The champagne is on ice. Mind you, Matt Lisle, 23, and Scott Martin, 21, bought the two bottles of bubbly at a Safeway for a few bucks, and they're storing them in a backpack—but the champagne is definitely on ice. A win today, coupled with a loss by the Indians or Mariners, would put Oakland in the playoffs for the first time since 1992, and Lisle and Martin, operators of the out-of-town scoreboard, are ready for it.
They've earned the right to celebrate, for this is scoreboard-watching season, and the pressure of the pennant race—to which the A's seem impervious—has found them. "Oh, we feel it," says Martin, whose older brother, John, posts scores across the Bay at Pac Bell Park. "Especially with Seattle updates. Thirty thousand people are watching us."
The operators take their jobs seriously. This morning the two showed up at nine for the 1:05 p.m. game to make sure they would work the American League board in leftfield, as opposed to the National League board in right. (The first out-of-town scoreboard guys to arrive get to pick.) Last night, when the Angels' Bengie Molina hit a three-run homer against the Mariners in the third inning, Martin, who tracks games with a television and a computer, had the runs posted before Molina crossed the plate. On big occasions, like Molina's bomb, Lisle and Martin will shake the score panel as they make the change to draw attention to it. The crowd's response is their reward. "It pumps us up to hear them," says Lisle. "We know we put that number up."
This is an especially big day, because today's Blue Jays-Indians game, which starts at 10:25 a.m. local time, isn't available on TV. So unless you are like Oakland general manager Billy Beane, who follows the game in real time on a pager, you've got to rely on the board if you want to see what the Tribe is doing. Not many of the A's do. "Me, I don't watch the scoreboard," says rookie outfielder Terrence Long. "I figure we can only control what we do." Instead, most players lounge in the clubhouse watching the Illinois-Minnesota football game.
Giambi was glued to the tube until 3 a.m. after last night's win, but nonetheless got six hours of sound sleep, which is a good night's rest for him. Batting practice is scheduled for 10:45 a.m., but it's optional and Giambi skips it. "At home I don't take BP on the field anymore," he says. "I take it in the [indoor] cage. It keeps me focused on my swing. A lot of times batting practice on the field turns into home run derby." He hits in the cage at 12:20.
It may be an unorthodox approach, but it works. By the fifth inning Giambi has a pair of RBI singles and a mammoth solo shot to center. As he steps to the plate in the sixth with the A's ahead 15-1, the crowd doesn't break out in the "MVP! MVP!" chant with which it has lately been serenading him. If the voters haven't figured it out by now, the fans seem to be saying, they're never going to. Giambi walks and is lifted for a pinch runner—Mini G—bringing to an end a spectacular September: 13 homers, 32 RBIs, a .400 average and an .853 slugging percentage. More significant, the team, his team, went 21-7 for the month.
But the boys in the scoreboard bear bad news. Cleveland and Seattle both win. Nothing has been clinched. As for the champagne, it goes into the little refrigerator inside the scoreboard in leftfield, where it will remain corked for at least one more day. A win over the Rangers tomorrow, and the celebration can begin.
Sunday, Oct. 1: Oakland
Saturday wasn't special only because the 23-2 win over Texas gave the A's their second-biggest margin of victory in franchise history. It was also Mini G's 26th birthday, so the whole Giambi clan—the brothers, their mom, Jeanne, their dad, John, and various other relatives—spent the evening celebrating. Everybody talked a little baseball, but, says Jason, "mostly we just laughed and told stories."
A loss today, however, would mean that Oakland will have to fly to Tampa to make up a game against the Devil Rays tomorrow. Unlike his teammates, Jason doesn't bring his luggage for a potential trip with him to the park. "I wanted to come with the same bag I always do," he says. He leaves his luggage with his parents, and should he need it, hell get it from them at the airport.