Dallas Keuchel has a long history pitching against the A's in Oakland. The Chicago White Sox's Game 2 starter in the AL Wild Card Series has appeared in 10 games (nine starts) in Oakland and is 2-4 with a 3.32 ERA. But he never has pitched in an atmosphere like this in The Town.
Keuchel has pitched 12 playoff games, none against the A's. That will end Wednesday, but the bigger storyline in his eyes is toeing the rubber with cardboard cutouts staring at him instead of raucous A's fans. The veteran lefty believes having playoff games without fans can make a huge difference for the away team, especially the young White Sox.
“I think one of the things that really helps a lot of guys right now is the fact that there’s no fans in the stands," Keuchel said Tuesday ahead of the White Sox's 4-1 win over the A's in Game 1. "There’s no third party, there’s no exterior noises -- things that can get in your head and kind of make that nerve-wracking experience even more nerve-wracking.
"… I do think the lack of fans have helped out a lot of guys.”
The White Sox started two rookies -- Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal, who combined to go 1-for-8 -- in their Game 1 win. Their whole starting lineup, aside from DH Yasmani Grandal, made their playoff debuts. Would Lucas Giolito have carried a perfect game into the seventh inning if 50,000 screaming A's fans packed the Coliseum and banged on drums as he paced along the mound? Would Jose Abreu have looked like the AL MVP in his first postseason game with boos raining down on him?
We'll never know. But part of Keuchel wishes we could know.
The A's set a wild-card record last year when 54,005 attended the AL Wild Card Game between the Tampa Bay Rays and A's in Oakland. It wound up not helping the A's too much as they lost 5-1. However, as someone with a history pitching in Oakland, Keuchel couldn't help but watch from afar as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
"This park always brings a different atmosphere than the usual park," Keuchel said. "I think back at my time with Houston, even with the dome at Minute Maid Park I think 10,000 fans here just seems different. I was trying to get a grasp of how the wild-card game was noise-wise last year against Tampa Bay because I haven’t seen 40,000, 50,000 fans in the stands here.
"I would have liked to have gotten a taste of what it felt like, how the stadium was rocking."
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The heat will be on Keuchel, as well as A's Game 2 starter Chris Bassitt on Wednesday afternoon. Win and the White Sox advance. Another loss would continue playoff heartbreak for the A's, bringing up more offseason questions for a team that has a load of regular-season success in recent years.
The playoffs are here, but home-field advantage is not. Keuchel knows his squad must take advantage of the opportunity in Oakland.
"One part of me enjoys this for some of our guys like I mentioned before with no fans, but I wish that some of the guys on the team would get to feel what it would be like for 40 or 50,000 here," Keuchel said.