Little Tease A's fall short ... again

OAKLAND, Calif. -- They aren't the Buffalo Bills, OK? Not the Minnesota Vikings, or the Toronto Maple Leafs, either. Truth is, the closest you can come is to say the Oakland Athletics are a smaller, cheaper, occasionally cuddlier version of the Atlanta Braves.

And as far as that goes, even the Braves won once.

But history comes a lot faster than it used to, and many more words will be devoted to the A's latest first-round thoracotomy than to, say, vaudeville, or the Crusades, or the Iron Age.

In short, they had it wrapped up, again, and didn't tape down the ends, or glue the stamp on, or even get to the freaking mailbox.

They lost a series they had all but won, and they lost in even more gruesome fashion than any of the others.

They lost with Adam Melhuse batting (for Jermaine Dye, no less) with two on and nobody out in the ninth inning. They lost with Terrence Long batting with two outs and the bases loaded.

They lost to the Boston Red Sox, 4-3, in Game 5, and however angry they might have been about Derek Lowe's dodgy postgame gestures, or heartened by general manager Billy Beane's strident defense of the boys, they lost in miserable and lingering fashion.

They brought to mind John Cleese in the guise of a Russian soldier heading a firing squad about to execute Michael Palin, only to return Palin angrily to his cell and shout back at the riflemen, "How could you miss?!"

This is a damned fine question, now that it has happened four times in four years, and with nine potential clinching games. How could they miss?

Well, let's start with the Eric Chavez/Miguel Tejada MVP candidate combo, which hit an inspirational .067 with one run scored and two runs driven in. I mean, you are kidding with that, right?

In fact, let's broaden the blame to include the entire order, which hit a collective .212 and scored only 18 runs in five games.

Then let's go to the bullpen, which lost two games outright, blew two other saves and allowed four homers in five games. Not awful, but not particularly good, either.

And then let's break it down by ... oh, you know what? Let's not. Let's face the facts here. The A's have had too many chances to be given the benefit of statistical breakdowns, or to be defended (as they were by Beane) as the best team not much money can buy.

0-for-4 stinks. 0-for-9 stinks a lot. Those numbers don't measure character, or family values, or social interaction, or any of the other trivial stuff that keeps us from being declared a zoo.

But they do indicate more than just "bad luck," as Beane has said. They've lost when Gil Heredia lasted a third of an inning in Game 5 of 2000. They've lost when Jeremy Giambi got Jeter-ed in 2001. They've lost when Tim Hudson, who used to own the Minnesota Twins, lost the deed twice in five days in 2002.

And now they've lost because they didn't hit, because they didn't field, because Tejada stopped running, because Eric Byrnes didn't touch home plate, because Hudson got hurt, either by the bad luck of competition or by the bad thinking of a bar fight, and because manager Ken Macha thought that Adam Melhuse had a better chance than Jermaine Dye.

This isn't just bad luck on the job. This is bad thinking on the job, too, and if (as Beane likes to say whenever you ask him) the A's are already spotting the Red Sox the Latvian GDP, they have to not only pitch and hit and field better, but they have to do all their very best thinking, all of the time.

This isn't to say that they're dim. They're not. It is, however, to say that if you can't be sure that your bodies will always carry you to glory, your heads have to be properly positioned atop your neck, rather than ... well, you're eating breakfast, so we'll stop short of finishing that thought.

If they are hell-bent on doing this the hard way, they have no margin for foolishness. They have to slide when they're supposed to, and touch the plate, and keep running, and have the right man bat, and avoid tavern debates, and beat the teams they are supposed to beat.

The case that the Red Sox are a team they weren't supposed to beat is too flimsy to take seriously. They weren't saying any of this after Game 2, were they? No, after Game 2, they were talkin' it like big dogs, because they'd earned the right.

Then they let it all go to hell, again. And nothing is punished in baseball more swiftly and surely than pointless, thoughtless, waste. For more evidence on this phenomenon, see Giants, San Francisco, and Baker, Dusty.

So they are the Braves in miniature, sort of, and as a result cannot be taken seriously as a postseason participant. In fact, when you include the Giants, who have taken three dives in the kiddie pool, the Bay Area can truly be called The Land Of The Big Tease.

Well, the Little Tease, anyway. They have some improving to do before they get to be "big" teases.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com