The Oakland A’s Matt Chapman connects for a two run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning at the Oakland Coliseum part of a four run inning against the Detroit Tigers on Thu Apr 15, 2021 (AP News photo)
Detroit. 4 – 9 – 2
Oakland. 8 – 8 – 0
By Lewis Rubman
OAKLAND–April 15th, the traditional opening day for major league baseball when it consisted of two eight team leagues, playing a schedule of 154 games, 22 against each of their intra league rivals, 11 at home and 11 on the road. No inter-league games (except for exhibitions like city series or games against farm clubs on stop offs along the railroad routes that took the teams to and from as far from each other as Boston and St. Louis). It was a different game then, almost as different as today’s game is from the one we knew last year and the one we knew then differed from how the game was played in 2019.
But on April 15, 1947, the game changed more profoundly than on any other April 15, more than any other specific day in baseball history. Jackie Robinson became the first Black American to play in a Major League baseball game since Moses Fleetwood Walker was released by the Toledo Blue Stockings of the American Association on September 22, 1884.
Of course, it’s not completely clear that Robinson was, indeed, the only Black major leaguer during that long and shameful period. Several mixed race Latinos made it to the show, men whose skin was light enough for them just barely to pass for white when it suited their employers but still allowed the players to be subjected to insults and indignities, bean balls, and high spikes because of the tone of their skin, their facial structure, or the tightness of their hair. Roberto “Tarzan” Estalella, an outfielder for the Washington Senators, ex-Giants’ catcher Bobby Estalella’s grandfather, was one of them. And there were numerous Native Americans whose DNA would have precluded participation in the national pastime if testing had been available then. (Of course, the number of people with exclusively white DNA is, for all intents and purposes, zero).
So whether Jackie Robinson was the first Black person to play in the major leagues, April 15, 1947, marks a before and after. Baseball—and America—had changed, and Jackie Robinson had changed it.
Since 2004 Major League Baseball, for reasons that were not purely cynical and yet not entirely uncynical, has celebrated that change by declaring that all players wear number 42 on April 15. I never liked that decision. As a practical matter, it’s difficult to tell who’s who when everyone has the same number. It’s ironic that one of the contriubtions the Negro Leagues made to the game was to place identifying numbers on each player’s back.
But my objection went further than the confusion caused by uniform uniform backs. If everyone is number 42, no one is number 42. Then I realized that, although just about every baseball fan knows about the abuse that Robinson continually suffered, relatively few have experienced or can even imagine what it was like.
I would guess that no white male can. So, even if no one is number 42, seeing today’s players wearing Robinson’s number and realizing that they are not Robinson, may just make them, and us, aware of the immensity of the gulf that separates us and the players we watch today, on the one hand, and Robinson, on the other. between the distance that separates us from him and in so doing lessen that distance somewhat.
And, even if it wasn’t Jackie Robinson who integrated twentieth century baseball, the generations of other Black players, those who were excluded because of their race as well as those who disguised it, also are number 42, and we have a chance to recognize them and their achievements and the injustices they suffered.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson was a complex and contradictory person. He and his achievement stand for more than just one person (or one just person) and just one cause (or one just cause). Jackie Robinson Day should not be a cause of self-congratulation or platitudes, but a day of humble recognition of the injustices people like us have participated in, sometimes and some of us as victims; others, as resisters; and yet others, as beneficiaries. And, finally, at others, in a combination of all those roles.
So much for the pre-game show.
The Tigers, at 6-6, and the A’s, at 5-7, came into the four game series that opened tonight trying to scratch their way towards emerging from the set with a winning record . The visitors arrived, fresh from a three game sweep of the Astros in Houston, where the felines had scored at least a half a dozen runs in every game.
In the first couple of games, Detroit owed 12 of the 14 runs they scored to home runs. Last night, they managed to score six without a single round tripper. Like the A’s, the Tigers have a contingent of players of the injured list. Two of them are position players, Miguel Cabrera and Nomar Mazara. They’re joined by pitchers Rony García and Julio Teheran, both righties.
Detroit sent their promising sophomore, Hayward native Tarik Skubal to the mound for his first appearance against Oakland. He was impressive last year, in spite of his won-lost record of 2-4 and ERA of 5.63. Standing against those not preposeszsing numbers are the six innings he hurled against the Twins, in which he gave up only one run and two hits, combined with two walks and six strikeouts.
Brandon Day of SB Nation reports that the lefty’s fastball and slider’s spin rates have declined noticeable this year and that these pitches are not as effective now as they were then. That decline in effectiveness is reflected in his 0-1, 7.71 figures for 2021.
