Friday, July 07, 2006

Hidden Base Trick Inflames A's-Angels Rivalry

Thursday night Frank Thomas socked a walk-off home run to lead the Oakland Athletics to a 7-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. This type of drama has been typical in recent years for these American League West adversaries. However, the Big Hurt’s blast was not the only development to infuriate the Angels on Thursday. The Halos were livid when Oakland pulled the hidden base trick during Orlando Cabrera’s at-bats.

The Angels shortstop singled in the 5th and 7th innings to extend his streak of reaching base to 63 consecutive games. The streak is the longest in major league baseball since 1960, passing a 58-game stretch by Barry Bonds in 2003. Statistics on such streaks are incomplete before 1960, but the Elias Sports Bureau has Boston’s Ted Williams with the major league record at 84 straight games in 1949. Some may wonder how a record can be affirmed when statistics from that era are acknowledged to be incomplete. An Elias representative admitted, “Look, we’re praying that we don’t find some nobody who had more than 84. If we throw the name ‘Ted Williams’ out there, no one really questions it.”

Since Cabrera doubled off Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman on April 25, no opponent has managed to keep him off the bases for an entire game. However, the A’s devised a strategy to do just that. They put their plan into practice Thursday night whenever first base was unoccupied during a Cabrera at-bat. Oakland removed first base from the ground and hid it from Cabrera’s view, reasoning that he can’t reach base if he can’t find it.

The strategy seemed to work. Cabrera’s two hits came when first base was occupied, so the A’s could not remove it without the runner noticing. He was retired on the other three occasions. In the first inning, Angels manager Mike Scioscia screamed to the umpires that A’s first baseman Dan Johnson had stashed first base under his uniform. When questioned by the crew, the ridiculously bulging Johnson responded, “Noooo... I’m not hiding first base. I’m just… on steroids! Better test me after the game!”

The A’s gamesmanship was particularly brazen during Cabrera’s third inning at-bat. Oakland legend Rickey Henderson slid head-first into first base before pulling it out of the ground. Henderson held the base aloft while proclaiming, “I am the greatest base-stealer of all time!” Henderson then dashed off the field while announcing, “Rickey’s gonna take this bag to Cooperstown!” Amazingly, none of the umpires saw any of this.

The Angels had suspected that their division rivals might use devious tactics to halt Cabrera’s streak. The Halos kept a watchful eye on Oakland catcher Jason Kendall, who had charged the mound against Los Angeles pitcher John Lackey in an earlier matchup this season. A crafty old catcher himself, Scioscia warned Cabrera that Kendall might try to tie his shoes together while he stood in the batter’s box. With the Angels distracted by Kendall, the A’s apparently felt that they could easily pull off the shenanigans at first base.

Tonight the angry Angels will be particularly aware of the activities at first base. First base coach Alfredo Griffin will be on high alert, so the hidden base trick may not be available to the A’s. All-Star Oakland pitcher Barry Zito will have his hands full as he tries to stop Orlando Cabrera’s streak. Unlike the show on Fox, this version of “The O.C.” is not ready for a summer hiatus.