Royals Wild Card victory the greatest game I have ever attended.

People will tell you that they never had a doubt, and that they knew the whole time the Royals had it in the bag. Those individuals should not be trusted. Save for a few strong innings when then Royals held a 3-2 lead, there was absolutely every reason to doubt before and throughout last night’s wild card playoff game. I spent the entire day worrying. I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I posted to Twitter yesterday afternoon that I was more nervous about the game than I ever was proposing to my wife. I joked that I was bringing an extra pair of pants to the game too…just in case.

That was a lie, obviously. And I’d also be lying if I said I never had doubt. And if you tell me you never had doubts when we were down 7-3 in the 8th, i question your grasp of reality.

Let’s begin with the end. Oakland had just taken the lead, 8-7 in the 12th. In the bottom half with 1 out, Eric Hosmer – who went 3-4 with 2 walks – lifted a ball to deep right. Sam Fuld and Jonny Gomes both looked like they might have a play on it against the wall. Instead, they collided in midair and the ball caromed off the wall for a standup triple. Christian Colon chopped a swinging bunt single and Hosmer scored from third to tie the game at 8-8. Colon stole second, and Salvador Perez came to the plate.

Again, zero reason to be confident here. Salvy had already come up twice with runners aboard and had failed badly. He continues to chase terrible pitches low and away. Throw him a slider down and out, and he’ll swing every time. For a guy who spends every day framing the strikezone he sure doesn’t seem to have a clue where it is. In the 8th inning, with the tying run on third base, Salvy had struck out on a pitch that wasn’t anywhere close. He looked awful.

Right on cue, he swung at a pitch a foot off the plate outside, and somehow that ball found it’s way between third base and Josh Donaldson’s diving glove. Colon scored from second, and the game was over.

Here’s a look at both pitches by ESPN Stats & Info…
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And with that swing the Royals won their first playoff game since winning it all in 1985.

The game took 4 hours and 45 minutes, and I’m certain I experienced every emotion possible in that span.

Kauffman was absolutely rocking. it felt like Arrowhead, honestly, and that’s no exaggeration. I’ve never been to a baseball game that loud. Not even close. When James Shields took the mound to start the game, the whole place was standing like a college basketball game. Someday I’ll tell my unborn kids for the 800th time how loud it was and they’ll roll their eyes and go, “yeah, yeah, we know dad.”

It was electric at the beginning and the end. But there were quite a few spots in between that were very very dismal.

The place was silent in the first after Brandon Moss hit a 2-run homer to make it 2-0 Oakland early, but sprang back to life when the Royals immediately responded with a run of their own when Billy Butler singled in Nori Aoki in the first. Then went back to bananas when my boy Lorenzo Cain doubled scoring Mike Moustakas and Hosmer singled scoring Cain.

If there was ever a point to “not have any doubts” this was it. The fans were all up in Jon Lester’s dome. The whole place was chanting, “Leeeeees-ter, Leeeeees-terrr,” and the A’s starter actually looked rattled. Going into the last night, Lester had owned the Royals over his career (1.84 ERA, 88 IP). They faced him three times between July 20 and August 12 in the midst of their crazy hot streak in July/August, and they lost all three games badly.

But the Royals finally got to him last night: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 6 R. Yet somehow he left the game in line for another win due to a suspect managerial move by Ned Yost.

With the Royals leading 3-2, Shields got into some trouble in the 6th. Fuld led off with a single and Donaldson walked. Two on, no outs. Shields had thrown 88 pitches, and has cruised through the previous 5 innings with the only blip being Moss’s HR in the first. In a regular season game, your ace pitcher would have the opportunity to work out of it himself. But in a winner-take-all game, Yost opted to pull Shields for – not Kelvin Herrera or Wade Davis, not Jason Frasor or Brandon Finnegan, not even lefty Danny Duffy – but young rookie starter Yordano Ventura.

I get the move. I do. And if it had worked, we’d all be talking about what a genius Ned was to bring in the young flamethrower. Unfortunately, Moss took a 97 mph fastball over the centerfield fence. They would add two more runs in the frame and make it 7-3, bad guys.

