A couple weeks back I introduced the first installment of a new feature here on Doin Work. Being a Northern California sports fan, I’ve seen more than my share of lousy games. Between the A’s, Raiders, Kings, and Warriors, I’ve endured my share of losing seasons. But there are a few games that stand out in my memory. Today, I’m bringing out the big gun. Quite possibly the greatest game I’ve ever witnessed, given the importance of it. I can probably count the number of professional sports playoff games I’ve been to on one hand. Most of them are A’s games. Although they’ve made it to the postseason more than most teams, it often has ended in disappointment. But not on this day in 2006…..
It was an overcast Thursday morning. I remember it clearly. We purchased tickets long in advance for this game, but no one in their right mind could’ve predicted the Athletics would come back from Minneapolis with a 2-0 lead on the Twins in the ALDS. After the two improbable victories, the team returned to Oakland with a chance to clinch. Now, any baseball fan knows that a potential series clinching game is no walk in the park for the A’s. They earned a reputation of not being able to close out series. Still, nothing could contain my excitement, for my A’s fandom may have been at an all-time high that season. After attending more than 25 home games that year, I felt like a part of the team. I still remember when I requested the day off from work. My boss said he’d get back to me, and I actually told him straight up, “Honestly, if you don’t give me the day off, I’m gonna quit. It’s that serious.” Ultimately he obliged, but out of good will I went and put in an hour or two of work just to knock a few things out. Around 8am, my friend Andy met up with me and we ventured across the Bay Bridge to Oakland for the big game.
The game was scheduled to start at 10am local time, due to there being two other more attractive games. Fortunately, I was up to the task of pregaming before most people were out of bed. I can’t recount the list of party favors we brought with us, but I can confirm there was a fifth of Jack Daniels and a 12 pack of beer between the two of us. You might know where this day is headed. Anyway, say what you will about the A’s attendance issues – they finished last in baseball last season – but this day was a sight to see. I won’t call the A’s fans fairweather, but it’s hard to get excited about a low budget team with fringe players taking the field everyday. In 2006 though, the team was firing on all cylinders and it carried them into the postseason full speed ahead.
I’ve got to be honest, the details of the game are a bit hazy. Dan Haren took the mound for the A’s, while Brad Radke made what ended up being his final career start for the Twins. The A’s seemed to be in control for much of the game, but the Twins kept it close and remained within striking distance, just enough to keep it interesting. Add to that the A’s propensity for blowing series clinching games, and this one had the capacity crowd on the edge of their seats. The artist formerly known as Eric Chavez put the A’s on the board with a solo home run in the 2nd inning, and Marco Scutaro doubled in Jay Payton later in the inning to give the A’s a 2-0 lead. (More from Scutaro later) The following inning, Milton Bradley hit a two run homer that scored Mark Kotsay, who reached on an error. With a 4-0 lead, the Athletics’ faithful could smell victory, but having had the scent wiped out of their nose before, were still optimistically cautious. Things started to get interesting when Torii Hunter smacked a line drive home run off Haren in the bottom of the 4th. The A’s continued to rack up hits, but couldn’t seem to push any baserunners across the plate to pad the lead. Rondell White notched an RBI single in the top of the 6th to cut the lead to 4-2 and the crowd started to feel that familiar feeling of a clinching game slipping away. The A’s went down in order in the bottom half of the inning, and then the Twins did the same the start the 7th. What would ensue in the bottom of the 7th though, is what would forever cement this game in Athletics folklore forever….
After two quick out against Denys Reyes, the A’s appeared headed to another scoreless inning. All of a sudden, it all fell apart for Reyes and the Twins. He intentionally walked Frank Thomas. Next, Eric Chavez drew a walk. Jay Payton reached base on an error and suddenly the bases were loaded and the A’s were in business with two outs. With the bases loaded and the fans in a frenzy, Nick Swisher drew a 7 pitch walk to score Thomas and give the A’s a 5-2 lead. Coming to the plate was the A’s most clutch hitter, Marco Scutaro, who had already driven in 3 key runs in the series. Words can’t describe the scene as he settled in the batter’s box with an opportunity to blow the game, and the series, open. The sellout crowd began the patented chant…. “MARCO….clap clap…..SCUTARO!!!” Now, I’ve heard crowds chant a player’s name in unison before, but it rarely ends in success. I remember being a little skeptical whether he could deliver under such pressurous circumstances. (Yes, I made that word up) Scutaro quickly fell behind in the count, 1-2. After fouling a couple pitches off, Mr. Clutch himself delivered the biggest hit I’ve ever witnessed in my life.
After that, the game was out of reach for Minnesota. An 8-2 lead would prove too much to overcome, and the A’s went on to win the game and clinch the series, earning a trip to Detroit to take on the Tigers for a chance to play in the World Series. We all know what happened in the ALCS that year, but nothing could take away from the feeling that fans left the Coliseum with on that October afternoon. If you were at the game, you might’ve seen Andy and I. We were the guys popping champagne in the ticket line buying our World Series tickets. I wish the postseason ended on a better note for the team, but nothing, NOTHING, can ever take away from that particular day at the ballpark. LET’S GO OAKLAND!!!!