By Morris Phillips
OAKLAND, CA–Season opening series observations from the Coliseum: pitchers ahead of hitters or hitters ahead of pitchers?
Well, more like Astros ahead of Athletics, and Houston hitters ahead of humorous, disgruntled A’s fans who had more than a year to prepare lugs to unload on their rivals and their cheating shenanigans.
The fans–especially that guy in Section 221–didn’t disappoint. Neither did the Astros.
“Castro Valley disowned yoouu!” Section 221 guy bellowed at Astros’ catcher Jason Castro.
And on the next pitch, Castro went opposite field off Sean Manaea for a 3-1 Astros’ lead.
The third inning, the same guy, his presence growing in a socially distanced crowd of fewer than 5,000, had Jose Altuve in his sights.
“Altuve! Show us your tattoo!” He shouted in reference to the shortstop’s equally humorous denial of wearing a wire signaling pitches during the 2019 playoffs. Altuve said he kept his teammates from ripping off his jersey in a game-ending celebration of a win over the Yankees to prevent revealing…a tattoo that was too ugly to be seen on national television.
But what was ugly on Sunday was Altuve’s response to the A’s and their fans. Two pitches after the tattoo reference, he ripped a double down the left field line. Later in that inning, with Manaea an out from escaping undamaged, Yuli Gurriel doubled into the right field gap to score Altuve and Yordan Alvarez.
And those exchanges encapsulated the weekend, the more the home fans yapped, the more the Astros slapped hits all over the place. In beating the A’s 9-2 and sweeping the four-game set, Houston never trailed and they had at least one base runner in 30 of the 36 innings. The A’s–truly an afterthought in a battle between the fans and the cheaters–came up empty on all fronts. They scored just nine runs, and 1-1 ties after the first inning on Friday and Sunday were as close as they got to being competitive. The Oakland bullpen was left so battered and bruised, outfielder Ka’ai Tom made his first major league pitching appearance in the ninth, a feat that comes before Tom’s first major league hit (0 for 6).
“We just crushed them from the first pitch to the last pitch of the whole series,” said Chas McCormick. “It was cool to watch, cool to be a part of.”
“We have to look at it as four games of 162,” manager Bob Melvin said. “We need to play with a little bit more urgency, we obviously have to play better. We got another tough team coming in, then we go there (Houston). We got to turn things around. It’s not just going to happen for us. We’ve got to play better baseball and this was not good baseball for us.”
“Altuve! You’re a cheater… and a bum… and you’re short!”
Injuries took a toll on the A’s as well with Sean Murphy suffering a wrist injury and missing the series final three games. Ramon Laureano played Thursday and Friday but injured his wrist sliding into a bag, which might have made Pete Rose famous, but is a move that isn’t endorsed by managers who prefer healthy players.
And on Sunday, Chad Pinder, already with a couple of slick catches to start his season, was forced to leave the game after a leaping catch at the wall left him dinged up. That incident happened four pitches into the ballgame, foreshadowing what would be a long Sunday afternoon for Oakland.
The A’s fell to 0-4, the first time they’ve started a season with four losses since 1987. Meanwhile, the Astros scored at least eight runs in each game of the series, becoming just the fourth team in Major League history to load all that offense into a season’s first four games.
It’s not often a team anticipates the arrival of the reigning World Champions for some relief, but that’s where the A’s are with the Dodgers arriving on Monday night. Frankie Montas will face the Dodgers’ Dustin May in the opener.