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Sunday can be Super for Baseball, Too

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Before I meet up with a bunch of AN'ers at Gus and Jesa's to watch commercials- must they interrupt those things with a football game?- I am here to remind you that Sundays aren't just for guys in shoulder pads.  And they certainly aren't as random as my dear friend jeffro would have you believe (miss you already, man).

After taking on Mondays and Thursdays in my rookie season, and dropping to Thursdays-only last year, I enter my third campaign as a front page writer in the Sunday slot.  I really think I have a chance to do well here, if only because I have a rule against going to the office on Sundays, so my mind shall be free of anything related to modular furniture. 

And truly, there's just something kind of cool about those early morning getaway games on the east coast.  I look forward to opening the first thread while still in my A's pj's, just me and my laptop.  And maybe a plate full of bacon.

While most of the world will be focused on football's ultimate Sunday later this afternoon, not to mention their numbers in the office pool and all those other silly side-wagers associated with this event- by the way, bet the over on how many "wicked hella spicy wings" I consume by halftime- Sunday is, has been, and always will be a day for baseball, too.

In fact the A's very first Spring Training game this season takes place on a Sunday, three weeks from today.  Strangely enough the end of the regular season will not happen on a Sunday, for the first time in forever, it seems.

Historically, the Oakland A's have enjoyed a few Super Sundays (and several crappy ones, too).  Their very first playoff game- a 5-3 loss to Baltimore- was played on a Sunday.  They clinched the American League pennant in 1988 and '89 on this day.  And they celebrated their 1972 and '73 World Series triumphs on a Sunday, both seventh games to boot.

Here are some of my personal favorites, some of which I enjoyed in person. Jump with me.

Sunday April 20, 1980.  The early morning rains had threatened to cancel that day's double-header between the A's and the Angels.  My dad's last words to my oldest sister Tonianne before he headed off to Mass were short and sweet.  Well ok, they were short.  "You are not going to the game today", he told her.  But Tonianne had already begun to pack a lunch of tostadas, the pre-spread shells placed one on top of the other in a Wonder bread bag, the fixings of grated cheese and sliced lettuce and tomatoes wrapped in aluminum foil.  Meaning she was going to the game, and she was going to eat well.  But she wasn't going alone.  She pulled me along.  I was reluctant, having heard loud and clear our father's stern message.  But basically she had all the leftovers with her, and what was I going to eat?

The upstart A's, led by first-year manager Billy Martin, had feasted on the Angels Friday and Saturday, and were looking for a highly unlikely four-game sweep of the defending American League West champions.  The year before, the A's- losers of an Oakland record 108 contests- finished 34 games behind the front-running Angels.

Billy 1980

But Billy's brash behavior rubbed off on his group of young, yet talented players, who were all too eager to rid themselves of the foul stench of suck that had descended upon Oakland since Finley's free agents fled the city three years prior.  Martin made it clear that the A's were going to do more than just compete with the Angels:

"Nothing worries me about this team.  I refuse to be negative about any part of it.  We can beat California.  They've got the superstars, but we can beat them."

Indeed.  The Angels lineup boasted of hitting studs Rod Carew, Carney Lansford, Booby Grich, and the 1979 American League MVP, Don Baylor.  But the A's up-and-coming staff had limited California to just four runs on eleven hits in winning the first two games of the series.

Sunday featured more of the same.  After a rain delay of nearly two hours left us with soggy tostadas and a dreary outlook, Matt Keough turned the sun back on with a masterful complete-game 6-1 victory.  The A's scored all their runs in the first three innings.  In the nightcap, Rickey Henderson got things going with a steal of home plate in the first, and Oakland broke things open with a five-run third en route to an easy 8-2 win. 

For the series, the A's outscored the Angels 23-7.

As the dream of a sweep became a reality, what was left of the crowd of 9,014 that Sunday stood and roared its approval.  My sister and I were among the throng in the bleachers chanting "First place A's!  First place A's!"  Dwayne Murphy- our captain and centerfielder- turned to face us, and responded with an enthusiastic "yeah" and a raised fist.

And for one magical Sunday, we were kings of the world.