At which point, I gave up. The game was over and Ned Yost was going to get raked over the coals for it. Hope was nowhere to be found, and for the second time, the life had been sucked out of Kauffman Stadium. You could here every word coming from the mouth of every A’s fan. Royals fans could do nothing but watch their season slip away.

The song “Don’t Stop Believing” came on between innings, and it was almost comical how depressing things felt. The only ones singing along in my section were two over-served gentlemen down near the front, and two boys in the seats right in front of us.

Someone said something about things looking grim, to which one of the kids responded, “All we need to do is have everyone hit a home run and we’ll win.” The kid clearly didn’t know his 2014 Royals statistics, because no one hits home runs on this team, but he taught me a little about hope in the midst of despair.

It was the 8th inning when the rally began. Alcides Escobar singled and stole second. Cain singled him home. Cain stole second. Hosmer walked and the A’s pulled Lester for Luke Gregorson. Billy Butler singled and scored Cain, and moved Hosmer to third. Terrance Gore ran for Butler and stole second. A wild pitch by Gregorson advanced both runners. Hosmer’s run made it 7-6. Alex Gordon walked and stole second. Perez and Omar Infante struck out with the tying run and fastest guy in the league just 90 feet away.

The Royals had 7 steals in this game, by the way, tying a postseason record. The biggest of them all game in the 9th. Josh Willingham led off with a single and Jarrod Dyson pinch ran for him. Escobar bunted him to second. Then with Aoki batting, Dyson stole third – the biggest steal of the seven – we were 90 feet away. Aoki hit a sacrifice fly to right and Dyson scored to tie the game and send it to extra innings.

The “90 feet away” motif suddenly became a thing as the Royals put a man on third base in 4 consecutive innings – 8th, 9th, 10th & 11th – plating only Dyson.

A look at the three they didn’t score…

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…none of them scored. The Royals did a masterful job doing 3/4 of the manufacturing, but couldn’t get the guy to advance the last 90 feet on three different occasions.

Meanwhile, while the offense is stranding runners at third, the bullpen was doing it’s thing. Wade Davis pitched a scoreless 8th. Greg Holland pitched a scoreless 9th. And 21-year old rookie Brandon Finnegan threw 2.1 innings striking out 3. Gosh, he looks good. Finny was playing ball at TCU in the College World Series just 4 months ago, he was the Royals top draft pick this year and has been stellar out of the bullpen since the rosters expanded in September. He ka another reason the future is bright beyond 2014 in Kansas City.

Then in the 12th, the A’s did what we couldn’t: they moved a base runner 90 more feet. The runner was Josh Reddick, who walked to lead off the inning. Jed Lowrie bunted him to second and Jason Frasor came into the game and promptly threw a wild pitch. With Reddick at third – 90 feet away – former Royal, Alberto Callaspo, singled to make it 8-7.

This was the worst of the worsts for fans at The K. Inning after inning we had runs sitting right there and couldn’t bring them across. And to see Oakland succeed on it’s first try was really frustrating and positively deflating.

But the bottom of the 12th is history. Hosmer’s big triple, Colon’s infield single and steal, and Perez’s grounder down the line, and the Royals came from behind for the third time in the same game to defeat the Athletics 9-8.

And Kauffman Stadium launched into euphoria.

I high fived so many strangers my hand started hurting. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I ripped a set of blue beads I was wearing around my neck and chucked them 100 feet in the air and I have no idea what came of them.

On a night that I fully expected to be heartbroken, I was. Three times, in fact. But the joy in the end is all that matters. It was chaos.

Bring on the Angels. I don’t care how good they are or how impressive their lineup is or how many games the won in the regular season. None of those things matter in the playoffs.

But they have Mike Trout! And Albert Pujols! And Josh Hamilton! And…shut it. None of that matters.

What does matter in the playoffs? Pitching, defense and speed. And the Royals have all of those things.

I can tell you one thing: no one wants to play the Kansas City Royals. Other teams just don’t matchup for a must-win playoff game.

We’ve completed phase two of five. Phase one was to make the playoffs. Phase two was to advance to the ALDS. Three more phases to go. 11 more wins is all it takes.

See you at The K on Sunday.

-apc.

Game 15: Citi Field, Queens, New York

Every history of the Mets begins with westward expansion.

In 1957, there were 3 MLB clubs in New York: the Yankees, Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Then in 1958, only the Yankees were left as the Giants and Dodgers left for California.

