"Not much," said Corwin. "You won't be over three."
"That's good," said Odom, a man who survived both a sore arm and a shooting to pitch again this year. ERA aside, it was Odom's ninth win against only two losses. Like Hoscheit, he could live with a sore arm; he was lucky to be alive at all. Last January he had halted two young men who were prowling outside a neighbor's house in Macon, Ga. One of them drew a gun and shot Odom in the neck and the side.
"I'm here," he said, forgetting his ERA for a moment, "so this is already a good year for me."
It was after 3 a.m. when the A's reached their Boston hotel, resembling sobered drunks leaving a late party as they filed through the silent hotel lobby on the way to what little rest was left to them before Thursday's doubleheader at Fenway.
These incidents of Oakland's week are recorded simply to prove that even silver clouds can have a torn lining. This season the A's have suffered few reverses in their resolute advance toward a second successive American League West championship. At the All-Star break, even after contending with the Red Sox, they remained comfortably ahead of their nearest pursuers, the Chicago White Sox, and seemingly had nothing to fear until an October playoff date with Detroit, Baltimore or, conceivably, even those accursed Bosox. Their only starting pitcher with an earned run average over three is Vida Blue, of all people, and when you can count Ken Holtzman (13-8), Catfish Hunter (12-4), Dave Hamilton (6-3) as well as Odom among them, you count quality. Reggie Jackson, Mike Epstein and Duncan are all among the league leaders in home runs and runs batted in. Sal Bando is also among the RBI leaders, and Joe Rudi is a contender for the batting championship.
There is just enough defense to get by, even with the eccentric outfield play of Jackson and Angel Mangual. And the team has color. In a season as sartorially extravagant as this one, the A's various uniforms of green, gold and white lead the league. Their long hair and mustaches set them further apart from recent baseball tradition.
Mostly, though, Oakland has character. The word team implies a certain conformity, and the A's do bend to their demanding, if equally long-haired manager, Dick Williams. Off the field he returns their personalities to them. And what a diverse lot they are. Take Mike Epstein, the big, solemn-looking fellow practicing his batting stroke over there. A study in concentration. And worry.
Epstein majored in social psychology at the University of California in Berkeley and is much given to introspection. "Moodiness," he says slowly, "is an outgrowth of pride in a person. My so-called moodiness stems only from desire. Now, at 29, I feel I've matured enough to handle problems. I'm having the best time of my life."
The best time of Vida Blue's life was last year. This year may be the worst time. By the All-Star break last year he was 17-3; this year he is 2-5. But Blue's famous dispute with Charlie Finley did more than burden him with a poor start. It also left him bitter and prematurely disillusioned. Rarely does he flash his former ebullience. At 23, he is quiet and serious. "Yes, I'm bitter," Blue said Wednesday as he sat alone in the clubhouse. "It all seemed unnecessary to me, all that trouble. I feel in tip-top shape, but I'm not helping the team. I'd like to be traded to St. Louis or one of the New York teams."
Blue's conditions for a trade are not likely to be met, but this is not to say Finley has absented himself from the marketplace. On the contrary, since the season began he has negotiated some 40 transactions—trades, sales, releases, farm-system promotions and demotions—involving 29 players. Curiously, Finley players are always corning home again. It is as if the man attaches giant rubber bands to some of his employees. In his latest deal Finley reacquired ex-A's Don Mincher and Ted Kubiak from the Texas Rangers. Kubiak immediately moved in at second base, the fifth player to occupy that injury-riddled position this season. The fourth, Marty Martinez, did not stay long enough to get hurt. He had come over from St. Louis in May and was hitting .057 the night before he left for Texas in the Kubiak-Mincher trade.