More on Buehrle’s perfect game

Everyone will have their own thoughts on, and recollections of, Mark Buehrle’s recent perfect game against the Rays.  I write a weekly column called ‘Weekly Hit Ground Ball’ at BaseballGB which normally focuses on MLB news.  It was therefore the natural forum to record my own experiences.  Why not take a read?

http://www.baseballgb.co.uk/?p=3561

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Mark Buehrle: Perfect Game

It doesn’t get any more exciting than that.  Mark Buehrle just pitched the 18th perfect game in MLB history and, along the way, Dewayne Wise made an incredible grab at the fence to preserve the effort in the ninth.

The 28,000 at Cellular Field witnessed history, as did many more of us watching or listening around the world.  It was lucky for us Brits that it came in a day game, allowing us to stumble upon the ongoing events in the evening. When I saw Buerhle was perfect through six innings, I dashed on to GamedayAudio and settled down to listen to the remainder of the game, conscious that leaving my place may well jeopardize everything.

Completely and utterly ridiculous of course, but there we go! No doubt many more of you were following the same sort of rituals.

This evening will live long in the memory.

Amazing comeback by the A’s

Yesterday summed up why an MLB season always holds your interest, even if your team is having a lousy year.  As games are played every day, there’s always a chance that this day might be the one when your team does something memorable.

The A’s did just that against the Twins yesterday.

I was bemoaning Oakland’s awful offense earlier on Monday and with good reason.  If ever there was a team that would appear to be dead and buried after conceding twelve runs in the first two and a half innings, it’s the ’09 A’s.  But somehow they managed to claw their way back into the game and win it 14-13 (albeit thanks to a debatable call at the plate to end the game). 

Unbelievable!

The game also showed why I’m not much of a fantasy player.  The Twins’ Nick Blackburn was blasted for seven runs on thirteen hits over five innings, a pretty disastrous outing for one of my starters.  But do I care? Nope!  My first baseman Justin Morneau’s seven-run barrage wouldn’t have been much of a consolation had the A’s lost either.  As it is, I get the fantasy benefit of his great day at the plate, while enjoying the fact that the A’s still won the game. 

It’s just a shame that Gio Gonzalez was the victim. He really needed a strong outing after struggling so far to turn Minor League promise into Major League results.  Hopefully he will turn the corner eventually. 

MLB Teams: Oakland A’s

My British guide to MLB Teams was put on the backburner for a few weeks.  That was partly due to other commitments and partly due to the identity of the next team on my alphabetical list.

The Oakland Athletics, or A’s as they are normally called, are my team, chosen during my early MLB watching days when I had no better reason to pick a side than the colour of their uniforms (green and gold being close to the yellow and green of Norwich City Football Club, my home town soccer team).  2009 has been a miserable season for the A’s and I’m doing my best not to dwell on it too much; however now that I’ve plucked up the courage to write about them I can see that this year is a good introduction to the organization.

The recent history of the A’s can go back to October 2006.  A mesmerizing run of seasons in the early 2000s saw the team perform brilliantly in the regular season while spending little money compared to their rivals, only to be downed in the first round of the play-offs four straight times.  In 2006, the A’s had surprisingly made their way to the play-offs once again after a two-year break and this time they swept the Twins to finally make it to the ALCS.  Was a fifth World Series win for the Oakland A’s on the cards at last, joining the great (not to mention colourful and controversial) three-peat team of the early Seventies and the Bash Brothers-inspired champs of 1989?

Sadly, no.  The Tigers swept us aside and prompted a rebuilding project by General Manager Billy Beane.  The now Brewers manager Ken Macha was sacked and Barry Zito, the last of the ‘Big Three’ alongside Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, left as a free agent and crossed the Bay to sign with the Giants  in a ridiculous 7 year/$126m deal.  Beane subsequently spent the next two seasons taking an axe to the team, dealing away any player of value (Haren, Harden, Blanton, Kotsay, Bradley, Scutaro etc) to re-stock a barren farm system.