Giants and Dodgers fans were without a team for 4 years, and the New York Metropolitans were supposed to be the answer when they began in 1962.

In 1962, the Dodgers won 102 games in LA but finished second in the NL to the Giants who won 103 games. The Yankees took the AL with 97 games and won the World Series over the Giants in 7 games.

The Mets, in their inaugural year, lost a miserable 120 games.

40-120.

There’s never been a worse record since.

What made it even worse: they were playing in the New York Polo Grounds, the recently abandoned home of the Giants. The team that left went to the World Series against the cross town rival Yankees. The replacement Mets put up the worst record since the 1935 Boston Braves, and the 3rd worst record ever recorded.

I can only imagine how much of an eye roll the 1962 Mets were. This team was supposed to replace two powerhouse ball clubs. Instead…what an embarrassment.

They moved from Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan to Queens in 1965, and still piddled around in the bottom of the standings until 1969 when somehow, by some stroke of luck, they actually managed to win it all. The Miracle Mets had won their first World Series championship.

They won their only other ring in 1986. The Mets roster that year was extremely impressive: Daryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Gary Carter, George Foster, Lenny Dykstra, and Dwight Gooden holding down the pitching staff.

But it still took one of the biggest blunders in baseball history for them to win it all.

That was in Shea Stadium, where the Mets played until 2008. Today they play at Citi Field, which is basically a giant homage to Ebbets Field where the Brooklyn Dodgers used to play. Here’s a look at the entryway rotunda at both Citi and Ebbets Field…

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At Citi, they even call it the “Jackie Robinson Rotunda.” The interior is packed with Jackie and Branch Rickey quotes and video clips. It’s cool, but somewhat awkward since the Dodgers still exist.

In fact, the Mets colors – blue and orange – are a blending of the Dodgers and Giants colors.

Karlie and I were at the game last night together and she made the comment that the Mets feel “generic”. Their mascot is a man with a baseball for a head – same as Cincinnati. Their colors are copied from past teams. Their ballpark is copied too. They share a city – their team name is the “Metropolitans” which was supposed to unite both former fan bases into one. They serve “Brooklyn Lager” and don’t even have a hot dog named after their mascot. C’mon guys. Find an identity.

They just don’t seem to have much that is uniquely theirs.

In fact, the Queens fan base isn’t even uniquely theirs…at all. In a map released recently by Facebook and featured in the NY Times, it was discovered that the “Yankees are the preferred team everywhere in New York City.” Even the area surrounding the ballpark has more Yankees fans than Mets fans.

The fan reclamation movement of the 1960s seems to have failed. Even Jay-Z, a Brooklyn boy, is a huge Yankees fan.

The last time the Mets made the World Series was 2000, and they had to play the Yankees. The Subway Series (which I learned yesterday is technically the 7 train between Manhattan and Flushing) was won by the Yankees and they celebrated on field at Shea Stadium in front of probably more Yankees than Mets fans. Sigh.

It almost starts making you feel sorry for the Mets. So much baggage with their franchise. Feeling the pressure of two historic franchises that came before them, yet playing in the shadow of their big brother in the Bronx. It’s not a successful setup. It’s like they were born into a broken family system.

Family systems are so interesting to me. We inherit the system we are born into – the emotional strains, abuse and disease histories, dysfunction, abandonment, birth order, emotional distancing, employment history, marital conflict, etc. – and none of it is in our control at birth. Life is a complex web of overlapping human relationships that all impact one another. The key to healthily navigating broken family systems is managing to differentiate yourself from the emotional system.

Every single one of us is born into a different system and our task is to learn to navigate it healthily.

Discovering your own identity is crucial to navigating life emotionally healthy. And the Mets don’t seem to have their own identity.

Murray Bowen was the pioneer behind Family Systems Theory. I encourage everyone to go check it out more in depth.

I’m excited to look into this connection more as I write this chapter of the book. We talk about this stuff all the time in our seminary classes and ministry spheres.

Probably more to talk about, but for now, I’m going to move on to some game notes. I’m halfway to Philly right now and need to start researching where I’m going to watch the USA/Germany match. Moving on.

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Game Notes:

I’ve reached the halfway point on the tour: Game 15 of 30. But I’ve now only seen the home team win 1/3 of the time.

