COHN: A's come up empty on opening night
Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at 8:48 a.m.
OAKLAND - So, this is how it began for the Oakland A's, a 2-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners. Starting pitcher Brett Anderson struck out the first four batters but lost his location in the top of the fifth, unable to throw strikes. He gave up two runs and that was enough for Felix Hernandez and the Mariners.
Anderson is only 25 and he is the A's best starter and he came back last August from Tommy John surgery. He can throw fast and he can throw slow always with a high leg kick and a perfect follow-through. And the A's are careful with him and took him out after seven and replaced him with Chris (Bebop) Resop.
We must talk about tradition for a moment. Baseball's opening night is all about tradition, about the start of the long season, a narrative teams write day by day. For opening night, the A's put the bunting across the facing of the lower and middle decks, and for opening night the A's sold out the old place, standing room only.
And for opening night the A's had left the small yard in Phoenix and came to the big building next to Highway 880 and they had something to defend — their 2012 American League West championship.
Before the game, A's manager Bob Melvin said opening day “always has a playoff feel to it. There are more nerves on opening day.”
And he said the mind-set for the opener is, “Go out there and take something from somebody.” Not that the A's did any taking Monday night.
Linger over the idea of opening night — or opening day in most cases. Every other sport merely has the first game, but baseball has the opener. It means a door is opening and no one knows what is on the other side, where the long corridor leads and what's at the other end. But everyone wants to find out. It means something new is starting but this new thing reminds us of something old, older than we are.
The opener reminds us this is the A's 46th season in Oakland, a place they want to leave and can't. It reminds us the Oakland A's have won four World Series and 15 AL West titles.
And it reminds us only nine players on this year's roster were on the team opening day 2012. Ten others were on the team at some point last year but didn't suit up for the first game. Only seven current players played for the A's before last season. People come and go around here.
And there is something else and for this pay attention. Coming into Monday night's opener, the A's had lost eight openers in a row. That's a lot of losing. Call it a tradition of a sort. Losing the previous eight openers tied the Washington Senators (1963-1970) for the longest opening-day losing streak in American League history.
You're probably wondering who holds the major-league record for most opening-day losses. Happy to oblige. The number is nine, currently co-held by the the Atlanta Braves (1972-1980), the New York Giants (1893-1901), and, after Monday's loss, the Oakland A's. And you know what? Hernandez beat the A's in five of those nine losses.
“It's a bit redundant we see him as often as we do,” Melvin said afterward.
Redundant is one way to put it.
Here is Anderson on being forced to pitch against Hernandez — aka King Felix. “He's a tremendous pitcher, obviously, $175 million worth. You go out there and try to throw zeroes. His track record says he's going to do it, too.”
Anderson also said, “I'm a competitive person. You want to go up against those guys, the (Jered) Weavers and the Felixes and the (Justin) Verlanders. You're more than likely going to get a tough contest and you go out there and try to match them. I was able to do that for the most part except for one inning.”
There ought to be a rule against facing Hernandez in that many season openers. He went 7 2/3 before being relieved by Charlie (Burning Bush) Furbush, who walked the bases loaded. But Stephen (No Liar) Pryor got Derek Norris to hit into an inning-ending force play, and the A's never threatened again.
What does all this mean, this record-tying opening-night loss, this continuing futility?
Here is Melvin's answer. He began with a grunt, then said, “It's disappointing to lose opening night. It's your first look. Fans are out in full force. Sure, it's disappointing.”
It may be disappointing but, get this, it means absolutely nothing. As in zero. As in zilch.
Think about it. You knew the A's would lose one game this season. It's a pretty good guess they will lose more than one. Call it a guarantee. It's just that the opener feels more important than other games. But it isn't — it's just noisier and more symbolic in a way. You don't get a penalty for losing your first game. The A's lost their opener last year and steamed past all other teams in the division, shocked the entire American League.
So, maybe getting shut out in their home opener wasn't so bad after all. It's how the A's get interested.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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