SAN FRANCISCO — The A’s invasion came by air, sea and land on Friday night.
Three airplanes circled the skies above AT&T Park a couple hours before the game, towing banners that read “’68 TIL INFINITY,” “HELLA HISTORY” and “ROOTED IN OAKLAND,” the taglines the Athletics have been using to promote the idea that they belong in the East Bay and wouldn’t leave for all the money in the world. A little later, A’s president Dave Kaval tweet-documented his ride across the bay in a boat with California Assemblyman Rob Bonta. Kaval wore a captain’s hat and tossed green “McCovey Cove Takeover” shirts to eager A’s landlubbers.
The land campaign began at 7:15 p.m., when Oakland’s Marcus Semien dug into the box and stared down Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner.
This part of the invasion didn’t go so well for the A’s. It was sort of their Bay of Pigs, in fact, especially when the Giants went nuts for five runs in the seventh inning. SF wound up cruising to a 7-1 win.
The A’s entered the game as one of the hottest teams in baseball, with 13 wins in their past 16 games and recent series victories against the first-place Indians and Astros. But they couldn’t get past their Bay Area rival in the first of six consecutive head-to-head games. They fell 11 games behind Houston in the American League West, and remain 6½ behind the Mariners in the wild-card race.
The A’s annual habit is to dump star players at the trade deadline. The speculation on local sports radio this year is that the team might actually be a buyer rather a seller in 2018, and team executive vice president Billy Beane suggested as much to The Athletic on Friday.
Is it overstatement to suggest that one loss could change that? Yeah, but not by much. Every defeat makes it less likely that Beane will go after, say, a middle-of-the-rotation starter before the deadline.
This grim reality is in stark contrast to Kaval’s chirpy optimism.
I don’t want to knock Kaval, because I think he really is trying. He has done about all a guy could do in his short tenure to reintroduce the heroes of the Athletics’ past (including the rechristening of the Oakland Coliseum diamond as Rickey Henderson Field), to connect the organization to the community and to improve the ballpark experience for fans.
Kaval has been less successful on the stadium front, with some embarrassing public setbacks. But like I said, I think he’s trying.
The point is, you can’t blind people with airplane banners and boat rides.
“I’ve never seen an organization invest so much in such a petty useless campaign,” one guy wrote on my Twitter timeline.
“Starting to think Dave Kaval is the new PT Barnum,” another said.
It’s too bad that the A’s are provoking such cynicism, because they’re a good team, and a fun one — as that recent series against the Astros proved. And they have made the Bay Bridge Series relevant again.
It was not an easy event to salvage. When the A’s and Giants met for the first time last year, the two teams were a combined 39 games below .500. The Giants were putting blow-up dolls in seats and the A’s were offering several of their best players on Craigslist. In 2016, Oakland was 11 games under for the first installment of the series. In 2015, the A’s were nine games shy of .500. Bragging rights were always on the line, but pennant races? Not so much.