I saw the Royals and Cardinals win their home openers. I saw Atlanta win the first stop on my Smorgasbord Tour in early April. And I saw both Oakland and the Giants win while I was in the Bay Area.

After last night, I can add the Mets to the ever expanding list of teams I’ve watched lose this year: Reds, Rangers, Astros, D-Backs, Padres, Dodgers, Mariners, Rockies, Angels, and Mets.

Tuesday night, the Mets pounded the A’s 10-1. New York had won 3 straight. But then I came to town and had to wreck their mojo.

Last night’s game marked the third time I’ve seen Oakland win this season, and my wife, who has been with me for all three matchups, is basically an A’s fan at this point. Yoenis Cespedes is her boy.

The Mets’ Zach Wheeler was coming off the best start of his career shutting out Miami last week, but he didn’t have it last night. A Brandon Moss HR made it 2-0 after 1, and a string of walks and singles scored another before Cespedes doubled with the bases loaded to make it 6-0 after 2.

And that was Wheelers night. They pinch hit for him in the bottom half of the second: 2 IP, 6 H, 6 ER.

The A’s would add two more before the Mets could do anything offensively. Coco Crisp hit a solo HR and the Mets conceded another run on a double play. 8-0 after 6.

Then the Mets started to mount a comeback: Lucas Duda hit a 3 run shot in the 7th that made it 8-3 and caused the “big apple” beyond the CF wall to spring to life. Every Mets HR causes the apple to rise up from behind the wall. It’s a pretty stupid stadium gimmick.

We saw it again in the 8th when Chris Young homered and made it 8-5. But that’s all the runs Oakland would allow. Sean Doolittle, the A’s closer and a terrific follow on Twitter, struck out the side in the 9th to end it.

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Fifteen down. Fifteen to go.

Up Next: Philadelphia Phillies.

-apc.

Game 14: Angel Stadium, Anaheim

I know what you’re thinking. “Adam, where’s Game 13? Did you make a counting mistake? Or did you skip it because yesterday was Friday the Thirteenth and it’s unlucky?” Neither, actually. Coors Field happened back on June 3. I took the high school youth group I lead. I’m just not quite ready to report on it yet. Stay tuned.

SNL’s The Californians skits take on a new level of hilarity when you have to drive from UCLA to Angel Stadium in rush hour traffic.

Over 2 hours to travel 50 miles.

But let me tell you this: I was born for driving in the big city. LA traffic requires the perfect balance of aggression and patience, and – I don’t mean to brag – but I have been gifted with that perfect balance. Is it a superhero trait? No one can be sure. But, yes. It is.

The Angels first came to Anaheim in 1966 after spending 5 years as a team stadium hopping around LA. Since 1966, they’ve called Anaheim home, but their team name has still bounced around quite a bit. Are they the “Anaheim Angels” or the “Los Angeles Angels” or the “California Angels” or the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim” or all of the above? It’s confusing stuff for a team that hasn’t moved in nearly 50 years.

During those years, the Angels have earned only one World Series championship: 2002. Led by David Eckstein, Darin Erstad and Garrett Anderson, the Halos bested the Giants in 7 games. But there are other big moments at the Big A.

My personal favorite: the 1989 All Star Game when Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs led off with back to back solo shots in the bottom of the first inning. Former president Ronald Reagan was being interviewed in the broadcast booth when Bo’s jack happened. They were hardly paying attention when Reagan Bo interrupted the interview. A flabbergasted Reagan commented, “OH!” while Vin Scully exclaimed, “And Bo Jackson says hello!”

Jackson won the All Star MVP that year and former Angel Nolan Ryan, then with the Rangers, got the win in relief – the oldest pitcher to ever get a ASG win at the age of 42.

Ryan’s number is retired in three different ballparks: Texas, Houston and Anaheim. So Wednesday night completed the Nolan Ryan retired number circuit. I’ll complete the team circuit in two weeks when I see the Mets in NYC.

Today’s Angels team is packed with star power: Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Mike Trout make up one of the scariest 2-3-4 lineups in the league.

Albert cleared 500 career HRs a few weeks ago. His contract coming over from St. Louis was massive, and until this year, it hasn’t looked like it was a smart move on LAA’s part. Hamilton is a similar story, coming from the Rangers.

