For A’s, a stadium empty of fans but full of bad memories

© Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

OAKLAND — An empty stadium, but too full of memories. Virtually nobody in the stands, except workers, but plenty of villains in the mind.

A new opponent, but an old obstacle.

The Oakland Athletics are back in wild-card agony, a place they could only wish was mythical but now seems as real as well, their historic failures.

This time it’s the Chicago White Sox who have flummoxed the A’s. At least they did it Tuesday, 4-1, on what other than the result was a beautiful afternoon at the Coliseum.

Yes, because of what Covid-19 did to baseball, the wild cards are now best-of-three, not just one sudden-death. But what makes you think things will change?

Two years ago, the Yankees beat the A’s in the wild card. Last year, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the A’s in the wild card. So even if those were one-game, winner-take-all setups, why will 2020 be any different?

A long time ago, 2002 if memory serves, Billy Beane, then as now the A’s executive in charge, called the playoffs a crapshoot, Which, in a sense, they are.

In a normal year, a team plays 162 games, and then, whoop, it runs up against a good pitcher or a bad break and is eliminated.

On Tuesday, the good pitcher was the White Sox’ Lucas Giolito.

A month earlier, Giolito pitched a no-hitter against the Pirates. On Tuesday, he pitched a perfect game for six innings against the A’s. No runs, no hits, no nothing, except frustration. Hard to overcome perfection.

Giolito was the fifth pitcher to be perfect through at least five innings in the postseason. One of those, Don Larsen, in 1956 completed the only perfect game in World Series history.

That’s when the Yankees were unbeatable, which is what the A’s opponents in the postseason have been, with one exception — that magnificent run of the ’72-’73-’74 World Series.

Much was made how the White Sox hit well against left-handed pitchers, such as A’s starter Jesus Luzardo — and in the second, Adam Engel, and in the fifth, Jose Abreu, homered off Luzardo.

But lefty or righty, it doesn’t make much difference when your own lineup can’t even get a runner on base, which the A’s were unable to do until Tommy LaStella led off the seventh with a single.

Pitching wins, and in a short schedule, such as the playoffs, pitching invariably is the difference.

“Unreal. Unreal to watch. Unreal to be behind him,” a perhaps overly enthusiastic Sox shortstop Tim Anderson said of Giolito. Then again, the White Sox didn’t figure to get where they are. The A’s were a World Series pick.

“He put the work in,” said Anderson. “When you set yourself apart to put the work in and want to be a superstar, you want to be that dominant. The work is showing. Happy for him and hopefully he can keep it up and continue to grow as a player and as a person. He’s our guy. I expect nothing but that from him.”

Luzardo was A’s manager Bob Melvin’s guy Tuesday, and now in nothing less than a must-win game Wednesday — Oakland loses, and its season is done — the guy is Chris Bassitt.

“That’s the way we’ve been here for a while now,” said Melvin. “We wanted a series. We lost the first game of it. Now it’s time for us to respond. We’re going to have to do more offensively. We can’t score one run and think that we’re going to win and put that much pressure on the starter.”

Unless the starter comes through like Giolito. No runs, no hits, no runners for six innings is not only the way to win games but to win titles.