As much as I am interested in, and try to be observant about, the less statistical or tangible aspects of baseball I am also not one to ascribe tremendous meaning to chemistry, psychology, and the like. In other words, I believe these areas of the game are both interesting to consider and can contribute to a team's level of success -- but not more than having a great pitcher, a great hitter, a great defense...You get the idea.
But watching the Seattle series, I think that the most uneasy I found myself was after the A's lone win. Now that's odd. Especially considering how depressing the losses were on either side of the Brandon Moss walk-off HR. But an image stays in my head and I want to share it with you. I wonder, did you notice it too? And what, if anything, did it mean.
The moment occurred when the A's, having turned a lopsided pitching matchup of Aaron Harang vs. Jarrod Parker into a nail-biter, survived 2-1 on Moss' walk-off HR. There was not exactly a jubilant celebration at home plate, but perhaps more of a pleasant one. In particular I noticed Jarrod Parker joining the group, not running out to home plate so much as "getting there" and he did not look especially celebratory.
This struck me as especially strange in context because Moss' HR not only made the A's instant winners, but also immediately turned Parker's 9 IP into a complete game and a win. And yet from Parker's reaction, and the reaction of most of his teammates, one was not reminded of the 2012 team and its many walk-off celebrations.
How would I describe the mood -- as best as I could glean it as an outside fan watching it on TV with whatever angles I was offered -- after Moss' HR? I would describe it as "relief". Perhaps the feeling that comes with trying not to lose a game and realizing that you have succeeded in not losing. And that brings me to the title of this post.
There is a fundamental difference between the 2012 A's and the 2013 A's and it has nothing to do with Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge. Last year's team had the pleasure of taking low expectations and shirking them. That's fun, it's exciting, and the feeling of magic builds on itself. This year's team has had far higher expectations, and the words associated with "high expectations" aren't words like "fun" so much as words like "pressure".
Don't get me wrong, it's not that you don't want to have high expectations. It just isn't always as fun, as magical, as carefree -- and last year's team seemed to thrive on how magical and carefree the vibe felt throughout the clubhouse, the dugout, seemingly even the pitcher's mound and the batter's box.
Sometimes as I watch the A's right now, they seem a bit tight, maybe a bit serious, perhaps focused on "not losing" -- all recipes, unfortunately, for losing. This is not a crime, nor is it a reflection of a team lacking in effort or desire. One might even argue that players like Josh Reddick are guilty of "trying too hard" -- which can be a recipe, of course, for "failing".
I'm not advocating that "boyish celebrations" or "adult congratulations on a job well done" are better or worse than one another. I'm not even saying I would take a vibe over an ace pitcher and a DH who could mash. I'm just noting what I see, with interest and curiosity, and perhaps a touch of concern. Would the 2013 A's be better off if they could unburden themselves of the weight of expectations and just "try to play some surprisingly good ball together"? I think so.
I hope the 2013 team can forget "what they are supposed to be" and just "embrace and love who they are" -- because if anything is going to bring out the highest potential in this group of 25, I have a feeling it's going to involve not competing against any expectations. That seems to be when the A's are at their best, and then some.