Mike Trout, however, is something totally different. He’s one of the best in the game right now – a 5-tool player: power, average, speed, arm and defense – and he’s only 22 years old. Even better, he’s a hard worker and is always striving to get better. He seems above the distractions that come with game and success, which is rare for a player who experiences so much success at his age.

Speaking of distractions, I don’t remember a game where I struggled to focus on the action so much. Maybe it was a product of the LA traffic, or because I couldn’t take my eyes off the wide array of stadium snacks that kept passing under my nose.

I was sitting in the front row of section 515. Highest level, but it still felt remarkably close to the game for the cheap seats. Sitting in the front row meant there was a walkway right in front of me, so I got a crash course in stadium eats as the game progressed. The best item in the park in my opinion: the “Big Daddy Nachos.” Chips, beef, beans, red fresnos, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream all in an Angels helmet. Way good.

But the distractions kept mounting. I couldn’t focus in on the action for some reason.

The game started strong. In the first two innings both teams robbed a homerun – Trout took one away in the 1st, and Coco Crisp did the same in the 2nd. It was a 1-1 game for a long time, and about the time the bullpens came out the game really slowed to a halt.

Now, I love the slow pace of baseball. It allows space for conversation between pitches and innings. The lack of action actually promotes relationships in the stands. But this game was sort of a drag.

So I went for the distractions.

I missed the entire 5th inning in line for a nacho helmet. I spent the bulk of the 6th trying to catch up on the plays I missed in the 5th. The 8th was lost trying to figure out how to get back to the hotel. And then when the A’s started piling up insurance runs late, I did something I hadn’t done yet on my ballpark tour…

I left early.

Just typing that feels wrong. But considering the morale of the game combined with the long drive back to our hotel, it was the right thing to do. The Rally Monkey was fun and tempting – and I still wonder if I had cheered louder if he would have come – but it was a sad situation in Anaheim.

I was also a little disappointed I hadn’t gone to the Tuesday night game instead where the Halos won on a Cowgill walkoff HR in the 14th inning.

As I was driving home in the carpool lane on the 405, I started thinking about how distracted I was. I came and went and I hadn’t been looking for anything spiritual. God was there, but I missed him.

The distractions got in the way.

As I exited off the 405 on to Sunset Blvd, I realized how common that is for me. How often am I so caught up in the day to day events of life that I forget to look for God’s action around me? When does my to-do list function like blinders to the places of wonder, beauty or injustice in the world?

God is active. Am I tuned into his action enough to take notice?

There’s a difference between seeing and noticing. I watched the game. I saw it with my own eyes. I was there. But did I really notice what was happening in the game? I think it was Cespedes who got robbed by Trout, but I’m not certain without looking at my scorecard. I was pretty sure it was Moss who hit the 3-run homer, but I had to look that up too.* I saw, but did I really take notice of the details of the game?

* – It wasn’t Moss. It was Vogt.

Is God doing something cool in our midst? Do we notice it? Or do we merely see it and move on?

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Game Notes:

The high point in the game was the first two innings when Crisp and Trout robbed the homers.

Tommy Milone got the W for Oakland. Both Milone and Jered Weaver had solid starts, both giving up 1 through the first 5 innings. But Weaver faced Cespedes/Moss/Lowrie/Vogt to start the 6th and went 2B/1B/Sac 8/HR which ended his night at 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, all earned.

The Rally Monkey came out for the Angels in the late innings, but it only helped the visitors who added to their lead in the 9th and sparking my early exit.

The A’s won it 7-1. There’s a reason they’re running away with the AL West: it’s because they’re really good. Not sure why I decided to overlook them when I made my preseason predictions back in March. The Angels are still a contender, but not for the division.

One disappointing note: Pujols got thrown out at third trying to leg out a triple. It was the second game in a row that Cespedes recorded a put out from LF. Pujols looked like he was running in Jello.

Fourteen games down. Sixteen to go.

Up Next: New York Mets.

-apc.

Game 11: O.Co Coliseum, Oakland

The Oakland Coliseum: a football-first concrete circle where the sewers back up a couple times a season.

It’s a real looker, you guys.