Up to this point, the project has been a success.  The A’s current batch of youngsters is generally considered to be one of the top collections in baseball.  From a fan’s point of view, that’s only something to celebrate if it leads to a winning Major League ballclub down the road and we shall have to see how things turn out over the next five/seven seasons or so. 

So it’s a good time to join the A’s as, hopefully, we are at the start of an exciting period in which we can watch talented youngsters grow (and win?) as a team. 

That success isn’t going to begin this year, mind you.  Most fans expected that to be the case as a very young pitching staff was always going to suffer from some growing pains in the punishing Big Leagues.  The disappointment has built because our offense, poor last year, was supposed to be improved with the additions of veterans Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra.  A postseason berth was unlikely, but we hoped to put together a solid .500 season while enjoying the odd magical performance by our young starters.

The pitchers are living up to their end of the bargain in most cases, not least twenty-one year old lefty Brett Anderson who pitched a complete game against the Red Sox on 6 July and was perfect through 6.2 innings yesterday against the Angels.  However the offense has been a huge let down and as a result we have a 38-52 record as we head into a three-game series against the Twins tonight. 

In baseball, as in every sport, there’s always next year and with the A’s there is reason to believe that things will improve greatly.  Oakland are true underdogs, with a low payroll and low attendances, and any success can be savoured all the more as a result.

Two additional notes:

On the negative side, the threat of moving away from Oakland hangs over the team, something not likely to endear then to Brits.  The most recent plan to move to Fremont has hit the buffers and it’s uncertain where the team may end up if a new ballpark cannot be built in Oakland.

On the positive side, they are one of the few teams about whom you can buy a book in a British bookshop.  The infamous ‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis (not Billy Beane!) can be found hidden away in most sports sections and is an essential read, particularly when put alongside all of the controversy it created (which you can spend days reading about on the Internet).  Thankfully the plans to turn it into a film appear to have been shelved. 

Halladay shows why he’s in demand

I just ‘watched’ Roy Halladay throw a complete game against the Red Sox via MLB.com’s Gameday Premium. 

It’s a fun way to follow a pitcher’s performance because it strips away all of the peripheral factors and focuses squarely on the duel between pitcher and batter.  Halladay concentrated on moving his fastball around the strike zone, mixing in the odd curve and change to keep the batters off balance.

Although he gave up six hits and a run, Halladay was his usual dominating self.  I put the FAN audio feed on near the end of the game to hear the emotion of the moment.  Everyone in the ballpark, including Halladay, knew that this could be the last time he pitches in Toronto for the home team.

If this was Halladay signing off as a Blue Jay, it was fitting that he did it in such style. 

Baseball in the Netherlands

Apologies for my lack of updates here recently. I’ve been enjoying myself on a road trip to the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is the main baseball country in Europe, alongside Italy, as their exploits in the World Baseball Classic earlier this year showed.  They’ve got some decent ballparks (in contrast to the UK), which are probably comparable to what you would find in the Minor Leagues.  The Neptunus Family Stadium in Rotterdam is one of the best, if not the best, in Europe and that was where I took in a few games from the World Port Tournament.

The WPT takes place every two years, alternating with the other major tournament in the Netherlands: the Haarlem Baseball Week.  It’s an international competition, normally between five teams.  This year’s entry list was cut to four, Cuba, Japan, Taiwan (Chinese Taipei) and the Netherlands, after the US pulled out at the last minute. 

Cuba prevailed in the final today against the host nation.  Their victory marked an excellent end to a tournament that began with some drama, as star pitcher Arolbis Chapman walked out of the team hotel and never came back, reportedly starting his journey to the Majors.

Read more about the tournament and the Neptunus Family Stadium at BaseballGB.co.uk.

Yankees: Supporting evidence!

After my comments yesterday about people in Britain wearing Yankee caps, it was a funny coincidence that a person on Twitter mentioned the same thing today. 

@davidjlowe tweeted: “I must have seen at least 50 people wearing New York Yankees baseball caps on the way to work this morning…in London! WHY?”

So there you go. I would guess that of those 50 people, only five would have known who Derek Jeter is.  And four of them would have been Americans. 

Oh well, at least it shows Brits taking a bit of interest in baseball, even if that interest begins and ends at a stylish cap.