If you’re out there on the East Coast and you decided not to stay up late for this one… Well, you made the right decision, as very little of note took place on Thursday night in Oakland.
One thing I love about baseball is that franchises have identities, and as odd as it might be, teams cling to those identities from one decade to the next, for better or for worse. How much have the Chicago Cubs changed over the past century? Aren’t the Dodgers always developing young talent, whether that kid is named Rick Sutcliffe or Mike Piazza or Matt Kemp? And the Yankees? Goes without saying.
On Thursday night the Oakland A’s reached back to their roots and made Charlie O. Finley proud, reminding us all that even through the division titles and league pennants and World Series rings they’ve won over the years, they’ve really just been a minor league team at heart. In an attempt to set a world record, the A’s invited fans to bring their dogs to the game; before the first pitch all 718 dogs and their owners paraded around the warning track, some in costume, others au naturel (the dogs, not the fans), and then retired to the stands to watch the rest of the game. There was no word on whether or not they actually set the record, but since neither Kevin Millar nor Pedro Martínez were involved in the attempt, it might actually have worked.
If you only watched that opening before going to bed, at least you saw the best part.
The Yankees started out as it seems like they’ve been starting all their games recently. Derek Jeter singled to right, and two batters later Alex Rodríguez hit a laser to left, putting runners on first and second with one out and the game’s hottest hitter coming to the plate in Robinson Canó. Business as usual.
The A’s had young A.J. Griffin on the mound, a big dorky-looking kid with glasses and four major league starts to his name. He had been good in those four starts, throwing six innings in each and allowing just seven runs for an ERA of 2.63. We know the Yankees tend to wilt in the presence of new pitchers, but surely this night — with this promising start — would be different.
Canó sliced a line drive towards left, but Yoenis Cespedes raced in and made the grab for the first out. Or did he? After catching the ball on the run, he fumbled the ball on the transfer and it trickled to the turf behind him. Chaos ensued. Jeter assumed it was an out, so he went back to second, and A-Rod danced around a bit, shuffling back and forth at least five times between first and second. Cespedes stood stock-still for a few seconds in left, as if not even he knew what the hell was going on.
Third base umpire Brian Knight finally singled safe, but not everyone was convinced (probably because they knew he was wrong.) Cespedes picked up the ball and fired to Brandon Inge at third, nipping Jeter by about eighty-nine feet, then Inge flipped it to second, just missing A-Rod for what would’ve been the strangest 7-5-4 double play you’ve ever seen.
Replays confirmed that Knight and the rest of the umpiring crew had botched it, but the end result was the same as it would’ve been — two outs and runners on first and second. It just kind of set the wrong tone. Mark Teixeira grounded out to first and the inning was over.
Freddy García drew the start for the Yanks, and he was decent enough, allowing nine hits over almost six innings, but usually able to wriggle out of the trouble he started, just not here in the first inning. With two outs and Jemile Weeks on third, Cespedes pounded a monstrous home run to left for a 2-0 Oakland lead.
And then the Yankee hitters went to sleep for a while, lulled into submission by Griffin’s assortment of fastballs, changeups, sliders, and seventy-mile-an-hour curveballs. Raúl Ibáñez singled with one out in the second, but the next eleven Yankees went down like dogs, a string that stretched until Jeter opened the sixth with a blooped single to right.
By this point the A’s had added two more runs to double their lead to four, but it looked like the Yankees might make at least some of that back in the sixth. Following Jeter’s single and a Curtis Granderson strike out, A-Rod and Canó singled to load the bases, Canó’s hit extending his hitting streak to a worth-talking-about twenty-two games.
With Teixeira coming up, the only hitter in the lineup who’s been as hot as Canó, it was impossible not to dream about a game-tying grand slam, and when Tex launched a fly ball to deep center, there was a brief second when it looked like he might’ve done it… but alas, it was just a warning track sacrifice fly to score the Yankees’ first run. Swisher backed that up with a hard single to right to plate A-Rod and bring the Bombers to within shouting distance at 4-2.
Nothing of interest happened until the top of the ninth, as two questions remained. Could the Yankees pull out the win? (A graphic of cold water immediately told us that they were 0-30 this year when trailing after eight innings.) And if they couldn’t win, could they at least scratch out a run to keep their quirky but potentially historic streak alive, as they had scored three or more runs in forty-two straight games. Swisher rocked a homer to right to keep the streak going, but it wasn’t enough. A’s 4, Yankees 3.