The stadium shuffles through name changes. Right now, it’s O.Co Coliseum, the website of Overstock.com, which is an awkward play on the starting letters of “Oakland Coliseum” which everyone agrees will always be the real name of the facility regardless of who sponsors it.

I was oddly excited to visit O.Co Coliseum for some reason. I’ve heard the horror stories of it’s awkward shape, poor concessions, ugly facade and bubbling toilets, and I was anxious to experience them for myself. Well, everything but the bubbling toilets, I guess.

The place lived up to the hype(?) – there is nothing about the Coliseum that is necessarily “attractive”. For example, as we walked into the park, we had to go over a small creek/moat that circles around two sides of the park. Here’s the first photo I took when I arrived at the ballpark…

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…the tire is a real clutch move.

Getting passed the moat, I learned two things about last night’s situation: the game was a sellout, and the fans know how to tailgate hard.

This years A’s slogan: Green Collar Baseball. Which is fitting with the blue collar fan base on the east side of the SF Bay.

The Oakland fans are a passionate and rowdy bunch, and while their green and gold uniforms come across quaint and the white elephant mascot is adorable, it’s important to remember that these are the same fans that fill the Black Hole during Raiders games. I was one “land of the free, home of the Chiefs” away from getting a pounding in the parking lot. Tread lightly.

During Spring Training, the MLB Network had a fan vote to elect the “Face of the MLB”. Each team nominated players, and then players were matched up round by round against other MLB faces. The fans made the decisions based on who got the larger percent of the vote. The A’s nomination: Eric Sogard.

Sogard is the A’s second baseman, and is a spectacularly average player. He’s a lifetime .235 hitter in his 4 years in Oakland. But he wears some slammin’ thick-rimmed spectacles, and so the A’s fans rallied and decided he should be the Face of the MLB. The Twitter hashtag “#NERDPOWER” went viral, and Sogard went on to win showdowns against Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs, Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies, Buster Posey of the SF Giants in the quarterfinals and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays in the semifinals.

An underwhelming player with glasses took out four major MLB stars en route to the finals of the competition. And the reason: because the A’s fans were passionate enough to get him there. These fans love their team, and Sogard’s trip through the Face of the MLB bracket is proof of that.

In the end, Sogard lost to David Wright of the New York Mets in the finals: 51% to 49%. Missed it by just 2%.

But how was a fan base like Oakland going to compete with the Big Apple? Simply put: it isn’t fair.

Which is honestly a microcosm of the A’s history over the past decade or so: make an impressive run until the playoffs, and then lose to someone with an unfair advantage over the small-market A’s.

In the early 2000’s, Billy Beane, their general manager, realized that this was a trend within the game of baseball. Teams with tinier payrolls couldn’t compete with teams with larger payrolls. In 2002, the A’s payroll was $41M. The Yankees payroll was $125M. How are you supposed to compete against a club that spends 3X what you can to field a team?

The answer: start playing the game differently. Get ahead of the curve.

The idea was simple: focus on statistics that were controllable with an emphasis on on-base percentage and conserving the outs you have remaining. This meant ignoring formerly meaningful stats like RBIs and glorifying walks and plate discipline. This meant ignoring intangible qualities like whether a player was “clutch” or had a “good baseball body”. They also removed risk from the game almost entirely by eliminating bunting and stealing. It was conservative, but conservation typically pays off big over long periods of time. And the baseball season is a long period of time.

The Athletics believed that by acquiring unknown players who get on base a lot, they could mathematically beat the wealthy empires they were unfairly matched up against. The more you got on base, the more value you had because the more runs were created.

And it worked.

Between 2000 and 2006, the Athletics averaged 95 wins a season.

The only draw back: the playoffs aren’t a large sample size, and conservative play doesn’t work over such a short span. The Athletics made the playoffs 5 times in that 7 year span, losing 4 times in the division series and once in the conference series.

In 2000, they lost to the Yankees. In 2001, they lost to the Yankees. In 2002, they lost to the Twins, which was their only matchup that felt remotely balanced. In 2003, they lost to the Red Sox (who had swiped their statistics-based ideas and partnered it with a $120M payroll), and in 2006 they finally advanced, beating the Twins in the LDS before losing to the Tigers in 4 straight games.

