For Oakland, it’s players against players, not payroll against payroll

© John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

OAKLAND — Someone asked about payrolls, and the question was legitimate. The contention long has been that in cars, wine and ballplayers you mostly get what you pay for.

But this is baseball, a game of imperfection, a game where great pitchers occasionally get pounded and so-so hitters occasionally do the pounding.

A game where the Boston Red Sox, the champions, the wealthy, are struggling. And the Oakland Athletics, the bargain basement A’s, look like a million bucks.

“We don’t think payroll against payroll,” said Bob Melvin, the A’s manager, “and once you get on the field it’s just players against players.”

And on the Coliseum field Monday night, the A’s players were in control, with great pitching — a shutout 7-0 win — the usual key hitting, including another home run by Khris Davis and a remarkable defensive play, Ramon Laureano throwing a man out at the plate from center without a relay.

You know the ultimate phrase about wins or defeats this time year, only a week into a six-month season: “It’s early.” It is, but what’s happened as the A’s have won 4 of the 5 they’ve played in the U.S. (do they even have to count those two losses in Tokyo?) also is indicative.

The A’s are showing their strength at the plate, but also on the mound as well. It was Oakland’s No. 5 starter, Aaron Brooks, who allowed only two hits and a walk in six innings against a team loaded with people like Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts. A team that blew away the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series.

But also now a team that has lost four of its five games in the new season. A team the Boston papers say is suffering from an ailment the other 29 teams in the majors only wish they had, a World Series hangover.

When the Red Sox, the so-called “Old Towne Team,” come to Oakland, merely the Town, there’s normally a pack of Boston expatriates (as opposed to former New England footballers, who would be ex-Patriots) filling the Coliseum and chanting and cheering for the Sox.

But whether it was because it was a Monday, when even across the Bay at Oracle Park the Giants' crowds are relatively small, or because there was an hour of rain at about 3 p.m., when the infield had to be tarped, or because Red Sox fans have had too much of a good thing and now are bored, virtually no fans of either team entered the stadium.

The announced attendance was 12,417, which was embarrassing and belied the pre-game observation by Melvin, who when asked if it were “just another game” answered, “I think anytime you get a full house or a big crowd it brings a little more energy. Our fans tend to get into it some, and it certainly inspires us.”

Then, Bay Area native and A’s manager that he is — and Giants catcher that he was — Melvin offered a warning. “I don’t know on a Monday night with rain there would be a packed house. But you know you’re going to have to play well to beat them.”

Which is exactly what the A’s did, Davis hitting his fifth home run in the first seven games of a season, equaling an Oakland record held by Mark McGwire (1992) and Reggie Jackson (1974).

“I stay up night and try to think of more superlatives,” said Melvin about trying to describe Khris. “He’s amazing. It’s not just that he keeps hitting them. He hits them when you need them. Against these guys (the Red Sox), the home runs were big.”

Laureano, Chad Pinder and Matt Chapman also homered. Bash Brothers redux.

Melvin gulped when Laureano’s throw overshot the cutoff man and flew to catcher Nick Hundley. Then he exhaled and grinned.

“That throw was huge,” said the manager. “It’s like a three-point shot. No, no, no. yeah. It’s a tie game (0-0) and then it’s not, but (Bogaerts) is out at the plate, and it’s still tied. Then after Khris, Laureano homers. He impacted the game on both sides, offense and defense.”

No, no, no, yeah.