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First day of the Play-offs 2006

by Matt Smith

Like all baseball fans, I sat back and enjoyed a thrilling final month to the regular season. Now the play-offs are here and the intensity goes up yet another notch.

As an A’s fan, I have to be honest and say my heart sank a bit when the Tigers lost on Sunday. Yes, I know it was a bit gutless! Detroit have really struggled down the stretch, partly due to some of their young pitching (Bonderman and Verlander especially) seemingly hitting a brick wall. The Twins meanwhile have been on a hot streak for months. More to the point, the prospect of facing Johan Santana in a best of five series is daunting to say the least. Maybe if I’m kind to myself I would say that preferring to face the Tigers rather than the Twins was not so much being a chicken, more being pragmatic.

On paper it becomes a simple equation: you have to win the other three games because you won’t get any change out of Santana (except, of course, the one you can’t hit). Well, thanks to the Big Hurt that equation has been torn to shreds. Two more bombs by Frank Thomas have just helped the A’s take the first game 3-2. The A’s missed a good chance to tag on a few runs in the top of the seventh when they were 2-0 ahead and moments like that can often come back and bite you. Rondell White’s subsequent solo shot in the bottom of the inning confirmed my fears. Thomas’s second homer, this time off Jesse Crain in the ninth, was immediately labelled as an “insurance run” and it’s value became apparent when Milton Bradley lost a lead-off fly ball against the Metrodome ceiling, resulting in Cuddyer reaching third base. Huston Street was able to shake that moment off and brought the game home, albeit with Cuddyer coming home to make the final score 3-2.

Winning the first game in any series is important, particularly in a best of five series. Winning the first game when you are on the road is huge. Winning the first game, on the road, facing Santana? It’s almost too good to be true. By no means have the A’s won the series today though. There is still plenty of baseball to be played and any complacency will be jumped on by Minnesota. Boof Bonser will take the hill for the Twins tomorrow at 18.00 UK time and if the A’s let the idea of “a road split being a good result” enter their heads, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Random thoughts:

  • A’s fans have (rightfully) complained about the scheduling of these opening games which begin at 10.00 in the morning Pacific time (the Yankees matches have to be on prime time of course!). I do have sympathy for them but how can I complain? What can be better than getting home from work and sitting down with a pizza to watch an evening of play-off baseball.
  • And a full evening it is too! Barely has the first play-off game of 2006 finished when another starts. Peavy for the Padres against Carpenter for the Cardinals.
  • The Enhanced Gameday service has just been launched today on MLB.com for the Padres-Cards game. Boy does it look good! It really takes you into the one-on-one battle between pitcher and hitter. According to the MLBlog Gameday site they are hoping to extend the service to cover more games during the 2007 season.
  • Things are certainly turning bad for the Mets. It looks like El Duque may be scratched from his start tomorrow due to a calf injury. A season of great promise looks like being derailed in the post-season due to a shocking run of injuries.

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