***

Sunday October 9 1988.  Another four-game sweep was sealed on a Sunday, but this time there was much more at stake.  After a seven-year hiatus, the A's were back in the American League Championship Series.  Having won 104 games during the regular season, they were heavy favorites to dispose of the Boston Red Sox.  And while the A's had indeed jumped out to a 3-0 series lead, it was anything but a cakewalk.  Their two wins at Fenway Park in Games 1 and 2 were by one run each, and they had to come back from a 5-0 deficit to win the third contest.

I was in Section 127, Row 34 with my sister Rose for Game 4.  It was a game highlighted by Oakland's three shiniest stars.  Soon-to-be-MVP Jose Canseco launched a first inning, opposite-field laser off Bruce Hurst to stake the A's to a 1-0 lead.  A trio of mortals gave Oakland its second run (back-to-back singles by Walt Weiss and Carney Lansford, and a double by Dave Henderson).  On the mound it was a couple of local boys with haunted pasts delivering the city's first baseball pennant in 14 seasons.  Dave Stewart allowed a run and four hits in seven innings before exiting to a thunderous ovation and throaty chants of "Stewwwww!"  Leading 2-1, the A's tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth.  Canseco singled, swiped second, and scampered home on a Mark McGwire knock.  No one would have blinked had Canseco walked away with the ALCS MVP.  Three homeruns in four games was worthy of the award.  But the trophy instead went to a savior named Eck.  Dennis Eckersley recorded saves in all four games, and he was in the middle of a celebratory scene on the mound as the last out of the series settled in Mike Gallego's glove.

Back in Section 127, we clapped, shouted, and some of us even cried (but not me).  So many years of hearing World Series stories from my older siblings, and now I would have one to call my own.

***

Sunday October 8, 1989.  Once again the A's were on the verge of wrapping up the American League title on a Sunday.  As was the case one season before, it was a hard-fought series.  But this time it was Toronto, not Boston, and this time, the A's would have to win the pennant away from home.  I watched Game 5 at Mom's house.

Rickey Henderson, who may have put together the finest all-around series in post-season history, put the A's in front early with a patented Rickey-run.  A walk, a steal, and back home on a Canseco single.  Surely realizing that he didn't have a triple in the series, the left-fielder went out and got one in the third to drive in Walt Weiss to make it 2-0.

Rickey '89

Remember the part in "The Natural" where sportswriter Max Mercy gushed over Roy Hobbs?  "Anything he wants to hit, he hits. I've never seen anything like it."  That was Rickey in the 1989 ALCS.

The A's were in front 4-0 after seven, and seemed headed towards a second-straight title, easy-style.  But Dave Stewart (eight innings, eight hits, no walks) allowed a pair of homeruns, including one by George Bell to lead off the ninth that cut the A's lead in half.  Enter Eck.  Tony Fernandez greeted him with a single and a stolen base, and he scored on a sac fly to make it 4-3.  Toronto manager Cito Gaston picked this moment to check Eckersley's glove, as the Blue Jays felt that Eck was doctoring the ball.  That surely incensed the closer, who got Junior Felix to chase his high cheese to end the game and the series.   As his teammates happily closed in on Eckersley, he was seen mouthing some lovely parting words towards the Blue Jays bench.

***

Sunday October 15, 1989.  One week later the A's were in Oakland for Game 2 of the 1989 World Series. Having won the opener on Dave Stewart's shutout, Tony La Russa's ball club was not about to let off the gas.  Not after the debacle of the season before in which the A's were done in by the underdog Dodgers.  My sister Rose and I were stationed in Section 127, Row 7 for this one, as we were the previous evening.  It would be the last game we'd attend in 1989.

Ok, stop me if you've heard this one before.  Rickey Henderson led off the game with a walk, stole second base, and scored on a Carney Lansford double.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  The Giants- who would not lead at any point during the entire Series- had the audacity to tie Game 2 with a run in the third inning.  This made the Elephants very angry.  In the fourth inning facing Rick Reuschel, Jose Canseco walked, Dave Parker doubled him home (missing a homer by that much), Dave Henderson walked, Mark McGwire struck out, and Terry Steinbach stepped up.

