As an avid Oakland A’s fan I’ve seen or listened to almost every single game in the last three years. Considering that their last losing month was in May of 2012 I’ve had a lot of fun watching all those games. The way the team was playing, even in the games they lost, they almost always felt like they could win even if they were down big.
Unfortunately the last month has been a very different story. The early innings of games were filled with weak groundouts, shallow popups, and flailing or staring strikeouts. Even behind excellent starting and bullpen pitching, giving up three runs or less, normally a safe bet for a competitive game, felt like an insurmountable hurdle. After leading the American League Western Division and all of baseball for most of the season, the A’s fell behind the Angels of Anaheim in both.
Last week I got to attend the third and final game of a series against the Angels - an awesome birthday prsent that came with babysitting from my awesome sister in-law and brother in-law. After taking the first two games it looked like the A’s might be turning a corner, but they ended up losing big, and it was NOT a fun game to attend… Fast forward a week and things got even worse - which I didn’t think was possible - after taking two out of three and being lucky to do so against the lowly Houston Astros, the A’s once again faced off against the Angels, this time in Anaheim. What followed was the lowest point in the last three years for me as an A’s fan. After four straight losses, the streak of months with a winning record was gone, the once six game lead in the division had been flipped into a five game deficit, and something needed to change.
That’s when the calendar flipped over.
Yesterday with the start of a new month, a return home to Oakland, a serious talking to from the A’s remarkably calm and even keeled manger, and a holiday sellout at the Coliseum for a new series it sure felt like something had finally changed. I wasn’t supposed to get to attend this game, in fact the tickets to this game were a gift FOR the same brother in-law and sister in-law that had given us tickets. Before the game even started the feeling in the sold out coliseum was one of positive anticipation, and with some great defensive plays in center field by Sam Fuld the top of the first went quickly and entirely the home team’s way. Fortunately that was just the start.
In the bottom half of the first is when things really got started.
With one out, Josh Reddick hit a ball well to center field, frankly a ball that could have and maybe even should have been caught, but unlike the last month when those catches were being made, this one was misplayed and Reddick was standing at second base. After Josh Donaldson failed to drive him in the newest member of the team came to the plate. The rest as they say is history.
When the dust had settled, after a two run homer by Adam Dunn in his first at-bat as an Athletic and several other clutch two out hits, the A’s had knocked the Mariners starter out of the game and scored five runs. The rest of the game passed quickly (which considering the heat in the right field bleachers where I was sitting was definitely appreciated) and while there were a few opportunities to score more runs that were missed, including a runner at third with less than two outs, the team continued to play solid defense. Then, when the Mariners got on the board with a solo homerun in the top of the sixth, the A’s countered with a run of their own in the bottom of the sixth, again requiring two out hits with runners in scoring position.
Almost lost amidst the five run explosion in the first inning was the fact that Jason Hammel once again pitched an excellent game. Allowing only one run on three hits he continued where he left off last week after a strong start against the Houston Astros that unfortunately netted him only a no decision. After what happened to Jim Johnson this year, it certainly wasn’t ideal for Hammel to struggle so much at the beginning of his career with the team, but it looks like he’s turning it around and the fans were clearly supporting him. Which brings me to my final point.
Sitting in the bleachers in Oakland puts you amongst the most focused, determined, and loyal fans I’ve ever been around. These are the fans who show up early to hang all the pictures and banners of their favorite players along the outfield wall. These are the fans who bring their own banners which they wave emphatically in support of the team. And these are the fans who come up with chants and catch phrases for the players: for Eric Sogard its #NerdPower, for Josh Reddick its WWE and SpiderMan, for Stephen Vogt its the awesome I Believe in Stephen Vogt chant. Yesterday, in the hot late summer sun, with two outs, and a full count on the batter in the top of the 8th, fans all across the Coliseum stood and began chanting “Hammel, Hammel, Hammel”. It’ll take more than one game, more than even one series, to know if this team has successfully hit the reset button and returned to the consistent quality baseball of the last three years, but for at least one hot holiday afternoon sellout, things sure felt like they were back to normal.