Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dungeons and Diamonds

No, it isn't a new fantasy role-playing game, but it's the most accurate way to sum up the past few days. All three of my teams were felled on Friday the 13th in a variety of very inventive ways, ranging from the usual not-enough-offense (Cardinals dropped by Brewers 3-2) to terrible managing (Hurdle pinch-hitting John Mabry instead of Jeff Baker with the Rockies within a run and two aboard in the ninth; Rockies lose to D-backs 5-4) to the homer in extras (Jason Giambi breaks a 3-3 tie in the 13th inning.... spookily enough... to take the Yanks over the A's 4-3), completing the Terrible Trifecta day in which all of my teams lose. That is not fun. Fortunately, there were both good and bad results to be found today.

The Cardinals completed their Sunday blowout -- last week it was to eradicate the Astros 10-1 and this week it was to do basically the same thing to the Brewers, except Braden Looper allowed an extra run as the Redbirds took it by a score of 10-2. Encouragingly, five RBIs were provided by Albert Pujols, who is scuffling to start the season, but more than doubled his total numbers to date with two line-drive home runs and a groundout. He's not out of the woods just yet, as the first home run came on a batting-practice fastball and the second came on a curve, or at least a pitch that was supposed to be a curve and floated in his wheelhouse, and I'm not ready to pronounce him rehabilitated until he can do it more than once a week. Still, both times that Albert has had a big outing, the Cards offense has scored a heap of runs -- once he can get it going on a consistent basis, maybe they'll finally average more than two or three runs per game. The pitching has been exemplary, even my personal favorite whipping boy Looper, and this is by no means a bad team despite all snide predictions to the contrary. The Cubs, for example, are 4-7 and got shut out 1-0 at home today on the back of a brilliant performance by the Reds' Kyle Lohse - 8 shutout innings and 12 Ks. Yes, the Kyle Lohse who got cut by Minnesota for being terrible. You might say that $300 million is not having the immediate wished-for results.

About the A's... man, today was an emotional roller coaster. Rich Harden had a great start, tried to barehand a Melky Cabrera chopper in the third, and got examined by the med staff. He seemed to be okay until the start of the seventh, where he was looked at again, gave up an A-Rod double, and then got pulled with what the A's notoriously evasive medical staff is calling "tightness" in his throwing shoulder. Harden is brilliantly untouchable and Cy Young-like when he's on, but blow on him the wrong way and he breaks. It's extremely aggravating. A's fans everywhere must pray that it's nothing serious, but I in no way trust the A's medical team to properly manage this injury. It could mean anything from "his next start is pushed back a few days" to "his career is over," and although I salivate over Harden's potential, his complete and utter inability to stay healthy is maddening. Losing Carpenter and Harden off two of my teams is awful, and I'm dearly hoping that it'll be nothing serious. Harden's spot in the rotation makes only one start before April 25, due to the conjunction of off-days, so it's possible the A's could survive if it was just a short-term thing, but with Harden's extremely checkered medical past, nothing is certain. Here's where the loss of Zito hurts (although he's not doing much impressing with the Giants). If the A's have to run out a rotation of Danny Haren, Joe Blanton, Chad Gaudin, Joe Kennedy, and who? Brad Halsey?, they are, pardon my French, fucked. If Harden goes down, it's going to be very, very tough going for the A's. And frankly, I'm getting a little frustrated with Rich. How in the hell can one ballplayer be injured so much? Is it weight training too much? Simple physical fragility? The nasty whispers that steroids have weakened the muscles? Who knows, and if the baseball gods have any heart at all, they will not allow him to go down yet -- freaking -- again.

The other injury risk who could actually benefit the A's by going down right now is starting shortstop Bobby Crosby. To start with, his defense is atrocious right now -- it's maybe a 50% chance that he'll make a routine play. He bobbles DP balls, overthrows the first baseman, can't hang onto hard hoppers, and generally makes you wince every time it's hit in his direction -- his defense was directly responsible for the A's Opening Day defeat in Seattle. And his hitting is abominable. Twice in the past two games, Eric Chavez got aboard and into scoring position -- once by a triple, once by a walk and a stolen base -- and twice, Crosby left him there with some of the weakest situational hitting one could imagine, pulling a pitch feebly onto the ground once and striking out on three the other time. Some people are saying that he's still in Spring Training since his balky back held him out of the majority of Cactus League action, but the truth is that Crosby is criminally overrated and has been for a while. Even in his 2004 Rookie of the Year season, he hit only .239, and although A's fans have been clamoring for him to be healthy and show his potential, now that he's playing, there doesn't appear to be any. Even the most talented college players can be busts in the big leagues, and this isn't a case of 12 games in April, it's a case of Crosby's short and unfortunate career to date. I'll give him some more leeway, but not a lot.

And besides, there may be another option....this brings me to today's happy A's news. Despite all the crap that went on otherwise, and Harden leaving before Joe Kennedy was brought in to cough up three runs to the Yankees (now HE is bad and always will be) the A's actually won. Yes, and they did it in an amazing and heartstopping fashion. The Yankees were up 4-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth, and they put in Superman closer Mariano Rivera, who almost always gets the job done and is one of the few relievers that is a lock for the Hall of Fame. He got two quick outs, and this is where (to my later chagrin) I left the proceedings, unable to bear the A's offensive ineptitude. Then I came back later, saw that the box read "NYY 4 -- OAK 5" and stared at it, incomprehending. Then I saw what had happened and began to freak out, laughing, rocking, giggling, cheering, and generally making it a good thing that I was alone in my dorm room.

Here's what unfolded with two outs and no one on:

Todd Walker lined a first-pitch single into left field.
Jason Kendall took 9 pitches, fighting and fouling off, to work a walk.
Marco Scutaro, possibly the most amazing little man known to baseball, takes a called strike and then fouls off another to quickly put himself into an 0-2 hole. Against Rivera. Two outs. Two on. And on the third pitch - BOOM. A screaming line drive that bangs into the left-field foul pole. Three-run homer. Walkoff. Delirium. My friend who was at the game called me about twenty minutes afterwards, and all he could say, over and over, was, "Oh my God." It was hard to hear since the A's fans were still so happy, and he held up the phone so I could hear a raucous chant of "YANKEES SUCK!" in the background. Aaaaaahh.

As for the last game of the day, the Rockies lost, finishing out a disappointing 3-6 road trip in which they won the first game in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Phoenix before losing the next two, and preventing a three-win day from happening for the first time this season. The big bats -- Atkins, Helton, Holliday, and Hawpe -- all contributed for the latter two games, turning in a homer, an RBI double, a single (Atkins) a double and a homer (Helton) 4 hits overall (Holliday) and a screaming 2-RBI double (Hawpe), but LaTroy Hawkins the Doominator and Hurdle the functional retard, along with Byung-Hyun Kim's terrible start, conspired to screw them out of any series victories. The Rockies head back to Denver to open a seven-game homestand, starting with the Geriatrics and Barry Zito vs. Jeff Francis. Not winning on the road really killed them last year, so they're going to have to fix that pronto to have any hope of competing. Fortunately, the Giants have a terrible offense, so hopefully the Rockies can get some momentum going at Coors before coming out East to play the Mets (and I'm going!!!!! :D) in a week and a half.

That's it for now. I still have a backbreaking workload and need to do some more, so the blog may not get updated every day. Still, I'll do my best to bring you any and all news, interesting happenings, dramatic wins, gut-wrenching losses, shoddy analysis, euphoria, despair, heroes, goats, and fictitious interviews. See ya around.

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