SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Exhibition games are baseball in reverse. “You get the starters their work,” said Bob Melvin, the A’s manager, “and then it’s time for the young guys to finish and get the win.”
Which is exactly what happened Monday for Oakland. Against the Giants.
And yes, even down here in the desert, even in the Cactus League, that means something. It’s about status. And reputation. And the ballpark the Giants have, AT&T in San Francisco, and the ballpark the A’s are desperate to get in Oakland.
So, yes, the whole idea of spring training is the training, the work and improvement needed for the regular season. And on an afternoon that was all too much like one by the Bay — cool and rainy (the lights at Scottsdale Stadium were on before the 1:05 p.m. first pitch) — both clubs were satisfied they got in that work.
But the A’s had to be more satisfied than the Giants. They got a 5-4 win when Albert Suarez walked Adam Rosales with the bases loaded in the top of the eighth, after the Giants had come back from 4-0 to tie. And there went San Francisco’s unbeaten record. The Giants are now 3-1; the A’s 1-2.
Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija gave up a first-inning home run, as if he cared. Did that bother you, Jeff, someone wondered. “No.” Sorry.
Samardzija was concerned with the split-finger pitch missing early on in 2015, something to balance his fastball. “First time out,” he said. “I’m ahead of last year. I learned my lesson.”
Said Giants manager Bruce Bochy of Samardzija: “Obviously, we think he’s important. We gave him a long-term contract. We certainly hope it will pay off. It did last year.”
Kendall Graveman was the Oakland starter. He went only one inning, giving up a walk to Buster Posey and a double to Hunter Pence but no runs, which, of course, counts big time.
“I made the pitches when I had to,” Graveman. “Put up the zero. Cactus League or regular season, that’s something we pride ourselves at, stopping the other team.”
Melvin, popularly known as “BoMel,” grew up in Menlo Park, went to Cal and played for the Giants. Now, he manages the team at the other end of the Bay Bridge, and you know these games hardly are meaningless to him. He seemed particularly delighted with the A’s victory.
“You get excited the way we played,” he said.
The A’s are coming off a losing season, but with a new president, Dave Kaval, someone emphasizing stability and with the hope of Sonny Gray making it through without getting injured, there is a degree of hope.
Sports Illustrated ranked the major league teams from one to 30, or 30 to one, and naturally the San Diego Padres, everyone’s kicking can are last. But the A’s are placed 24th, ahead of Cincinnati, ahead of Milwaukee, ahead of the Chicago White Sox even.
That’s because of the Oakland pitching, and Graveman’s performance Monday did nothing to counter that proposal.
The Giants are ranked No. 10, which is a bit of a surprise. San Francisco also has pitching, but very little power. Not a bit of a surprise is that the Cubs, the World Series champs, are first.
San Francisco, however, may not be that good if Johnny Cueto doesn’t show. The pitcher has been at home in the Dominican Republic trying to get a visa for his ailing father to come with him to America.
In baseball, if it’s not one thing it’s another.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.