The new method could get the A’s to the playoffs, but it couldn’t advance them with such a small sample size. The unfair game still had them beat, and while the underdog had gotten creative and earned a matchup with the monsters of the MLB, they never could TKO Goliath.

But it changed the game. It was the birth of sabermetrics in the MLB, and suddenly the A’s are having to find new methods of competing now that the rest of the MLB knows its new tricks.

But it raises the question: why does life have to be so unfair? Why do bad things continue to happen to a team that deserves success more than anyone else? A general manager changes the game, and wins 102 and 103 games in back to back seasons, but gets no championship to show for his spoils. Why can’t the little guy ever catch a break?

Why do bad things continue to happen to those deserve otherwise? And why do good things seem to come to those who don’t deserve them?

Life isn’t fair. We all know this. We all feel this.

We live in a world of inequality and injustice where wealth leads to power and power leads to success, but often at the expense of the poor and the powerless.

I think of Isaiah 1:17 here:

“learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

And Micah 6:8:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

As long as I never made eye contact with a Raiders logo, it wasn’t difficult for me to root for the A’s last night. I think it was because I have learned to orient myself as an advocate for the underdog. In baseball, sure, but in life too. My heart breaks for the less-thans. I root for the downtrodden. Or at least I try. You probably do too.

That was what I found myself thinking about in the midst of an awesome ballgame last night. I’m excited to explore this conversation of equality/justice/fairness further in the book. Let me know if you have any insights into this conversation everyone.

Game Notes:

Bold statement: this will be the best game I see this season.

It was a 6:05PM start time – a little earlier than normal to make time for the postgame fireworks display – and the game was chugging along so quickly, it wasn’t certain if it would even dark yet for the show.

The Athletics are hosting the Washington Nationals* this weekend, and the Nats jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the third off A’s starter Sonny Gray. Gray, in addition to having a supremely appropriate name for the Bay Area, was also voted the AL Pitcher of the Month in April. He came into last night’s game with a 1.91 ERA.

* – Going into last night’s game, the home team was 3-7. The Royals and Cardinals both won their home openers, and the Braves beat this same Nationals team back in April. The A’s winning last night is the second time the Nationals have lost

The 3 runs would be all he would give up, but his ERA spiked to 2.17. “Spiked” is used sarcastically here. Obviously, that is still a stellar stat.

The A’s answered in the bottom half of the inning when catcher, John Jaso, launched a solo shot into the RF bleachers to make it 3-1. That was the only run Washington starter, Tanner Roark, would allow. He retired the next 13 consecutive batters – 9 of them fly outs – and breezed into the 8th inning and it looked like the Nats were going to just let him ride to a complete game.

Roark struck out 5, and somehow got 14 fly outs in 7.2 IP with only 2 hits. A’s hitters would pop out 20 times before the game ended.

Roark the win for sure, but Rafael Soriano couldn’t save it in the 9th.

One of the areas of baseball that I’m very intrigued by is superstition. It runs deep in the game of baseball. It started getting really cold late in the game, and to start the bottom of the 9th, I put my hood up.

The A’s promptly scored 2 runs – Jaso singled, Jed Lowrie doubled, Josh Donaldson singled – and tied the game 3-3.

Donaldson’s single went out to left field, and Zach Walters came up throwing to home plate with Lowrie trying to score from second, and Soriano cut the throw off. Why he would do that, I have zero idea, but the tying run scored without a play.

In my celebration, my hood fell down, which was the only possible explanation for Moss, Cespedes and Reddick to go down on three consecutive fly outs. I quickly realized my miscue after Reddick went down, and fixed the matter quickly.

Sure enough, Callaspo led off the 10th with a single and Nick “The Shredder” Punto went in to pinch run. With two outs, John Jaso – yes, again – nearly hit another HR to the same place as his first one. Instead, it bounced off the wall for a walk off double. The Shredder scored from first and quickly showed his namesake by ripping apart Jaso’s jersey while the rest of his teammates mobbed him.

The Athletics won 4-3 on an extra innings walk off.

Then, to make the evening even better, they let the fans walk down on into the outfield to watch the fireworks display choreographed to Journey. Oh, what’s that you ask? Was it the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen? Why, yes it was.

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Eleven down. Ninteen to go.

Up next: San Francisco Giants.

-apc.