The A’s, coming off a 2-1 series win over the high flying Astros and a 2-0 sweep of earthbound Diamondbacks, are beginning to strut their stuff. To night’s starting pitcher, Sean Manea, like Skubal, is having trouble regaining his previous form. He entered his 100th major league game with a record of 0-1, 5.06. He’s 39-32, 3.87 lifetime, with a record against Detroit of 2-1-2.84 (1-0, 3.00 in the Coliseum).
Those are based, however, on a small sample size of only 19 innings pitched. After a disaster of a start on April 6, in which he surrendered five earned runs in 4-2/3 to the Astros at the Coliseum, He pitched better in his second and most recent outing, allowing only one run, which was earned, over six innings of work against the ‘stros in Houston five days later.
Oakland’s injured list exceeds Detroits by 50% and consists of Mike Fiers, Reymin Guduan, Chad Pinder, A.J. Puk, Trevor Rosenthal, and Burch Smith).
Both pitchers handled their opponents with ease through two and a half’innings, although the A´s got good wood on the ball in the bottom of the second. Matt Chapman was the victim of a lovely leaping catch just in front of the Kaiser Permante sign in right center, and Matt Olson also saw his hard hit fly to the center field warning track fall for an out.
Both were corralled by center fielder JaCoby Jones. Oakland´s near misses ended when Stephen Piscotty led off the home third by taking a 2-2 Skubal 88 mph slider deep to left for the game’s first tally. But the Tiger from Hayward set down the next two Oaklanders on disputed called third strike calls by home plate umpire Ted Barrett. Mark Canha received an (undisputed) base on balls and advanced to second on Lowrie’s single to left. Short stop Willi Castro bobbled Laureano’s bouncer just to the left of second, loading the bases with Athletics. But Skubal wiggled off the hook by striking out Chapman, who swung and missed, on a full count 94 mph four seamer.
The Tigers quickly evened the score. With one down in thetop of the fourth Jeimir Candelario took advantage of the A’s shift and punched a single to right. After Manaea struck out Renato Núñez, Willi Castro lifted a fly down the right field line. It just barely raised chalk, as shown by the subsequent video review, fell for a double. Manaea retired the side on an innocent pop up to first by Jonathan Schoop. Oh, those missed opportunities!
But the Tigers were generous, and they gave thelead back to their hosts. Olson walked and reached third when Candelario overthrew first on Murphy´s grounder. The A’s catcher took second on the play. Olson ñwescored and Murphy advanced to third on Andrus’s sacrifice fly to surprisingly shallow right field, It looked as if Oakland might forge ahead they loaded the bases with walks to Kemp and Canha, but Lowrie’s warning track fly to center closed the book on the inning.
No one was surprised when Skkubal was removed after throwing 88 pitches (46 of them strikes). He had worked only four innings to reach those totals and had surrendered two hits and four walks. One of the two runs he allowed was earned. He struck out five. He would get the loss.
Skubal’s replacement in the bottom the fifth, Farmer, struck out Laureano and Chapman before allowing a towering home run over the right center field State Farm sign to Olson, his second of the year, to give the A’s a 3-1 advantage.
That advantage shrank to 3-2 when Niko Goodrum led off the sixth by blasting a 2-1 pitch over the center field wall for his first homer of the season.
Joe Jiménez took over mound duties for Detroit in the bottom of the frame. That´s a way of putting it, What he did was walk the bases loaded while striking out one man, Tony Kemp, before giving way to Alex Lange, who was tasked with dealing with Laureano in that dangerous situation.
He dealt with the A’s centerfilelder by walking him. That brought up Chapman, who promptly doubled in Canha and Lowrie and advancing Laureano to 90 feet from home. A 3-2 walk to Olson reloaded the bases, and Lange was gone, replaced by Tyler Alexander, sporting a 12.27 ERA. He walked Murphy, and it was 7-2 with the bases still FOA, full of Athletics. Jiménez had managed to give up three earned runs on no hits in a third of an inning, One run was charged to Lange and non were charged to Alexander until the eighth when he let the score against the Tigers rise to 8-2. He stayed in the game to the bitter end
Yusmeiro Petite pitched a perfect seventh in relief of Manaea, who would get the win. The A’s southpaw pitched a full six innings, throwing 82 pitches, 58 for strikes, two runs he allowed were earned, but his ERA still went downto 4.32. He gave up five hits, one for the distance and struck out seven.
Then JB Wendelken did some mopping up in the eighth. He allowed a walk and a single without letting any Tigers cross the plate. Sergio Romo closed it out inelegantly for the home team, giving up a double to Núñez, a triple to Willi Castro, and a sacrifice fly to Schoop, allowing two runs. He also gave up a single to pinch hitter Sergio Castro.
Tomorrow will see Casey Mize (1-0, 0.82) take for the visitors against Cole Ervin (0-2, 7.45). I wouldn’t recommend that the A’s rest on their laurels.