It seems the A's fans, and even the A's players, are justifiably nervous about facing the feenom/phienom/feanomb Felix Hernandez. In her notes today, Susan Slusser reported that in spring training, some A's players were already trying to figure out whether they would have to face Hernandez in this series. You wonder if that fear factor alone gives the pitcher a mental advantage worth more than if each hitter had to start his at-bat with the count already 0-1.
I respect, and appreciate, great stuff, great pitchers, and great competitors, but I also take the "any given Sunday" approach to baseball, and especially to pitching. Unlike football, where in fact a great team will beat a lousy team most any Sunday, baseball is not like that. And pitching is really not like that. On any given day, a lousy pitcher might have his best start of the year--and that's often a 3-hit shutout over 8 innings. On any given day, a great pitcher might have one of his poorer outings of the year--and every pitcher has 2-3 that are bad to the tune of 3 innings, 5 runs, plus 6 innings left for the bullpen to sort out. It happens; it's even common enough to be normal.
A signature game etched in my memory was Tony LaRussa's managerial debut with the A's in 1986. Poor LaRussa. First of all, the A's were playing in Fenway at a time when they usually won about every 19th game they played there. Roger Clemens, in his prime (which he should be exiting any day now) was on the mound. And the A's, with their rotation in shambles, decided to spot start a guy they had taken a flyer on after going 0-6 the previous year, and 7-14 the year before that, before being released. You just kinda hoped the A's might win the next one.
But Dave Stewart beat Clemens for the first of many times, and LaRussa's debut was a successful one to tune of 6-4 A's. If I'm a betting man, yes, I'd bet on Felix Hernandez to pitch a great game tonight. But let's not decide who's going to win, or whether the game will be 2-1 or 9-7, just yet. This is baseball; I say let's start the game before we're so sure about what to expect.