-- Robert Buan, host, Extra Innings
That Play. The game-winning play. Dog Bites was there, and trust us, it was that stupefying. It was the kind of play that baseball fans re-enact for anyone who will listen, a re-enactment that requires sweeping hand gestures and sound effects (whoosh!), one that begins with that most ominous of baseball prefaces: It is the bottom of the ninth inning ...
The game between the Oakland A's and the Anaheim Angels, the third in a deadlocked series between two teams deadlocked for first place, is tied. There are two outs, and the A's have runners at the corners. Eric Chavez is facing a frustrated Francisco Rodriguez (aka K-Rod), who has just thrown a ball when -- whoopsy! -- the throw from catcher Jose Molina shanks off Rodriguez's glove and peters toward second base. Jason Kendall bursts down the line for home as K-Rod leaps toward the dribbler. It's going to be close. K-Rod pounces, turns, throws, Kendall slides, Molina's got it, spins ... SAFE!!!
The A's win. They beat the Angels and take the series, thus cementing their status as sole possessors of first place in the American League West and symbolically closing the curtain on the first act of one of the most dramatic examples of baseball theater ever: fighting back from 15 games below .500 on May 29 to overtake a team with the fourth highest payroll in baseball. If the A's make it to the playoffs (which are admittedly a long stretch away and nothing to get too excited about just yet), they will be the first team to come back from such a deficit since the 1914 Boston Braves.
Not that anyone's watching.
Last week, Dog Bites went to all three games of the Angels series, which, for the first time all year, was attended by respectable crowds. Dog Bites knows this because Dog Bites has been to close to 20 home games this year, games where the typical attendance hovers at or below 20,000. The Giants, who are sputtering in the basement of one of the worst divisions in baseball history, draw twice that.
This year, roughly 3.2 million fans will come out to watch an ailing Giants team bungle game after game. They'll obsess over one man who hasn't shown up all season, and they'll stand idly by as a manager slowly loses his mind, accusing one of his critics of racism and referring to him as a "messenger of Satan." This might make for great theater, if the Giants were winning, but they're not, and they won't be anytime soon.
And yet on the other side of the bay, we have a squad that couldn't lose its keys. Following last Thursday's game, the A's were 49-16 since May 29. This is not a fluke. Over the last five years, the team has won three division titles and one wild card, averaging 97 wins a season. In 2002 the A's set the American League record with their 20-game win-streak, and now they're making history once again. This is not something to be missed.
And so it is with great gusto that Dog Bites proclaims the A's to be the official team of the Bay Area. Forget the Giants. Forget Barry Bonds. Forget the WiFi and the seafood and the memorial Coke bottle at SBC Park. The A's are our defining team. After all, is this a place that roots for a crew of overpaid, egotistical assholes or a ragtag bunch of earnest, underpaid underdogs? Would you rather sit and watch baseball with (admittedly freakish) blue-collar fans who stay through the ninth inning, or uninterested ad execs who leave in the sixth?
We know what you're thinking: Oakland is scary, the frontier really. And it's true. Dog Bites has heard that there are some parts of the East Bay where feral warehouse-dwellers stalk the prairies, feeding on the flesh of weary San Franciscans who get lost on their way to IKEA. But fear not: McAfee Coliseum sits on a sturdy foundation, has running water, and even offers delicious alcoholic beverages for a scant $7.50 apiece. Toss a few of those babies back, and you'll forget all about the fact that you can't check your e-mail during the game.
As has been typical with the A's, this pre-season found General Manager Billy Beane trading away two of the team's biggest stars, pitchers Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. He then filled out the lineup with mostly rookies, players who had shown promise but were unproven. The move prompted almost universal outcry, with sports journalists across the country (well, the ones who even knew the A's existed) predicting disaster. One such prognosticator was Chronicle columnist Ray Ratto, who declared on ESPN that the A's would win no more than 65 games all season. Last Thursday against the Angels -- as a result of That Play -- they won their 66th. (Garrett Kamps)