Game 2: Texas Rangers at Oakland Athletics, September 15, 2004
If you're heckling relievers, take care
Duck your head if they reach for a chair
Even though Doug Brocail
Is as fat as a whale
It's A's pitching that'll make you despair
The Rangers and A's have only occasionally had a rivalry through the years. Mainly, that's because the Rangers have been terrible. They were a competitive team from 1996-99, and that's been about it for their 32 years in Texas. Since the Rangers' only decent stretch in their history (three division titles, one playoff win) coincided with a rebuilding phase for Oakland, there's been little actual competition between the two teams. Even though I have a passionate hatred for the Dallas Cowboys, and a knee-jerk dislike of all things Texan, I find it hard to work up much anger toward the Rangers.
Two nights before our Two Dollar Wednesday excursion, all of that changed. Just after the Rangers tied the game in the top of the ninth, a heckling exchange between the Rangers bullpen and some nearby fans turned violent. Players rushed the stands and reliever Frank Francisco hurled a metal chair into the stands, breaking a woman's nose. The game was delayed for twenty minutes or so, one of the Rangers had an asthma attack, and the A's eventually won the game in extra innings.
Public reaction was swift. After a verbal confrontation caused a gang of physically imposing millionaire athletes to attack paying customers with blunt objects, sportswriters all across the country rose as one to condemn . . . heckling. Oakland and its fans were condemned for drunkenness, for racism, and, bizarrely, for a lack of security, even though no fans left their seats and nothing save insults was tossed at the players. Security guards generally don't even face the field, which was where the violence was coming from.
Look, the Oakland Coliseum is basically a shithole. It's a converted football stadium. The old views of the Oakland hills are now blocked by massive slabs of concrete. The grass is poorly maintained on the rare occasions that it hasn't been torn up from football games. The A's don't hire much in the way of service personnel, they don't refill paper towel dispensers in the bathroom, it takes at least ten minutes just to get condiments, and the public address announcer often sounds clearly intoxicated. The team won't spend money on players and it won't spend money on the stadium, yet the fans that do show up are routinely demonized for their lack of support and behavior. Going to the Coliseum is punishment enough without having furniture hurled at you by obese relief pitchers.
Reports have it that the infuriating heckles involved:
a) pitcher Doug Brocail's weight, and
b) a fan's query, "Which of you guys is gonna blow it tonight?"
While not kind remarks, I must mention:
a) Doug Brocail is a mediocre pitcher who weighs at least 240 pounds
b) Reliever Francisco Cordero, a target of the heckles, did in fact give up two runs in the bottom of the tenth inning to blow the game
So the Rangers were close to the A's in the standings, and their players had attacked the Oakland fans. The stage was set for a blood feud on Wednesday night. There was extra security personnel all over the park, most bizarrely in our section, the third deck above the right field line. Theoretically, a fan with incredible aim could hit the Ranger bullpen from that distance, but if such a fan could, they'd probably be playing for the Rangers already. Nevertheless, our section was guarded for nine innings by two uniformed Oakland cops, both of whom spent most of their time drinking soda and eating free ballpark food.
Our party was excited for the game, but the A's didn't quite show the same kind of enthusiasm. After Ranger starter Ryan Drese walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, the A's failed to score. They took a 2-1 lead in the third, but then the Rangers began pounding the ball. Doubles, home runs, and line drive singles abounded. It was as if the baseballs themselves had been heckling the Rangers. Perhaps a chant of "hey batter batter saaa-wing batter!" had backfired horribly. Perhaps the ball had suggested that Ryan Drese was a belly-itcher, not a pitcher, and his teammates were defending his honor. As it turned out, the A's may have been better off if starter Mark Mulder had spent the evening belly-itching.
There's a certain detachment that sets in when you're sitting far from the playing field and the home team is getting pounded. Enormous home runs like the ones Mr. Mulder surrendered are quite impressive from such great heights, though the poets are wrong if they think his curveball looked perfect from far away. After a while, your attention starts to wander. You make bets on dot racing, on the cap dance, even the animated BART train race (net gambling: -$1 on the evening - goddamn blue dot holds a lead worse than Francisco Cordero). And, you begin to notice things, such as the announcer's apparent drinking problem.
Mike was the first to notice this at the previous Wednesday game. During dot racing, he decided to choose an "Olympics" theme, assigning each of the colored dots the name of an athlete. I think the white dot was Michael Phelps, the red dot was Carly Patterson, and the blue dot was Tyler Hamilton. However, during the race play-by-play, the announcer confused the names from the very start. He started calling one of the dots "Natalie Coughlin", then switched to "Tim Gatlin" who I believe is not a real athlete. By the end, he was lagging behind the race results, and announced the winner as something that sounded like "Agslalian", who he explained was "the Argentinian horse that threw its rider."
This time, his speech seemed slurred, though it could have just been the Coliseum speakers. Not that I blame the guy; if I had to announce a race between animated dots 81 times a year, I'd probably be sniffing glue or shooting up in the booth. Most of the fans are too busy making up insulting rhymes about Erasmo Ramirez's name to notice anyway.
By the time the ninth inning came around, the A's were down 10-2. They'd given up two runs in the top of the inning, on another enormous home run and a walk/wild pitch. To win the game, the A's would need a miracle. Resorting to tired superstitions like rally caps or cheering was not going to inspire a comeback. We needed something dramatic, something punishing. Rally Mustard.
The concept of Rally Mustard was not a sophisticated or well-thought-out custom. It only came about because Christine was smart enough to bring in her own condiments to thwart the lines. Before Bobby Crosby was to bat, I explained the concept. Before each at-bat, you squirt a bunch of French's yellow mustard directly into your mouth. That creates good luck, as well as a tiny hole in your esophagus, and the A's ride the positive energy to victory. Sure enough, Bobby Crosby reached on an infield single. Next, our imminent heartburn inspired Mark Kotsay to draw a five-pitch walk. The potential tying run was a mere six batters away! Even Dustin, lifelong adversary of mustard, took a Rally squirt. Marco Scutaro grounded into what looked to be a double play, but the second baseman, possibly distracted by our foul breath, threw the ball away. A few more foul mouthfuls of mustard later, Eric Chavez drew a walk.
The eighty remaining fans began to stir. The Rangers changed pitchers. Giddy from mustardseed, I announced that if the A's got within four runs, we'd switch to dijon. Disastrously, after the Rangers changed pitchers, we changed tactics. If mustard was lucky, wouldn't a combined ketchup-and-mustard squirt be extra-lucky? The answer was no. The lazy sweetness of the ketchup neutralized the Rally spice of the mustard. Four pitches later, the game was over and the A's had lost.
On the BART ride home, we considered the lessons of Rally Mustard. Maybe we could tailor the Rally condiments for each hitter - Rally Salsa for Erubiel Durazo, Rally Mayonnaise for Scott Hatteberg, Rally Barbecue sauce for Jermaine Dye. Maybe the thwarted rally was our punishment for ignoring Dirty Harry's anti-ketchup wisdom. Maybe if we were sitting near the rangers bullpen, Doug Brocail would have snatched all our condiments and eaten them while he warmed up. And maybe Dustin had sacrificed his taste buds for the no damn reason, just because of alcohol and peer pressure. And when you think about it, isn't that the greatest Two Dollar Wednesday lesson of all?