Friday marked the sixth time Bleacher Report and I have been welcomed into the press box at the Oakland Coliseum. My five previous trips were all stellar experiences, but this one felt different the minute I crossed the parking lot's threshold.
Generally when I arrive around 3:30 pm, the lot is dotted with one hand's worth of early birds. Today, the number was closer to triple digits.
Barbecues were in full smoke, games of catch featuring both footballs and baseballs were breaking out, and there was a general air of festivity hanging over the scene.
Once inside the stadium, the special atmosphere only got thicker.
More than a few t-shirts amongst the media members had been replaced by suits and ties, glitterati from the Bay Area press were out in full force, and there was even a cluster of representatives from a Chinese television station that were clearly there for the spectacle and nothing else.
When you're pulling dudes to a baseball game who have to ask what a perfect game is, you know you're a big deal.
To remove any doubt that the day was unique, Oakland manager Bob Geren was downright jovial in his session with the media. Heretofore, I'd only seen a no-nonsense version face the barrage of questions.
This time, however, he was hamming it up with Kate Longworth of CSN Bay Area and kidding around with other reporters in the pool.
Sure, the pregame ceremony celebrating Dallas Braden's perfect game had something to do with the warm-fuzzies.
The southpaw was already popular with Oakland Athletic fans, but he vaulted into "adored" status following the stout defense of his pitching mound from the onrushing hordes (yes, a juiced up Alex Rodriguez counts as a horde). Consequently, the perfecto he twirled on Mother's Day launched him into even more cherished territory.
So more than a few of the faithful were there to see the home team honor Stockton's favorite son. Furthermore, baseball history typically puts a smile on the organization that authors it.
Nevertheless, this was more about the main event—the first game of the 2010 Bay Bridge Series between the A's and their cross-Bay rivals, the San Francisco Giants.
For many baseball aficionados in the City and Oakland, this is as good as it gets on a diamond.
Major League Baseball's Northern Californian constituents have met 74 times since Interleague play began and rarely fail to deliver a tense, exciting game. To that end, familiarity has only nurtured contempt bred by the 1989 Bay Bridge World Series—at least as far as the fans are concerned.
The green and gold leads the regular season confrontations with a 39-35 record as it does the postseason meetings (13-5). All is not gloom and doom for the Orange and Black, though, as it has taken seven of the last eight contests, so it's a nip/tuck type affair.
The current iteration promises to bring more of the same.
Both franchises come into the series deploying a similar formula to win—superlative pitching, solid defense (better than that in Oaktown's case), and timely hitting. If matchups make a metaphoric fight, this three-gamer should be a bloody knuckle war of attrition because both sides have had success with the approach.
Granted, some of the attrition has already started as the pair comes in scuffling.
San Francisco has fallen all the way to third place in the National League West, courtesy of a recent jag that's seen the fellas lose eight of their last 13 games and three of four. As has been the case all year, los Gigantes had a devil of a time navigating local waters—dropping six of those eight to NL West foes in the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Meanwhile, the smell emanating from the Elephants' dugout is no sweeter.
The Athletics have eaten L's in seven of their last nine trips to the yard, including two straight after a couple of victories over the Seattle Mariners broke a five-game slide. Coincidentally, all five were against American League West opponents.
In other words, it was the classic "something's got to give" scenario.
Give it did as the Athletics touched up a resurgent Barry Zito.
The Junior Circuit reps used some very well-placed, bloop doubles to conjure up a trio of runs in the bottom of the third inning and didn't look back from there. The Gents' lefty pitched well before tiring in the seventh, but the knocks came in bunches and the result was a six-spot on the scoreboard before he hit the showers.
Ex-Giant Rajai Davis, who tipped his hand early with a loud batting practice, was the main culprit. The speedster landed the most crippling of the bloopers in the third, stole third base, and notched a sacrifice fly to plate the third of his three RBI from the No. 9 hole.
On the mound, a suffocating blend of Trevor Cahill, Brad Ziegler, and Craig Breslow kept the San Francisco lumber in check—an increasingly easy task at the moment. In fairness, the visiting offense did manage to bang out eight hits.
Alas, the Oakland hurlers were able to sprinkle the damage harmlessly throughout the nine frames (only John Bowker tallied a run for SF) and secure a much-needed W.
In so doing, the home team tied a neat bow on an ideal evening for the organization.
And it ruined one for the San Francisco Giants.