It's Spring Training time! (via cdn0.sbnation.com)
It's finally Spring and baseball is in the air. With every "crack" and "smack" during batting practice, the excitement surrounding the new season only grows. The Oakland Athletics will play their second Spring Training game, but it's the first one that really matters. Two of the A's best hitters, Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes, will make their Spring debuts, and newly-acquired shortstop Jed Lowrie will make his first appearance on the field in green and gold. Plus, let's not forget what all of us A's fans truly care about: the first matchup against the division rival Los Angeles Angels.
Yesterday, I wrote that the Angels would finish the 2013 season atop the AL West with a 96-66 record, 6 games ahead of the 2nd place A's. After re-thinking my initial reverse-homer madness, I think the division may end much closer than that, and today's game was just the beginning of what should be an exciting 2013 season in the Wild Wild [AL] West.
1st Inning: It feels so nice to watch the A's again. (Note: I couldn't watch the game yesterday because I hadn't purchased MLB.TV yet.) It was a long offseason. OK, to the game. Coco Crisp leads off with a short base hit to right field, yet my gaze was more focused on the TV's previous scene, Bob Melvin's hat, which is both retro and modern. What a great idea. Chris Young, up next, hits an RBI double right past Vernon Wells' glove. Thank you, Arizona! Seth Smith smacks a deep ball to right field, Kole Calhoun is unable to make the catch at the wall, and Young scores on Smith's double. Yoenis Cespedes walks in his first Spring at bat, Jed Lowrie hits a fielder's choice, Scott Sizemore hits a sacrifice fly to right, and the A's take a 3-0 lead. Daric Barton, doing his best Brett Keisel impression with a beard that demands your respect, hits a grounder up the middle and forces Angels starting pitcher Barry Enright to leave the game with just 2/3 innings pitched. In the words of rap group Geto Boys, "Damn It Feels Good to be an A's Fan." Or something like that.
2nd Inning: LA prospect Kaleb Cowart walks in his first AB, then takes off for second base a few pitches later on a hit-and-run that only amounted to a sacrifice grounder. He has some speed, but his bat is the real story: at just 20 years old, he seems to be developed far beyond his years. A sharp grounder to third from catcher Luke Carlin forces a fast throw from Adam Rosales, allowing the runners to be safe both at home and first. Rosales was charged with an error, and the Angels cut the lead to 2.
3rd Inning: Jed Lowrie and Scott Sizemore walk, Daric Barton singles to left to load the bases, and Derek Norris grounds into a double play to end the inning. I hate when three runners are left on base...But, what I hate more, are dropped pop flies. Jed Lowrie, fielding a shallow fly ball just past second base, dropped the easy play and let Vernon Wells, who never stopped running, to reach third base on an error to start the inning. Kole Calhoun, the next batter, doubles to left field and drives in the unearned run. Brendan Harris triples, scoring Calhoun, and the lead is gone. A shallow sac fly from Cowart to Coco Crisp is all Harris needed to score, and the Slegna take the lead, 4-3.
4th Inning: Hiroyuki Kobayashi comes in to pitch for LA, and I find myself craving hot dogs more and more with every pitch. Weird, right? A leadoff walk and another Coco Crisp hit puts two runners in scoring position for Oakland with no outs. Michael Taylor lines out, a Seth Smith sac fly scores Adam Rosales, and Cespedes pops out to end the inning. Oakland ties it up at 4. Pedro Figueroa enters the game for the A's, and immediately shows off his arm. His velocity will be a treat out of the bullpen. After a Matt Young leadoff double, who advanced on a fly ball to right, the Slegna are unable to capitalize, and the inning ends tied.
5th Inning: No excitement for the A's at the plate, but a deep fly ball by Sizemore is turned into a beautiful play in the field by Calhoun, who jumps against the wall to make the out. Only one hit for LA, and the inning comes to a close with both teams unable to score.
6th Inning: Pat Neshek comes in to pitch for the A's and it's nice to see him out there again after last year's tragedy. I, and likely the rest of A's Nation, still have his family in our prayers. Neshek pitches well and closes out the inning, keeping the tie game in tact.
Top of the 7th Inning: Michael Choice, Oakland's 2010 first round pick, starts the 7th inning off with a hard-hit line drive to left-center for a double. Nicely done. The kid looks to have some serious pop, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him starting come 2014. A softly hit fly ball to center gets lost in the sun, and Eric Sogard gets to second base safely with a double. Shortstop Darwin Perez slaps one to right field, scores both runners, but is thrown out at third trying to stretch out a triple. Oakland takes the 6-4 lead.
STRETCHING TIME: Pull fingers back, stretch out the forearm, and hold...1-2-3-4-5...Repeat on the other side...High-step to the fridge, grab a snack, and do some lunges back to my chair...Stretch complete! Back to the game.
Bottom of the 7th Inning: Kyler Newby comes in to pitch for Oakland, gets the first batter to ground out and the next one to strikeout. After a 4-pitch walk to Eric Stamets, Newby gets Andrew Romine to ground out to end the inning.
8th Inning: Addison Russell, the highly-touted prospect for the A's hits a two-out double to right field. And then, the future of the A's, Michael Choice, hits an RBI single to score Russell, and advances to second on the throw home. 7-4 Oakland. In the bottom half of the inning, the Slegna begin with a leadoff single, followed by a Bill Hall double that may have actually been a home run. The lead man was thrown out at home, and Hall stayed at second until a bloop single scored him to put the game at 7-5.
9th Inning: James Simmons enters the game to close it out, and he does so successfully: three up, three down, game over: A's win 7-5.
Final thoughts: The Oakland A's are in an interesting position this season. Many fans believe that they have the opportunity to repeat their 2012 success and make the playoffs again in 2013. Other baseball fans think that the A's found unlikely luck and will considerably regress in 2013 to a 3rd place finish. It will be hard to tell until the season starts which one will result, but one thing is for sure right now: baseball is finally back.
By: Evan Kendall