Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Sonny Gray; Colin Kaepernic/Russell Wilson/R.G. Griffin/Andrew Luck; Terrelle Pryor/Matt Flynn; Jeff Tedford/Sonny Dykes; Condolezza Rice
THE A’S could wrap up the Division Series with a win in Detroit this afternoon, further puzzling the media from the Midwest and East who can’t figure them out.
I can sympathize, partially, because the A’s are a collection of largely unknown players, and some real surprises. Josh Donaldson, who might be their most valuable player, is a converted catcher who has become an excellent fielding third baseman as well as a great clutch hitter. Sean Doolittle was a first baseman who is now thriving in short relief. Brandon Moss was an outfielder who had bounced around with little success but he’s become an integral part of the A’s offense, whether he’s playing first base or in the outfield.
Still, you’d think the fact that the A’s season record was second only to the Boston Red Sox in the American League and that every month of the season was a winning one might have had some impact on the thinking of those outside the area, but no, the Eastern/Midwestern media was certain the Tigers combination of hitting and pitching would be too much for the A’s, even though the A’s had put on a great offensive show in their last season’s series in Detroit.
Nothing fazes this bunch, though. They’re like a bunch of fraternity kids, loose as a goose under pressure, and they just keep winning.
One thing hasn’t changed: Like the earlier A’s champions, they have outstanding pitching and home run hitters. Moss hit 30 this year, Donaldson had 27, Yoenis Cespedes 26 though he had a disappointing year overall, Coco Crisp had a career high 22.
They hit home runs off everybody, too. Yesterday, they were facing the league’s ERA leader, Anibal Sanchez, who had given up only nine homers all year and never more than one in a game. The A’s got three, by Moss, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith, and knocked Sanchez out in the fifth inning.
The first two games of this series were tense pitcher’s duels, with Detroit winning the first, the A’s taking the second, 1-0, behind rookie Sonny Gray, who looks like a great pitcher in the making. A big part of that was probably the fact that both teams had had several days off after clinching spots. Layoffs tend to hurt hitters, who lose their timing. But, the A’s clearly had their timing back yesterday.
The Oakland Coliseum was packed for the first two games, with the tarps taken off, and will be if there’s a fifth game here on Friday.
The one flaw in the ointment is that it’s an old facility with none of the conveniences of the new parks, like AT&T. It’s a reminder that Lew Wolff could have had a new park in Oakland when conditions were favorable and sites were available, despite his claims to the contrary. But, he has never wavered from his quixotic wish for San Jose.
The latest turn in this saga was San Jose’s lawsuit against MLB but that seems to be going nowhere after U.S. District Court Judge Ronald M. Whyte expressed doubts last week that the suit had any merit.
What was especially interesting to me was that the judge noted that San Jose could not claim any damage because the site for which Wolff has been given an option is worth four times the price he would have to pay. If I were a San Jose resident, which fortunately I am not, I’d be asking why the city doesn’t just sell that land since getting a team for that site is such a far-fetched dream.
THE 49ERS seem to have their mo-jo back. Of course, it helped in their last game that Houston quarterback Matt Schaub can’t seem to distinguish between his receivers and opposing defensive backs. For an NFL record fourth straight game, Schaub threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Credit defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with realizing that Schaub wasn’t going to throw deep and putting an extra pass defender into the box. For a veteran quarterback, Schaub seems to have great difficulty reading defenses, and that failing is taking the Texans right out of the playoff race.
The 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, didn’t do much, either, completing just six of 15 passes. At least, I don’t think he had much of a night but I haven’t heard from any writers what his quarterback rating was, which seems to be how writers decide how a quarterback has done. Apparently, they’re no longer able to see what’s happening on the field.
It’s interesting that the three quarterbacks who were successful both passing and running last season – Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and R. G. Griffin – are all much less effective this year. That’s what happens in the NFL. In the offseason, defensive coordinators all studied what these three were doing and have come up with ways to combat them.
Meanwhile, Andrew Luck, a more conventional quarterback, has continued an incredible run with nine fourth quarter comebacks for wins though he’s just five games into his second season. Luck has both the physical skills and the mental awareness a top quarterback needs. He only runs when his receivers are covered and he sees an opening, and he generally has a good gain when he does it.
Kaepernick has had only one reliable veteran wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, and he’s also clearly had problems reading defenses. He may get help fairly soon, because it appears that both Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham will be back by mid-November from injuries, but Kaepernick’s main problem seems to be that he only looks for one receiver. If that receiver is covered, he doesn’t know what to do.
Meanwhile, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman isn’t even calling on Kaepernick to run because he realizes that opposing defenses are set up to stop him. He isn’t an elusive runner but his speed is deceptive because of his long strides. Last season, he was often past defenders before they realized what was happening. They’re ready for him this year.
When he threw for more than 400 yards in the opener against Green Bay, it seemed he was ready for a big year, but he really hasn’t played well since. I’ve never been convinced that Kaepernick was the long term answer for the 49ers, and I haven’t seen anything this season to change my mind.
MEANWHILE, THE Raiders got Tyrelle Pryor back and that was enough for them to beat the San Diego Chargers. So, they’re 2-3 but nearly beat the Colts in Indianapolis in their opener and, I’m sure, could have beaten the Redskins if they’d had Pryor, who was out because of a concussion. They won’t be in the playoffs but they’re definitely on the way back.