Steinbach '89

Reuschel tried to sneak a low fast ball by Steinbach, somehow not having it in his scouting report that Steinbach salivates over such things.  Steiny sent the pitch sailing into the left-field cheap seats for a three-run homerun to make it 5-1.  The place went berserk and I ran up and down the aisle bashing every fan in sight.  It was only the fourth inning, but this baby was over.  (So was the Series).

***

Sunday October 1, 2000. Eight years had passed since the A's last division title, something that seemed exclusively Oakland's during the late 80's and early 90's.  But the franchise fell on hard times, finishing in last place four out of six years from 1993-1998. A rise to second place in 1999 gave reason to hope, and a late-season surge in 2000- a surge that would become synonymous with the team throughout the early half of the decade- put the A's within one victory of an improbable playoff birth.

That day at the Coliseum were my three brothers- Ernie, John, and Abel- my youngest sister Tricia, Uncle Dan, my cousins Scott and Nick, my nephews Ernie III and Patrick, my nieces Christina and Stephanie, Scott's son Emilio, and my son, Donald Jr.

Tim Hudson was on the hill going for a rare double: his 20th win and an A's clinch.  I don't know if Scott or Nick or Christina realized it at the time, but they were about to discover what it was like to have Catfish or Stew in a big game.  Hudson was brilliant.  In eight innings of work, he gave up four hits, walked two, and struck out ten.  The A's got one in the seventh thanks to the lesser known Giambi.  Jeremy doubled and scored on Ramon Hernandez' single.  When Randy Velarde and Olmedo Saenz did some eighth inning yard work to make it 3-0, it was only a matter of time.  Jason Isringhausen came on to close, and the next thing I knew, my brother John had his arms wrapped around me in pure elation.  It remains, to this day, one of my biggest thrills as an A's fan, watching this little-known, low-budget team win the West, and to be surrounded by so much family made it even sweeter.

***

Sunday September 1, 2002.  These next two games, I watched on TV.  I would have done anything to be there.

2002- Win 18c

As the calendar turned to September, The Streak stood at seventeen games.  And on that first day of the ninth month of 2002, the family gathered in Tracy at Abel's house for Vanessa's baptism.  Miguel Tejada got things going with a two-run jack in the third.  Torii Hunter touched Mulder for a two-run job in the sixth to tie it.  Undeterred, the A's got the lead right back when Mabry led off the bottom half with a homerun.  An insurance run was added that inning and the 4-2 lead held into the ninth.  Then disaster struck.  Not once, not twice, but three times.  Matt LeCroy and Corey Koskie hit back-to-back homers and, in the blink of an eye, the game was tied.  Billy Koch replaced the beleaguered Mulder and quickly got two outs.  We breathed a little.  Then Michael Cuddyer sucker-punched us with a rocket into the bleachers to make it 5-4.  The only thing heard amid the utter silence at the Coliseum was the Twins' celebrating their unfathomable comeback.  Back at Abel's house, some talked of finding a way to get Tejada up again.  Me and my cousin Scott agonized in the kitchen.  Facing closer Eddie Guardado to start the ninth, Ramon worked a walk, and Durham followed through with a single.  The pacing in the kitchen increased, with quick, nervous glances at the TV.  Olmedo Saenz struck out, and up to the plate stepped Miguel Odalis (Martinez) Tejada.  Yeah, like Reggie before him, Miggy had some Martinez in him.  On this day he had some Reggie in him, too.  With a 17-game winning streak on the line, Tejada homered deep into the left-field bleachers, turning the baseball world on its ear and transforming Vanessa's baptism into a family hug-fest.

***

Sunday May 9, 2010.  I'm guessing Pam's account of this game far surpasses mine.  I mean when you attend a game in person, and you watch your team's pitcher toss a perfect game, and it's your birthday, well come on, man.

Like a good boy, I was with my mother that day, with the rest of my family, at my sister Carol's house.  When Dallas Braden set down the Rays in order in the first inning, I said to my brother Abel, "That was too easy.  He does that eight more times, and we'll see history."  Well, duh, right?  But the thing is, I just had this feeling that not only he could, but that he would

And, of course, Dallas did.  And it was as easy in the ninth as it was in the first.  Back at Carol's, Mom and my sisters cried.  Dad beamed.  And I went straight to AN.

So you can have your Super Sunday, football fans.  We've already had ours.  Better than super.  Perfect.

Braden 2010