The Pennant Race Piñata

When it comes to dashing Mariner hopes, the anonymous A's have it.

Had Gertrude Stein lived to 132, instead of saying about Oakland, "There isn't any 'there' there," she might have said, "There isn't any 'them' there." It would have been a reference to the perennially anonymous Oakland Athletics. Is this a baseball lineup or a police lineup? At least with the latter, one participant presumably is familiar to the observer. But as soon as someone on the A's is identifiable in public (Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Mark Mulder, et al.), he's shipped off— replaced with some well-nourished sapling named Scutaro, Kielty, Kotsay, or Swisher.

The A's generally don't hit, steal, or bunt; it's a wonder their base runners even take leads. But all they do most years is win, especially when they play Seattle, as was the case during this past weekend's sweep at Safeco Field. As usual, the A's played and the Mariners played along, losing 5-2, 5-2, and 7-6. The middle game featured Joel Pineiro scattering hittable pitches like candy from a paper-mâché donkey, hence our nickname for the once-promising right-hander. The Piñata tossed 76 balls to get eight outs, which projects to what seems like about 600 pitches for a nine-inning game.

At least Friday's loss was to Barry Zito, one of maybe four Oakland names known outside of the A's clubhouse. (Granted, you've probably heard of third-sacker Eric Chavez.) Possibly Oakland execs know there's much to be gained from anonymity: With few big names, the A's are never taken very seriously, not even by the Mariners, even though the M's now have lost 12 of 13 to Oakland this year. The good news: Seattle only has six more games to lose to the A's by season's end.

The weekend sweep left Seattle six and a half games back in what some have called a four-team race for: (a) the American League West pennant and (b) first-round playoff elimination. But even Seattle's most reliable guys didn't come through against Oakland. Ichiro (or "ITCH-uh-row," as ex-field-general-cum-FOX-announcer Sweet Lou Piniella still calls him) picked an ill-timed stretch of the schedule to quit hitting. And the newly acquired designated hitter platoon—Eduardo Perez and Ben Broussard—is proving that former dinosaur-doubter Carl Everett isn't the only DH who can't drive in runs.

The good news for the M's is that they're poised for a better future, especially up the middle at catcher, shortstop, second base, and (maybe) center field. Their starting pitching is too spotty for a pennant run, but the bullpen is tough and young. Mark Lowe, who's hit 102 on the radar gun, hadn't given up an earned run through nearly 15 innings at press time. So far, few have heard of him—it's a wonder that he isn't with the A's.

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