Game 1: Baltimore Orioles at Oakland Athletics, August 25, 2004
There were a lot fewer Two Dollar Wednesday night games than usual this season for the Oakland A's. It's hard to tell if this is random scheduling, or a calculated effort by the tightwad Oakland ownership to squeeze more cash out of their fan base. As a discount baseball veteran, it is clear that there are trends in place.
First, ownership doubled the ticket price a few years ago, though stale hot dogs remained available for a buck. Next, the discount seating area was restricted. Bargain-minded fans used to be able to buy tickets for either of the upper deck sections at the reduced rate, but two years ago, the promotion was restricted to the third deck only. This resulted in some bizarre-looking crowds, with ten thousand people crowding the third deck, ten thousand others scattered around the lower reserved section, and a virtually empty second deck. This year, the discounts were suspended for games involving the popular Red Sox and Yankees, and most summer Wednesday contests became day games.
None of these decisions is indefensible, but the practical result was that Two Dollar Wednesday, as an Event, diminished in stature. I'm too old to cut work for baseball games, or, at least American League baseball games. (Since I work four blocks from SBC née Pac Bell Park, afternoon "appointments" with Dr. Bonds are a different story.) It's hard to keep the momentum going for discount evening baseball, even after a thoroughly enjoyable A's-Angels tilt, when the next such game doesn't happen for two full months.
Also, the mass e-mail never went out. We had about twenty-five for the June game, but I arrived at the game to discover that our party consisted of just two, me and Mike. It wasn't the first time we've attended a freezing-ass night game in a semi-deserted stadium together, and Bonds willing, it won't be the last. You develop a certain chemistry and rapport with another person after such a long time, like a second baseman knowing just where to toss the ball to his double-play partner, or a lover with a perfectly-timed reacharound. Mike and I knew what to do in this situation, and accordingly, we were well on our way to getting plowed before the A's even had a baserunner.
After a while, we blearily realized that the Oriole pitcher, Bruce Chen, was throwing a no-hitter. For his age (27), Chen has played for an astounding number of baseball teams, including 80% of the National League East in one memorable 22-month stretch. He always seemed to have potential as a young player, if you could overlook the huge amounts of home runs he gave up. Still, since he throws with his left hand, nine different teams have been willing to take a chance on him in the last four years. And tonight, the not-so-young Panamanian was making it happen. The fly balls he gave up stayed in the park, and the A's were hitless through five innings.
It was about then that our friend Stephanie arrived. We welcomed her, attempted to jinx Chen by yelling at him about his no-hit bid, and watched Eric Chavez reward our heckling with a two-out single in the sixth. With Canadian pitcher Rich Harden throwing well for the A's, it remained scoreless.
Just before the sixth, Stephanie revealed that, contrary to her bold demeanor and casual talk about the designated hitter, she was an American League baseball virgin. Sure, she'd been with a few Dodger games before, but those were National League games. Besides, she probably showed up in the fourth inning and left by the seventh - her ballpark cherry was probably still intact. I can't speak for Mike, but I felt very special that Stephanie had chosen us for this special, special occasion. Accordingly, I took it slow and was extremely gentle when explaining the infield fly rule and the platoon advantage. She rejected my offer of cuddling during the seventh-inning stretch, however.
monotonous riveting inning, the teams traded scoreless frames. Chen vs. Harden! Panama vs. Canada! The Canal vs. the St. Lawrence River! Operation Just Cause vs. Some Future Military Operation To Let Halliburton Steal Maple Syrup! The unfortunately-named B.J. Ryan relieved Chen in the eighth inning, but the game remained knotted into the ninth.
It's a strange thing about baseball that low scores are considered the mark of a "classic" game, while in any other sport, low scores tend to define a "boring" game. It's this puritanical ethic that baseball fans have to celebrate the least impressive, slowest moments of their sport. Glowing columns are written about the glories of the sacrifice bunt and the productive out, while middle-aged sportswriters openly pine for the higher pitcher's mounds and 1-0 games of the 1960's. Great pitching can be thrilling, but when Bruce Chen is on the mound, what you're seeing is poor hitting. I'm all for tension and excitement in a game, but also I think you can achieve that and still have runners make it all the way to third base.
Admittedly, two-thirds of us were also drunk. Still, it was hard to miss the irony when Stephanie asked why the American League had adopted the designated hitter rule. "To increase offense," Mike said, as Baltimore DH David Newhan grounded weakly to second base. Closer Octavio Dotel replaced Harden, so now it was Ryan vs. Dotel! Louisiana vs. Dominican Republic! Crawfish and bribery scandals vs. . . . OK, forget it. The Orioles went quietly, and we began calculating when in the extra innings we would start feeling hung over.
But someone forgot to tell Marco Scutaro it was a pitcher's duel. Fresh off his powerful single to shortstop in his last at-bat, Scutaro strode to the plate with two on, two out in the bottom of the ninth. On a 2-1 count, Ryan left a pitch over the plate, and you cannot make those kind of mistakes to Marco Scutaro! He slammed it over the left field fence, coincidentally the shallowest part of the ballpark, and the A's were 3-0 winners. Scutaro was mobbed, we high-fived, and Stephanie burst into tears for no reason.
Walking out of the park, I realized that I would probably tell my children about this game, maybe even at Twenty-Four-Dollar Wednesday. I'll play up the drama and complain about how robot umpires ruin the sanctity of the sport. With any luck, Bruce Chen will still be playing professionally. I mean, he's left-handed, so why not?