General manager Reggie McKenzie cut his losses by releasing Matt Flynn, who had been brought in after Carson Palmer was traded to Arizona because of his contract. Flynn has gotten two lucrative deals, from Seattle and the Raiders, because of one big game he had coming off the bench, but he lost his starting job in training camp each time. His one start for the Raiders showed why. He seems to have no awareness of where the pass rush is, and he’s not able to ever evade it. Since he doesn’t have a strong arm…He should take his money and retire.
Pryor, though, has been a pleasant surprise. He has always had a lot of athletic ability but he had to unlearn some habits from his college career at Ohio State, where he could make plays against much weaker defenses just because of his athletic ability. He had to realize he couldn’t do that against pro defenses which are better and faster, and his decision-making has greatly improved. So has his passing accuracy as he has learned what he can do and, equally important, what he can’t do. I think he’ll continue to improve and take the Raiders with him. They certainly won’t make the playoffs this season but they’re not the desperate team they were last year.
And now, maybe the media critics will finally let up. I’ve had a hard time believing how some of these guys could be so critical of McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen when they knew what a mess Al Davis had left behind. It was like coming into a house which had been thoroughly trashed, windows broken, garbage strewn all over the floor, and expecting it to look great overnight.
Meanwhile, there was a story last week that Mark Davis had visited a site in Concord and said it would be a good place to build a new stadium. And, who’s going to pay for that? Concord? I don’t think so. The Davis family doesn’t have that kind of money, either. Mark needs to get real. If he wants his team to play in a new stadium, the Raiders need to move into the 49ers new stadium in Santa Clara, which is set up for dual tenants. The Giants and Jets are now on their second shared stadium in New Jersey. If they can do it, there’s no reason the 49ers and Raiders can’t.
AFTER THE Ohio State game, when the Buckeyes had so many fans who had traveled west with them that it seemed their game against the Bears was on a neutral site, I wondered what would happen when Cal played a team without such a devout following.
On Saturday, I got my answer. Washington State had only a few fans scattered through the stands in the south end where visiting fans sit. Otherwise that whole area was deserted.
I can’t speak for the seats on the west side of the stadium. From the front row of the press box, where I sit, I can’t see them. In fact, I can’t see the nearest 10 yards of the field without standing up. The stadium architects did a marvelous job with the stadium as a whole but it has by far the worst press box arrangement in the area. Stanford’s new stadium has a much better press box but even the older stadiums, Candlestick and the Oakland Coliseum are superior. I love the Coliseum press box because it’s close to the stands and you can feel the excitement. And, of course, the AT&T press box is the best for baseball that I’ve ever been in.
The bad press box arrangements are not likely to affect me for the rest of the season, which will probably be night games. I can now get the oh-so-wonderful Pac12 network on my system, so I can watch however much I want to of the Bears on TV. That probably won’t be much because I don’t really see any hope that Cal will win another game.
But, I don’t blame the coaches. As I’ve pointed out many times, no coach wins with bad players. The Bears didn’t have much, beyond two outstanding young quarterbacks, Jared Goff and Zack Kline, and they’ve had significant injuries since on defense, where they really couldn’t afford it.
Of course, Jeff Tedford had the same problems last year but the lynch mob got to him. Tedford got blindsided in recruiting because neither the weak UC administration nor the Berkeley politicians, who are more concerned about Syria than local politics, were willing to get rid of the outrageous tree sitters. Parents accompanying potential recruits saw that ugly scene and told their sons they were not coming here.
So, athletic director Sandy Barbour listened to the unhappy alums and fired Tedford, bringing in Sonny Dykes and his go-go offense. After the first game, a close loss to Northwestern, an alum wrote me and said he’d never been so excited at a game.
Apparently, he’d forgotten the first game Tedford coached at Cal, when the Bears scored on a long touchdown pass on the first play and had a 42-0 halftime lead over Baylor. That seemed pretty exciting to me.
Tedford went on to set a modern record for consecutive winning seasons for a Cal coach in modern times. None of that was enough for the lynch mob who went after him, or for Barbour, who listened to them.
I certainly hope they’re enjoying the excitement this year.
CONDOLEZZA RICE is on the selection committee for the NCAA playoffs. No surprise. She’s always been a football fan and has often said her dream job would be as NFL commissioner
I first became aware of her passion for football when she became provost at Stanford in 1993. Shortly after that, the word in the athletic director’s office was “What does Condi think of this?”
She spoke to a group of writers in 1995 when Stanford was looking for a new football coach and told them she wanted the athletic department to consider minority candidates. Shortly after that, Tyrone Willingham was hired.
I hadn’t been at that press gathering but I had read about it and wrote e that Willingham had been hired because of her statement. She called me to deny that she’d said that and then called The Chronicle to demand a retraction.
Looking through back issues of The Chronicle – no Google then! – I couldn’t find the story, so the retraction was run. Shortly after that, my son discovered the story. It had been in the Sunday paper, which The Examiner ran.
I called Condolezza and told her, and she apologized. But, she never called The Chronicle.
Despite that shaky start, we had a good relationship for the rest of her time. We had a one-on-one before Willingham’s first season and she explained that, because of the difficulties she had faced because of her race, she was sympathetic to him. After the season, we had another one-on-one and she told me she thought I’d been fair to Willingham with my columns on Stanford football.
In fact, I thought Willingham did a good job at Stanford, and that it was a real mistake for him to leave for Notre Dame because he wasn’t comfortable dealing with the media and Notre Dame is treated like an NFL team. In an ESPN interview, the woman interviewing me said, “I haven’t heard that from anybody else.” So? I never did run with the herd. Willingham had some initial success at Notre Dame but soon fell victim to the pressure and was fired.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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