The lead-up to tonight’s game felt more akin to El Clásico or the Rose Bowl than a baseball game in April between two teams few expect to contend. But tonight was no ordinary game; the A’s have been promoting the 50th Anniversary of their first game in Oakland since the end of the 2017 season. Virtually every major baseball news outlet wrote a piece on it, largely centered on the free tickets. Fifty or so seats were reserved around the Coliseum specifically for fans who’d sat in those seats fifty years earlier. It was going to be next to impossible for the action on the field to live up to the pregame hype.
And yet somehow, it did. Right from the very beginning.
The stadium erupted when the A’s ran onto the field. Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” echoed from the sound system, eerie both because it, too, just celebrated its 50th birthday, and because it welcomed Trevor Cahill home. The stands weren’t quite full, but the atmosphere left little to be desired.
The symmetries seemed never-ending. Trevor Cahill started Bob Melvin’s first game as A’s manager against the White Sox back in 2011. And while Cahill is no longer the pitcher he was then, he mixed a certain amount of “effectively wild” with his trademark sinking fastball and big breaking curve, managing to keep the White Sox hitters off-balance all night. More on Cahill in a minute.
The grateful fans didn’t have to wait long for something to cheer about. Matt Joyce and Marcus Semien both squared up balls to open the A’s half of the first, but both made outs. But what perhaps should have been a quick inning turned into a crooked number in a hurry.
Lowrie’s homer was followed by a Khris Davis double, and then a piece of good fortune - a Matt Olson check-swing infield single. Matt Chapman walked next. The masked man, Mark Canha, singled home Davis and Olson. And a Stephen Piscotty double scored both Chappie and Canha, capping a five-run inning that all happened with two outs.
Five runs would wind up being more than enough for Trevor Cahill & Co.
Cahill had a bit of a strange night. He finished off seven scorless innings using 92 pitches, yielding just five hits and two walks. Some of his success was due to a couple of timely double plays, but more was due to his eight strikeouts.
If you’re looking for a negative, he allowed two stolen bases that weren’t even close. But in the end, he was remarkably effective, which is a particularly good sign because he didn’t seem to have great command. Just based on the eye test, it seemed like he spiked as many balls, and threw as many balls well over Lucroy’s head, as he threw strikes. But whenever he needed to make a pitch, he did. The velocity was good - he largely sat in the low 90s with the hard stuff and touched 94-95. And everything moved, which, combined with Cahill’s unusual delivery, had the White Sox chasing their tails from the outset.
Mark Canha and Stephen Piscotty both had big days too. The pair combined for five hits and three doubles. Piscotty, in particular, seems to be coming into his own. Whether he was pressing in a new environment (à la Evan Longoria) during the first week or two, I have no idea, but his whole approach seems more balanced and measured, yet also more powerful than what we saw in those early games. Even the outs he made - a long fly ball to the base of the left field wall, and a line out to the right fielder - were struck well. Jonathan Lucroy was another major offensive contributor, going 3-4, and while most of his hits were of the Texas League variety, he drove in three runs in what I like to think was an exceptional demonstration of situational hitting.
The White Sox two runs came on one swing - a homerun from the Chris Sale-trade product Yoan Moncada. Ryan Dull was the pitcher, but Dull perhaps redeemed himself by striking out four batters in a single inning of work. Lou Trivino made his debut and looked every bit the intriguing prospect we’ve all read about, working a scoreless ninth despite loading the bases. He seems to hide the ball pretty well, and was running his fastball up around 97-98. He also broke off an absolutely filthy slider that should have struck out Tim Anderson but appeared to fool the umpire as much as it did Anderson. Indeed, the slider was virtually the same pitch that struck out Moncada, ending the game.
it’s easy to get frustrated with the perceived lack of stadium progress and our continued financial plight. In the same vein, we all, from time to time, question why certain roster decisions or trades were or weren’t made. But tonight was a reminder that this organization, under the leadership of Billy Beane and Dave Kaval, is doing so many things right. Kaval has revitalized the Coliseum, and if this site becomes our forever home, I think we have to trust that he’ll make it an incredible forever home based on his accomplishments thus far. Similarly, Billy Beane catches a lot of flak, but he’s put together a really exciting group of young talent anchored by a similarly impressive group of a veterans - Jed Lowrie, Jonathan Lucroy, Matt Joyce, Stephen Piscotty, Khris Davis, Trevor Cahill - all who were acquired on very attractive deals.
Trevor Cahill walks out to White Rabbit. Mark Canha walks up to Like a Rolling Stone. There’s a Gordon Lightfoot song from that same period called the Summer Side of Life. After tonight, we’re three games into a winning streak. Sooner or later (probably later if we can find a way to keep the White Sox in town), the streak will end. But it feels like we’re just entering the dawn of the summer side of a new window of opportunity, both on the field and off it. And we’re back tomorrow afternoon!