With five runs in 20 innings, the A’s lost for the eighth consecutive year on Opening Day, but still managed to come away with a two game split against the Seattle Mariners in their season opening showdown in Japan. Because of the massive time difference, those of us who wanted to watch these games live had to tune in at 3 a.m. Wednesday and 2 a.m. Thursday.
Besides having to be awake at ungodly hours on a weekday (when you’re most likely not partying all night), ROOT Sports, the Mariners television affiliate, provided the only live domestic broadcast of the series, meaning that A’s fans had to scramble around online to find streaming feeds.
Although I’ve seen some A’s fans complain online that their announcers were boring, I read this article and found out that the broadcast team was in a studio in a Seattle suburb with Nippon Television transmitting the signal to them. So instead of seeing the action unfold in front of them, announcers Dave Sims and Mike Blowers called the game while watching it on TV like anybody sitting at home. I actually thought they did a decent job even before learning this, so seeing as how they made it possible to watch the games live despite all the difficulties, I’ve got to tip my cap to them.
For Wednesday’s opener at 3 a.m., I went to sleep a bit earlier than usual at 11 and planned on using my “internal clock” to wake up just in time for the start, but I ended up sleeping until 3:45 and waking up in the top of the 3rd. Felix Hernandez was on the hill for the Mariners, with Brandon McCarthy pitching for the A’s. Both pitchers were cruising along pretty well through the first three frames, holding both teams scoreless.
It took about 20 minutes of searching online to find a feed that didn’t keep cutting out, and the score was 1-0 Seattle (thanks to a Dustin Ackley homer) by the time I did in the top of the 4th. Balancing a laptop on your stomach while lying in bed at four in the morning isn’t the ideal way to watch a ball game, but I’ve done far more insane things to watch the A’s play.
Just as I was finally settled in, the A’s offense began showing some signs of life. Cliff Pennington led off the bottom half of the fourth with a double, and Kurt Suzuki brought him in with a double of his own with two outs to tie the game at one. From this point on, the game was either a dazzling display of two locked in pitchers or a pathetic showing of two inept offenses, depending on your point of view. I think it’s a combination of both.
As an A’s fan, I never really expect us to do much damage against Felix. He’s in that top echelon of elite pitchers that includes guys like Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay, and Tim Lincecum. Yet, there were plenty of times the A’s failed to cash in on prime opportunities, and they would be 1-for-12 with RISP (runners in scoring position) by the end of the game. Their best chance came in the seventh.
With the score still tied at one, Yoenis Cespedes led off the inning with a double to right center field for his first MLB hit. With no outs and Brandon Allen at the dish, Bob Melvin opted for a bunt, for reasons none of us are sure of. I suppose Melvin was looking at the fact that Allen was really struggling to make contact all night, but I’m pretty sure Big Brando hasn’t laid down a bunt since high school, if ever. Whatever the logic was, it didn’t work out as Allen stabbed a weak pop-up to Felix for the first out.
Eric Sogard then steps to the plate and is robbed on a great play by Felix for the second out, and Jemile Weeks grounds out on one pitch to end the threat. New year, same A’s.
Seeing as how the A’s are perpetually offensively challenged, it made perfect sense that the first game of the new season would go into extra innings. Around the time that many people begin waking up to prepare for the drudgery of the work day, the A’s and M’s were extending their own.
After a scoreless tenth, the top half of which was supplemented with a small heart attack upon seeing Brian Fuentes take the mound, the Mariners would break through against A’s reliever Andrew Carignan in the 11th.
After Brendan Ryan led off the inning with a double, Ackley signled up the middle with one out to give Seattle a 2-1 lead. Jerry Blevins was brought in to face Ichiro, but after a stolen base by Ackley, Ichiro lines one back up the middle to make it 3-1. The A’s would manage to get a runner on in the bottom half of the inning, but Suzuki struck out to end the game. Time for bed, again.
In the second game, which had the start time moved up an hour, I managed to wake up on time and see the first inning. However, everything after that is pretty much a blur.
Just like the night before, I went to sleep early so I could get some rest before the game. Maybe it was all the beer I drank with my girlfriend in the preceding hours, but for whatever reason I just couldn’t stay awake. I would intermittently wake up for short periods and immediately fall back asleep. I remember bits and pieces of the first few innings, with both teams once again failing to do much on offense.
The last thing I really remember is looking at the 0-0 score in 5th inning and thinking it was a harbinger of yet another low-scoring season of A’s baseball. So it figures that as I passed out for the last time with this thought in my head, the A’s would have a sudden outburst. By the time I woke up, it was the top of the 9th and the A’s had a 4-1, much to my delight and surprise. Since I missed all the action, I went and looked at the video recaps.
In the bottom of the seventh with one man on, Cespedes smacked a slider from Shawn Kelley over the center field fence for his first MLB homer and a 2-1 A’s lead.
It’s very encouraging to see Cespedes have some early success against off-speed pitches after early scouting reports said he may have trouble making contact with breaking balls. It’s still early, but after that double against Felix in the first game and this homer, I can confidently say that I’m not at all worried about his ability to hit pitches that aren’t fastballs.
Seattle manager Eric Wedge brought in lefty George Sherill to face left-handed hitting Josh Reddick, who promptly deposited a hanging slider into the right field bleachers to give the A’s a 3-1 advantage.
In the bottom of the eighth, designated hitter Jonny Gomes got in on the fun with a solo blast to left to make it 4-1. The Mariners were never able to mount a comeback threat, and Grant Balfour pitched a perfect 9th for the save, giving the good guys their first win in 2012. A’s starter Bartolo Colon picked up the win in impressive fashion, going eight innings, giving up three hits including a Justin Smoak home run, one walk, six strikeouts on just 86 pitches. No word on how impressive of a dent he made in the post game catering table.
So for the time being, the A’s and Mariners are tied for the best record in baseball. Fans of both teams should take some time to savor this altered schedule synthetic flavor, since it’s extremely unlikely neither team will lead the majors in much of anything this year.
With these games now out of the way, both teams come back to the states to finish out Spring Training. The A’s will meet the Mariners again to “restart” the regular season April 6th in Oakland. I already have my ticket of course.
As expected, the pitching looks good, and the hitting is blah, much like it’s been for the past two or three season. However, it’s only been two games, so let’s not make any judgements yet. For now, let’s all just be glad that baseball is back, and it’s still early enough in the season for us to entertain seemingly possible, yet at times grandiose, dreams of this season finally being the year that our team brings the title back to the East Bay.