By HAL McCOY
Unsolicited Observations from The Man Cave while watching The Evil Empire against the Analytic A’s in the American League Wild Card game.
—It was with mixed emotions as I watched this game as to which team I wanted to win, a game handily won by the New York Yankees, 7-2, over the Oakland Athletics.
I grew up despising the New York Yankees because they always beat the bejabbers out of my Cleveland Indians and won the American League pennant with the regularity of heavy strength ex-lax.
That changed this year when Aaron Boone became manager of the Yankees. It was Boone, when playing for the Reds in 2003, convinced me to continue covering baseball when I lost a large portion of my eye-sight.
Boone became the one and only baseball hero I ever had. So I put aside my sour feelings toward the Yankees and rooted for them this year, just because of Boone.
But I also rooted for the Oakland A’s all year, a team that doesn’t have to spend gobs of cash to put a competitive team on the field. They went from 95 losses last year (are you listening, Cincinnati Reds?) to 97 wins this season with baseball’s lowest payroll, $62.5 million.
So this match-up was heart-tearing for me. I finally decided, ‘Hey, I can’t lose.’ I like both teams.
—Boone took heavy criticism for selecting Luis Severino to start this game, despite his 19 wins. Many believed he should have started J.A. Happ.
Exactly a year ago Severino started the Wild Card game against the Minnesota Twins and didn’t get out of the first inning. Brian Dozier led the game with a home run and before Severino hitched up his pants four times he had given up three runs, four hits and a walk in 2/3s of an inning and manager Joe Girardi lifted him.
So why Severino again. “Because he is our best pitcher and when he is on he is unhittable,” said Boone. “And Oakland had trouble all year hitting pitchers who threw 97 and 98 miles an hour..” Who doesn’t?
So what did Severino do? In the first two innings he struck out five and walked one of the seven hitters he faced.
—On the other side, Oakland decided the biggest game of the season would be a bullpen day. The A’s started relief pitcher Liam Hendriks, a 29-year-old right hander from Perth, Australia.
It wasn’t an unusual move for the A’s, copying what Tampa Bay used a lot the second half of the season. They don’t call the pitcher the starter, they call him the opener.
Hendriks had started, or opened, nine games in September and never pitched more than one inning and had not given up a run.
—That changed abruptly in the bottom of the first as Hendriks looked as if it was a day he couldn’t tie his kangaroo down, sport. He was a bundle of nerves and walked leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen.
Then, here came The Judge. Aaron Judge, who returned to the Yankees in mid-September after suffering a broken wrist, unloaded a 427-foot home run into the left field stands that left the bat at 116 miles an hour and need clearance from LaGuardia airport to land, giving the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
—Lou Trivino, another relief pitcher, took over in the second for the A’s and the Yankees put their first two runners on base. Trivino escaped with a double play and a strikeout. Meanwhile, throwing 97 and 98 miles an hour fastballs and mixing in hard-dipping sliders, Severino pitched three hitless innings (two walks), throwing 55 pitches, 35 for strikes.
Trivino was signed out of Slippery Rock University (one of my favorite schools because of its name). After putting the first two runners on, he retired nine straight Yankees for his three innings.
—The A’s put three more runners on base in the fourth, a throwing error and a walk, with one out. Severino retired Stephen Piscotty on a fly to right, but he walked Ramon Laureano on a full count to load the bases. Severino escaped again by striking out Marcus Semien on four pitches.
So the A’s had five base runners in the first four innings without a hit, but couldn’t convert. (Familiar, Reds fans?).
Stephen Piscotty is a fabulous story. The St. Louis Cardinals traded him to Oakland only so he could be near his mother, who was suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease and died this season. Piscotty produced 27 home runs and 88 RBI for the A’s this season.
—It was former owner Charles O. Finley who began the trend of color uniforms back in the 1970s with the A’s wearing green tops on some days, yellow tops on other days and the traditional white or gray on other days. Nice to see Oakland still wearing them, but I’m glad baseball never adopted Finley’s idea of using orange baseballs.
—The A’s finally produced a hit in the fifth when Jonathan Lucroy singled to left. And when Nick Martini followed with a single to right Boone came to the mound to get Severino.
Dellin Betances came on and completely doused the flames. Matt Chapman flied to right, Jed Lowrie flied to center and Khris Davis, the AL home run leader with 48, struck out. Oakland was 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven runners in five innings.
—Speaking of uniforms, the Yankees still own the classiest and most iconic uniforms, the pin-stripes with no names on the back because, of course, everybody knows who the Yankees are without splashing it on their backs.
—Shawn Kelley was third-man-up for the A’s out of the bullpen. He began the year with the Washington Nationals and angrily tossed his glove while he was on the pitching mound. GM Mike Rizzo didn’t like it and said, “You are either in with us or you are in the way.” Kelley definitely has been ‘in’ this year — 2-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 49 innings. He pitched a scoreless fifth. Kelley is from Austin Peay University, another of my favorites. Austin Peay once had a high-scoring basketball guard named Fly Williams and the crowd changed, “The Fly is open, lets go Peay.”
—Fernando Rodney, he of the crooked hat, started the sixth for the A’s and Aaron Judge did more damage. He led the inning with a ground ball double to right field and scored on an Aaron Hicks double to center and it was 3-0.
When Rodney threw a wild pitch, sending Hicks to third, his night was done — two hitters, two hits and a wild pitch. Manager Bob Melvin brought in his closer, Blake Treinen into the game in the sixth inning, trying to stop the profuse bleeding.
—It didn’t work. Treinen was pitching in an unfamiliar time frame. He walked Giancarlo Stanton on a very, very close 3-and-2 pitch. Treinen then went to 3-and-2 on Luke Voit and he fouled three pitches. Then he slammed one off the top of the right field wall, a two-run triple. Former Reds shortstop Didi Gregorius, traded to make room for Zack Cozart at shortstop, hit a sacrifice fly to left to complete a four-run inning and a 6-0 Yankees lead. Gregorius hit 27 home runs, drove in 88 and stole 10 bases this season.
—Zach Britton, the fourth Yankees pitcher, gave away the shutout in the eighth inning when Matt Chapman singled and Khris Davis drilled an opposite-field home run into the short porch in right field to cut New York’s advantage to 6-2.
But that was it for the A’s and their season came to a crashing halt. Giancarlo Stanton put an exclamation point to the festivities in the eighth with a mammoth 443-foot home run.
—So the Yankees play the Boston Red Sox in the best-of-five American League Division Series, which figures. Don’t the Yankees and Red Sox play every weekend on ESPN?