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Elman Swings
by Peter Elman

Sour Grapes - We Shoulda Won - 10/09/2000

Yesterday the A’s season came to an end. Today it rained--winter is around the corner and the reality that the A’s season is over is settling in. However, we must live the next six months with the knowledge that the A’s had victory within their grasp, and probably would have dusted the Mariners in the ALCS. What is particularly galling is that the Yankees, of all teams, took it from us. On a day when the crosstown Giants, who were "supposed" to win, didn’t even show up, the A’s, who nobody in baseball—except Dave Campbell of ESPN--gave much of a chance to win, battled back from a nightmarish first inning and almost pulled it off. Yeah, yeah, it’s not so bad, you say, look on the bright side. Sure, the "kids" had a great season, an incredible September, clinching on the last day, and taking us out of the darkness of the past eight years. But—I don’t wanna hear that, because, let’s face it…they shoulda won.

Was it nature that conspired to force the A’s out of Tampa when they surely would have won the fourth game of that series, thereby making the rest of the schedule a precious half game easier? The specter of returning to Tampa disrupted the pitching plan at a time when they were the hottest team in baseball. We all know the domino effect that unfolded thereafter—Art Howe was forced to juggle his rotation so that Tim Hudson could pitch the last game of the regular season, which he did brilliantly. And so when the Yankees came in, Howe had to throw Heredia out there for game one, knowing that Gil would be the starter for game five, if necessary. Does anyone doubt that Hudson, Zito or Appier—who pitched heroically out of the bullpen last night—would have at least lasted through the first inning? In the two years that Heredia has been a starter here he has never had an outing anywhere near that bad and has been, for the most part, a consistent competitor with a knack for throwing strikes. Yesterday his famed control deserted him, and by the time Howe pulled him, it was too late. What a terrible time to have his worst outing as an Athletic. Sour grape number one…

If anyone doubts that television runs sports ask the White Sox, who got swept by Seattle in three consecutive games played at twilight, negating whatever edge they may have had defensively or at the plate, for that matter. Hell, ask the Mariners’ Jamie Moyer, who is now out for the playoffs because he was throwing yesterday at that time of day and got injured by a batted ball. The powers that be at NBC decided that Terrence Long would have to look right into the sun at exactly 5:15 if a long fly came his way. Well—it did, off the bat of Tino Martinez, for a lucky three-run double—ball game. Sour grape number two…

In game 3 at Yankee Stadium, Ray Fosse repeatedly alluded to what he thought was a "watered-down" area in front of home plate, conjecturing that the Yankees might have done that purposely to slow down the grounders that Tim Hudson induces. Well, he got the grounders, and they didn’t bounce, and the A’s infield was confused and made errors, and they lost that game despite another great performance by Hudson. Does anybody put something like that past George Steinbrenner, who apparently didn’t let the A’s owners even sit together at Yankee Stadium? Sour grape (damn Yankees!) number three…

Finally, what in the hell was Ben Grieve doing at the plate yesterday? His final at-bat was one for the videotape-shredder. My God he looked awful. Hitting homers and driving in runs is great, but facts must be faced. He cannot field (any other left-fielder in the league would have thrown out O’Neill in the ninth) cannot run, strikes out a ton and broke the record for hitting into double plays. Let’s just hope that he comes to spring training a changed player, because his baseball card is losing value, fast. Sour grape, number four…

What about the argument that the Yankees were simply a better team? Does anyone actually buy that? Apart from a stellar series by their bullpen, they didn’t show much. The Athletics won their division by playing inspired quality baseball in September, fighting off a rampaging, resurgent Indian team that barely missed the playoffs and a tough Seattle team that came together just in time. The Yankees backed into their title when a punchless Red Sox team ran out of gas and a one-dimensional Toronto squad hit the wall. The difference in this five-game series was bad weather (the hurricane), bad luck (the twilight), bad defense(game 3), and one horrible, painful and shocking half-inning that, in the end, the A’s could not overcome. If it was their destiny to lose in the first round, well, destiny sucks…

We’re all sick and tired of seeing certain teams in the post-season, and now that Atlanta has been mercifully ousted, it’s the Yankees that are left, but for how long? As for the A’s, their future is a lot brighter than the New Yorkers. The core of the team is young (and returning), and now they know what’s it’s like to be in a pennant race. All that said, they shoulda won. OK, enough sour grapes.

So, let’s pause and reflect on what kind of a team we have here, and hope to hell they stay long enough for us to taste the champagne, the good World Series stuff. This year, the division, next year—the whole enchilada…

by Peter Elman