Here is a link to my Monday column about the Oakland A’s and Bob Melvin. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — This is a cautionary tale about the Oakland A’s.
On Sunday morning before his team lost to the Twins 6-1, A’s manager Bob Melvin sat in his usual place on the dugout bench. It was his pregame news conference. After the beat writers had asked their nuts-and-bolts questions about who was and wasn’t playing, about who was hurt, I said to Melvin, “Bob, try to remember back to when you took an English class at Cal.”
“I think I took it three times, to tell you the truth,” he said maybe feeling edgy about where I was going.
“Well then you’re going to do good on this,” I said, throwing grammar to the wind. “I’ll give you a quick essay question. What is your goal for the remainder of the regular season? I’ll grade you afterward.”
“You’ll grade me afterward?” he said, obviously thinking he does the grading around the A’s, not some sports writer. Then he gave his answer because he’s a good sport, and he wanted a good grade: “Our goal from here to the end of the regular season is to win the division.”
“And win the division,” he said.
He laughed. He meant there was no discussion, no better answer. Only one right answer.
“To stay out of the wild-card game?” I said just to make sure.
“Well, I think that would be prudent. Any time you get into the postseason, it’s exciting. But if you can win the division . . .”
He hesitated, seemed to think about life without winning the division. “You know you don’t want to get into that one-game playoff where, potentially, a starting pitcher could affect that game. I think that’s anybody’s goal, is to stay away from that if you get into the postseason. But if you’re in that game, you’re in it and it still means you’re in the postseason.”
“I’ll give you an ‘A,’” I happily told him.
“An ‘A,’ wow,” he said. “I didn’t get that at Cal. Please don’t go look at my transcript. I had a tough time with Subject A (Freshman English). You gave me flashbacks to my English teachers. You got my heart going.”
“Were they tough?” I meant his English profs.
“Subject A was very difficult for me, plus it seemed like the class building was way away from my dorm and it was early in the morning. I had a little trouble getting there. I had to go by the pool. I used to like to dive off the platform at the pool, and that would get in the way of my English class sometimes.”
So, Melvin was more of a diver than a writer.
Let’s leave that pleasant, light-hearted morning scene and get to the caution part of this tale. I’ll start with a quiz for you. What was the key thought in Melvin’s concise, correct answer?
I hope you referred back to the quote: “You know you don’t want to get into that one game playoff where, potentially, a starting pitcher could affect that game.”
That one-game playoff expresses the meaning, the urgency, the stay-up-at-night worrying part of the A’s remaining 45 games.
Because if the A’s finish in second place — I’m not saying they will — they will play a one-game, do-or-die series against the other wild-card team. I don’t know which the other team will be.
Imagine it’s the Seattle Mariners, a team clearly inferior to the A’s.
It’s just that the Mariners’ starting pitcher might be Felix Hernandez. Oh, that guy. He can beat the A’s in a one-game playoff.
I’m not saying he will beat the A’s. But he could. No manager — certainly not Melvin — would joyfully risk his entire season in one game against King Felix.
Why are we even having this discussion about the A’s not winning their division?
Because the Angels, in second place in the American League West, haven’t gone away and are not likely to go away. The Angels lost to the Red Sox on Sunday, and the A’s could have increased their four-game lead over them. But the A’s did not increase their lead. The A’s missed their chance to grind their heel into the Angels’ throat.
Four games is a good lead, but it is not a big lead or a comfortable lead or a comforting lead. A good team like the Angels can make up four games in a flash. The A’s and Angels meet 10 more times this season, and that means so much remains to be decided. Like everything.
There’s other stuff. Call it context.
The A’s have done so many things right this season. They’ve done everything right. They got all those pitchers you know about.
They’ve had the best record in baseball since June 18. Every day. They’ve had the best record in the American League since May 31. Every day. They have led the AL West for 101 straight days.
That’s perfection. And it would be sad for the A’s to waste what they’ve done, to risk all that perfection on one ridiculous make-or-break game.
So, Bob Melvin gave the right answer to my question. Of course, the real right answer comes on the field.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn firstname.lastname@example.org.