OAKLAND — This is a cautionary tale about the Oakland A’s.
On Sunday morning before his team lost to the Twins 6-1, A’s manager Bob Melvin sat in his usual place on the dugout bench. It was his pregame news conference. After the beat writers had asked their nuts-and-bolts questions about who was and wasn’t playing, about who was hurt, I said to Melvin, “Bob, try to remember back to when you took an English class at Cal.”
“I think I took it three times, to tell you the truth,” he said maybe feeling edgy about where I was going.
“Well then you’re going to do good on this,” I said, throwing grammar to the wind. “I’ll give you a quick essay question. What is your goal for the remainder of the regular season? I’ll grade you afterward.”
“You’ll grade me afterward?” he said, obviously thinking he does the grading around the A’s, not some sports writer. Then he gave his answer because he’s a good sport, and he wanted a good grade: “Our goal from here to the end of the regular season is to win the division.”
“And win the division,” he said.
He laughed. He meant there was no discussion, no better answer. Only one right answer.
“To stay out of the wild-card game?” I said just to make sure.
“Well, I think that would be prudent. Any time you get into the postseason, it’s exciting. But if you can win the division . . .”
He hesitated, seemed to think about life without winning the division. “You know you don’t want to get into that one-game playoff where, potentially, a starting pitcher could affect that game. I think that’s anybody’s goal, is to stay away from that if you get into the postseason. But if you’re in that game, you’re in it and it still means you’re in the postseason.”
“I’ll give you an ‘A,’” I happily told him.
“An ‘A,’ wow,” he said. “I didn’t get that at Cal. Please don’t go look at my transcript. I had a tough time with Subject A (Freshman English). You gave me flashbacks to my English teachers. You got my heart going.”
“Were they tough?” I meant his English profs.
“Subject A was very difficult for me, plus it seemed like the class building was way away from my dorm and it was early in the morning. I had a little trouble getting there. I had to go by the pool. I used to like to dive off the platform at the pool, and that would get in the way of my English class sometimes.”
So, Melvin was more of a diver than a writer.
Let’s leave that pleasant, light-hearted morning scene and get to the caution part of this tale. I’ll start with a quiz for you. What was the key thought in Melvin’s concise, correct answer?
I hope you referred back to the quote: “You know you don’t want to get into that one game playoff where, potentially, a starting pitcher could affect that game.”
That one-game playoff expresses the meaning, the urgency, the stay-up-at-night worrying part of the A’s remaining 45 games.
Because if the A’s finish in second place — I’m not saying they will — they will play a one-game, do-or-die series against the other wild-card team. I don’t know which the other team will be.