The A's little secret? They don't have time for nonsense
ANAHEIM, Calif. – The day after the Baltimore Orioles' third baseman had gone a little nutty on them, the Oakland A's got wind of his apology, briefly measured it for depth, and moved along.
"As I said in the Frieri matter, words are words," A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "You have to go out there and prove something. Every day."
Ah, the Frieri matter. That would be Ernesto Frieri, who often pitches the ninth inning for the Los Angeles Angels. He'd suggested to reporters Sunday, even as the A's were disentangling themselves from Manny Machado's psychedelic weekend, that the A's were capable, sure, but also somewhat, ohhhh, let's say fortunate. And no matter how Frieri intended those sentiments, they'd become a headline, and the headline showed up in a newspaper, and that newspaper, as of Monday afternoon, lay open to the very page on a table in the visitors' clubhouse at Angel Stadium.
Now, Frieri is a nice young man who isn't prone to incendiary public comments. (Frieri struck out the side – Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes – in the ninth inning Monday night in the Angels' 4-1 win. "I didn't mean to offend anybody," he said. "I meant to show confidence in my team.")
Over the previous three days, however, the A's, the American League's best team and a marvel of right-men-for-the-job and run differential and strike-throwing and count-working and just plain gettin' after it, had been messed with on a ball field and then in the newspapers. So, frankly, they just weren't in the mood.
They endure the same conversations every year now, about how they turn so many anonymous characters into so many wins. They play along and then win the AL West and then, for better or worse, make another go of October. That hasn't changed much, even as the AL leaderboards insist that the anonymity is not their fault, but everyone else's.
"You mean, besides the fact we have really good players?" Donaldson asked with a wry smile.
There is something else, though. Something more. You could see it this weekend in Baltimore, when Machado was flinging his helmet and heaving his bat and having his .235 batting average guide his mood swings. The A's didn't get so carried away by it. For the most part, they stood bemused by Machado, the 21-year-old who, for three clumsy days, drew the line at being tagged out or pitched to with an edge or quite fairly tamped. A wonderful player who doesn't have his big-boy muscles yet, Machado should be thankful for that. Instead of overreacting, the A's won the series. Instead of seeking grand retribution, a course that might have had them counting league-mandated casualties any day, they skipped out to the next town, the next series, leaving Machado to explain what possessed him (in addition to facing suspension).
"We don't have the time to worry about things that don't matter," said catcher Derek Norris, who had taken a couple of Machado's unrepentant follow-throughs to the forehead.
That said, he added, "I knew that once he left the ballpark and saw the replays and saw the reaction … if you have any kind of heart you would feel remorse for what happened."
For how it really looked, Norris said, and "not how it was perceived in his head."
Donaldson sat in the clubhouse with a bat in his hand. He watched the early innings of the Orioles' game against the Boston Red Sox. When Machado appeared in a pre-recorded apology/explanation bit, Donaldson got up and walked away. That was so yesterday. Depending on your preferred statistics, Donaldson has been the league's best player through 2 ½ months. As of today, he'd start the All-Star Game alongside Derek Jeter on the left side of the infield. He was fourth in the last MVP balloting. (He did, however, endure one of his more trying games Monday against the Angels, going hitless in four at-bats and committing three throwing errors.) He's a tough guy who didn't become a big-league regular until he was 27 and plays the game as if it could all be gone tomorrow, which is why a hissy-fitting 21-year-old wouldn't occupy much of his brain space.
Machado is their problem. Or his own problem. Whatever. What he is not is the A's problem. Not anymore.
"It takes a long time to go out there and earn a reputation in this game," Donaldson pondered. "And it takes a very short time to ruin it."
Donaldson is working on the former, as are the A's. He has a career to manage, one day at a time. They have a third consecutive division title to win, one game at a time. The rest – what other people do or say – doesn't seem to bother them. It hasn't yet. And maybe that's the little bit, yeah, besides the fact they have really good players, that makes them better.
"We're trying to get in the playoffs," Donaldson said. "We're not trying to do anything to miss games. … There's a bigger picture here for this team.
"We're trying to win the game. Then we're trying to win the next game."
It seems simple enough. But then other teams get fouled up in who is playing where or hitting where or getting enough at-bats or defining their roles, and other players get run off their game by a good, hard tag, and the A's seem to remain fixated on the same thing: the final score.
And if, along the way, the game finds it needs to remind you of that, Donaldson said, "You take it like a man. If you have that big of a problem with it, you go out to the mound."
"I just hope something's been learned from this," he said.
Because, really, they don't have the time or the energy for it.