While sitting at lunch, a fellow A's fan and I became involved ina conversation about the upcoming Moneyball movie. For those of you who don't know, Moneyball is a phenomenal book by a phenomenal writer, Michael Lewis. It's the inside story about the Oakland Athletics, how the team is run under general manager Billy Beane, what type of players they look for, the relationships between management and manager(s), etc. It's an amazing book not only for A's fans, but also for baseball fans and people who think baseball is one of the most boring sports in the world, so pretty much 99.9 percent of Earth's population.
Regardless, while discussing who is going to be in the movie (A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta has been renamed to Peter Brand and will be played by Jonah Hill? Really!?), it reminded me of the A's under Art Howe (who will be played by Philip Seymor Hoffman), and how they had the Yankees on the ropes, holding a 2-0 lead in 2001, needing only one more win to advance to the ALCS.
The year was 2001. I had just graduated. I was working for the A's in kind of an internship situation, helping out with the radio broadcasts. They were nice enough to allow me to work at the ballpark on Oct. 13, when a young A's pitcher by the name of Barry Zito was about to go up against Mike Mussina and the Yankees. The A's had won games one and two at Yankees Stadium, 5-3 and 2-0, and needed just one win to knock off the hated Bronx Bombers. The next two games were at home. Oaktown Mojo was about to knock off New York, New York.
To say the game was a nail-biter is an understatement. The two pitchers combined for five 1-2-3 innings in the first four frames. In the bottom of the fourth, the A's put two on with one out, but Mussina induced groundouts by Eric Chavez and Jeremy Giambi to end the threat. (Remember the name Jeremy Giambi - 1) because I can't forget his name, and b) because he plays an integral part in this story.)
Know that I am not bitter about what happened.
In the top of the fifth, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who always seemed to get big hits against the A's, homered with one out to give NY a 1-0 lead. Mussina recorded 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth, and then came the bottom of the seventh.
Mussina opened the seventh with two quick outs, as Jermaine Dye popped out and Chavez flew out. Jeremy Giambi ended the A's hitless streak with a single to right. Terrence Long, affectionately known as T-Long, sent a shot down the right field line.
Now, Jeremy Giambi is not what you would call fleet of foot. At the time, in fact, he was quite slow. Probably still is. I'm not bitter.
So Giambi is chugging around the bases. Since there are two outs, and Mussina hasn't given the A's many chances, third base coach Ron Washington waves Giambi around third. Shane Spencer, rightfielder for the Yankees, corrals the ball and sends it towards the infield. It had NO chance of getting home, even with Mr. Molasses on the bases. Derek Jeter, in one of his many ridiculously heads up plays, runs to cut the ball off and flips it towards home. The ball, and Giambi, get there right at the same time. Posada catches the ball and swings his glove around, hitting Giambi on the back of his leg as that same leg is stepping on the plate. Needless to say, the umpire calls Giambi out.
Say what you want about the call (I still maintain he was safe), why in God's name wouldn't Giambi slide in that situation?! What could he possibly be thinking as he nears home? One would imagine that he is paying attention to the ball, that he knows where it is, that he can tell the play will be close, so WHY WOULDN'T HE SLIDE IN THAT SITUATION!!! If you are a professional baseball player, you know how to slide and you know WHEN to slide. On a play like that, if it's going to be close, how do you not slide? You know that one way or another, the umpire is going to make a decision that will determine the outcome of the game, so why wouldn't you want to make it easier for Blue to decide in your favor?
Still not bitter.
Mariano then comes in for the two-inning save, gives up only two hits but eventually gets Jeremy Giambi (him again!) to ground out to end the game, cutting the A's lead in the series to 2-1. The next day, pitcher Cory Lidle gets bombed, Jermaine Dye shatters his ankle, A's lose game five, lose the series and lose Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi to bigger market teams.
Here's the kicker to the story. Opening Day, 2002 season, A's vs. Rangers at Oakland Coliseum. Jeremy Giambi is now the leadoff hitter, because the A's love guys who can walk (because Lord knows, Giambi can't run). In my memory, it was his first at-bat of the game, but in reality it was in the third inning. He leads off the frame with a single. Frank Menechino doubles, and Giambi comes all the way around the bases. There was no throw to home, no play at the plate, but Giambi SLIDES HOME ANYWAY. The crowd goes crazy, Giambi jumps up and pumps his fist, everyone's happy.
Where was this in game three of the Division Series? Did he use the offseason to learn how to slide? We knew he knew HOW to slide, we just never saw any examples that he knew WHEN to slide. Sliding on Opening Day when there is no play at the plate? Yawn. Not sliding when your team leads the five-game series 2-0 but is trailing game 3 1-0 and this might be the last chance to score?
Ok, now I'm a little bitter.