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Spring Training Spurt Spurs Starry-Eyed Optimism

We're only now coming down off our baseball high from the all-too-short visit to this magical land of green and gold paradise known as Phoenix Municipal Stadium in Phoenix. From Friday to Monday, my wife and I saw the A's play four games, and they could seemingly do no wrong - winning all four contests, often by huge margins. The team's pitchers made the opposition look like Little Leaguers, and the entire lineup, from the few veterans on the team to the virtual unknowns, knocked out hits like their lives depended on it. And there wasn't a single Larry Davis sighting.

Friday's game in Tucson, ostensibly to catch a glimpse of Nick Swisher in a confusing uniform, filled us with this uncomfortable feeling called hope. Rich Harden threw five innings of one hit, one run baseball, and departed with all limbs intact. Daric Barton hit a three-run shot and DJ hit a two-run shot to make sure the A's were never challenged, winning 8-1.

Saturday's game, back at Papago Park, was a laugher from the beginning. This time, the A's B-team put up a mere eight runs against the Giants starter, who lasted a Zito-like one-third of an inning. The team more than batted around, making it look like the game would never end at one point, as none of the hitters wanted to make any outs. Padding on a pair of runs in the second, the A's settled for a 10-2 romp.

Sunday's game should have made us more nervous. Gio Gonzalez, after I had told anyone and everyone that this was "the guy" to watch, made me want to avert my eyes. But the A's hung in there, and put up a 3-spot in the 8th inning (after Adam Melhuse came in to catch for the Rangers), to take the victory 9-7. It was as if they were toying with their victims, and could strike at any second. Street came in the 9th to remind us he was relevant, and closed the game out.

And lastly, Monday saw Dana Eveland pitch like Rich Harden in something resembling Jay Witasick's body. As he tossed five shutout innings against the Royals, the team posted a 3-0 lead, which held up until Keith Foulke made it interesting by giving up a pair in the 8th. But as with the previous day's game, the A's plated 3 in their half of the inning and cruised to victory, 6-2.

You might be thinking, I knew this already! Why the recaps? The answer? Because for four days, in games that didn't truly matter in the standings, we saw the A's individual players dominate the competition by a combined score of 33-12. We saw timely, clutch hits from Bobby Crosby. We saw extra-base hits from Dan Johnson. We saw Kurt Suzuki hit multiple doubles. We saw Jack Cust hit line drives and work the count. We saw Rich Harden remind us he has filthy stuff (and speaks fluent Canadian). We saw Brooks Conrad, Donnie Murphy, Chris Denorfia, Todd Linden and Emil Brown act like contributing major leaguers who deserve places in the Big Show.

Small sample size be darned, this team who nobody has given a chance this year appeared to know what they were doing, and we were impressed. Strong pitching with timely hitting, slugging and taking the extra base. Leadership from veterans and rookies alike. Pure domination of their cross-bay rivals. It was enough to make me think that Billy Beane doesn't rebuild in years, but instead, in weeks. It was enough to make me believe we can compete with anybody in the AL West this year, and come the end of 2008, a lot of experts will be eating crow. I for one know I'll be finding a way to be awake at 3 a.m. when the team kicks off the season for real in Japan against the Red Sox. The only debate is do I stay up late, or get up early...

It was an extended weekend almost without blemish. Now if only I hadn't been a complete moron and crushed my laptop.