Relaxed and ready for Game 1
Tomorrow night is going to be a lot of fun, not just for us, but for the crowd. We?ve had a lot of great fans over the seven seasons I?ve been here, and they?ve been there with us every step of the way, from us getting eliminated in the first round 2000 through 2003 to crickets for us the next two years, missing the playoffs, up to now. They?ve been with us the whole time, and now that we have the tarps up there covering the upper deck, they really have to make an effort to get tickets. It?s not like in 2002 where we had empty seats up there; that was a tough feeling seeing that for Game 5 of the ALDS. But it?s good that the fans can get back here for this. We?ve got a lot of love for the fans on our team, and I?m sure the fans can sense the relationships that we have and the characters we have, and they get involved in all that.
I think the tarps kind of have added to the whole intimacy thing here. The first two levels that are open to the fans kind of make it feel like they?re a little bit more on top of the game, not just dispersed intermittently across this whole football stadium. It?s been something that?s cool. I?m sure it?s an experiment for ownership, and I?m sure they know what they?re doing. If they were going to make money or lose money either way, I don?t think that mattered. I think it was more about testing a true baseball atmosphere, and it?s pretty exciting. Not to say I wouldn?t love more fans here in the upper deck, but if we can go as far as the World Series, they might consider taking off the tarps.
Today, I was asked about clubhouse chemistry in my press conference and how it?s changed. It?s kind of tough to really put your finger on a tangible difference between different teams, because you have so many different personalities brought into the mix. I can say overall that the consistency in the team dynamic has always been that we?re nice and loose, we?re relaxed. Billy Beane sets the tone for having kind of a pressure-free environment. He?s not this suit who?s going to come down to the locker room and grill guys and get on them and make big scenes and let everyone know what?s expected of the team.
But you can look at a couple different personalities on the team, like Mark Kotsay, who?s an outspoken leader on the field and off the field. He?s a great leader on the field. And then you have Jason Kendall, who?s one of the most die-hard, hard-nosed players in the league, and just the true grit that he shows every day. And you can look at a guy like Frank Thomas, a Hall of Fame guy who really leads by example and gives us all something to strive for. He gives us all a reason to work a little harder to be a little better, and maybe one day we can be in his shoes after 16 or 17 years. You look at Milton Bradley, a guy who brings fire to the game. There?s been some confrontations and controversies and some hype and everything about Milton, but the bottom line is that he brings a flair we haven?t had in Oakland. Eric Byrnes had some flair, but Milton has some flair in a different way, and I think he plays with a little anger, too. I think that fires us up. That?s something Milton shows us. He channels that anger by going out and hitting and making great catches and great throws in right field. It?s just a good mix in the clubhouse. Like I said, a lot of characters, and a lot of fun.
I?m really happy for Marco Scutaro right now. Scooter?s been our ringer. He?s been able to do it all over the diamond at different times, and whenever we?ve needed him, he?s been there for us. And more than being a solid backup, he?s just really come through in the clutch. The other teams sees this No. 8 or No. 9 hitter coming up, and that probably relaxes them a little bit, but Scooter just comes through, whether it?s against K-Rod or any other huge closer in the game, he just gets it done. And what he did against the Twins just shows you that the guy honestly believes he?s a huge part of our success, and he believes that he?s a great player and that he can contribute. ? He?s real funny, too. He does a lot of funny voices, and he kind of does parodies of himself and other players in the clubhouse, and he really kind of entertains us. He?s not really Latin even though he?s from Venezuela because his Dad is from Italy and his Mom?s Spanish, but with a lot of Latin guys, with the language barrier, they don?t get a chance to really blossom and show guys their true personalities. Whereas Scooter?s given us a full impression of himself. It took him a couple of years to settle in, but not he?s a huge part of the clubhouse, and he really keeps us loose, just like Kotsay.
As for me and my preparation, having a little bit longer between starts isn?t a big deal at all. My preparation has been the same. I?ve just thrown a couple extra bullpens since we had the extra days, but I?m just real focused on how good I can be on every pitch. And if I just focus on every pitch, I might find myself out there still in the seventh or eighth innings. I?ve pitched in rain delays in Cleveland — pretty bad ones — and I?ve gotten knocked off my routine a lot. I?ve pitched on three days rest. It?s just another start like any, and my arm feels good, and I think that?s all that matters.
I faced the Tigers once this year, early, back when I was good-bad, good-bad, that kind of thing. It was good. They?re definitely a great hitting team. They play small ball, they hit-and-run, they steal, they?ll bunt, and they?ll do situational hitting when they have to, hitting the ball to the right side and sac flies. So they?re tough. They?re not just out there swinging for the fences; you can always pitch to those teams a little easier. They?re gonna put the ball in play and they?re gonna put up a lot of hits, so you just need the defense to come out and play well like they?ve been playing.
You can?t ever pitch to their weaknesses. I kind of fell into that a little bit in 2004, when I was struggling a little bit, trying to really manufacture good outings instead of just letting them happen. I started to out-think myself, watching way too much tape on guys, things like that. If I stick with my strengths, which is what got me here to the big leagues and got me the Cy Young, nothing else matters. If I make my pitches, these guys will get themselves out. It?s when you try to do too much that you fall behind and leave balls out over the middle, that?s when trouble starts happening.
Tonight, I?m just going to chill out at my house. Watch a movie, surf the Internet, play some guitar. Just relax. Same old stuff for me. It?s just another start. Everything around me seems a little more intense or amplified, but my preparation out there on the mound is just about 60 feet and six inches, me and a catcher and a hitter, and if we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. Time will play itself out.