On the one hand, the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels re-engage Scott Kazmir and Jered Weaver Friday night in Anaheim because – well, because these are the two more watchable teams in baseball, and they should probably play their final 33 games against each other just to see if they can self-immolate.
On the other, they both need time between rounds, and that is apparently what the rest of the American League is for.
Now that analysis does not take into account the surging Kansas City Royals or Seattle Mariners, or the goofy yet indisputably effective Baltimore Orioles, or even the idiosyncratic Detroit Tigers, who somehow managed to give up 42 runs in a four-game series with Minnesota and still split the games.
But the people who have finally glommed on to the Oakland phenomenon and came out 105,000 strong this weekend know what they like, and they know why they like it. Two close wins, a lopsided loss Sunday evening, but all the atmosphere they say the Coliseum is too old and drab and outmoded and potentially septic to provide.
[RECAP: Angels chase Kazmir early as A's lose 9-4]
Yes, you saw right – 105,000, give or take the 944 we didn’t feel like adding, to wrap their skulls around the realness of the pennant race for perhaps the first time all year. The drums, the “I Believe In Stephen Vogt” cult chants, the hideous Wham! walkup music for Josh Reddick, and the between-innings corn that never ever seems to abate. And the backpack giveaway.
And the baseball. Most of all, the baseball.
They sold out all three games against the Yankees in early June, before it dawned on us all that the Yankees are really just the Indians. They sold out both games against San Francisco, but the Giants helped pack the house.
But there is no serious Angels’ constituency in the Greater Oakland Area – at least there never has been. The building filled because the time has come for the East Bay to re-engage with the team it will have as its own for up to the next 10 years.
We long ago came to grips with the fact that A’s fans are like all other fans – they label-shop. They want to know when it’s cool to come out and embrace the Elephant, and when it is, they come out on their own terms. They’ve run out of reasons to use the reluctant owners as an excuse, and the pennant race is now here to trump all other alibis.
Had the A’s lost the first two games, 5-3, and 2-1, and won on getaway night, 9-3, maybe the vibe would be different. Being tied in the standings beats the hell out of being four back and needing to win just to stay within a series of the lead.
But it happened the way it did, and the rest of it is parallel universe stuff. It probably helped that the Angels had just lost their best starter, Garrett Richards, to a season-killing knee injury, but baseball is the cruel hell-bitch it’s always been, it also snatched A’s closer Sean Doolittle for three weeks on Sunday because of a strained right intercostal, which is like the Panama Canal, only with ribs.
So the truth as they perceive it today, as the A’s fly off for three days of R&R in Houston before the Anaheim return gig, is that the A’s audience is now fully assembled and engaged with the notion that they and the Angels are now in a celebrity death match that has another five weeks to run.
Indeed, the 18,000 or so who stuck around until game’s end to see the A’s cut the 9-0 deficit to 9-2 and then 9-3 on homers by the Ruth-Gehrig lookalikes Alberto Callaspo and Andy Parrino, and then 9-4 in the ninth stayed because . . . well, because they just didn’t feel the disgruntlement that typically comes when your team’s been blackjacked by eight runs in the first four innings. They even booed angrily when home plate umpire Mike Everitt rang up Coco Crisp to end the game with the all-important we-can-cut-the-deficit-to-four runner at third.
Hell, there was even a Jean Quan sighting in the right field stands, and she’s as popular with A’s fans as she is with Raiders fans, which is to say she is only a few percentage points behind the flu.
Point is, the notoriously stubborn A’s fans have finally bought in, and they’re probably staying bought in until the end, whenever that is. This was a watershed weekend for the Oaklands . . . 105,000 for Angels, and it’s a price worth paying even if the backpacks with the pink-maned unicorn on the back will give small children the heebie-jeebies for a couple of nights.
Hey, the giveaways can’t all be gems, not when you’re selling baseball first.