Bay Bridge Series finds two teams on different paths

Oakland Athletics pitcher Daniel Mengden throws against the San Francisco Giants during the fifth inning of an interleague baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, June 27, 2016. The Athletics won 8-3. IT was Mengden’s first major league victory.
Oakland Athletics pitcher Daniel Mengden throws against the San Francisco Giants during the fifth inning of an interleague baseball game in San Francisco, Monday, June 27, 2016. The Athletics won 8-3. IT was Mengden’s first major league victory. The Associated Press

One so inclined might have looked at the opener of this series between the A’s and Giants on Monday night and found, couched in the matchup of starting pitchers, a tidy summation of where each franchise stands near the season’s midpoint.

On the mound for the Giants was strapping, hard-throwing Jeff Samardzija, to whom they’d committed $90 million over the winter while loading up their roster for another even-year run at the postseason. Though struggling in June, Samardzija had won eight games during a strong first half for the Giants, who entered the series with 49 victories, tied for the most in the majors.

Opposing him was the A’s Daniel Mengden, a 23-year-old right-hander with an old-style handlebar mustache and an over-the-head windup to match. Acquired last summer when the A’s traded one of their best players, pitcher Scott Kazmir, Mengden was expected to spend most, if not all, of this season in the minors. But injuries in Oakland expedited his call-up to the A’s, who are battling the Los Angeles Angels to stay out of last place in the American League West.

Rarely does baseball follow a script. Mengden, making his fourth start in the majors, outpitched Samardzija in an 8-3 A’s win, to the delight of a vocal Oakland contingent at AT&T Park.

41,551 Giants’ average home attendance this season entering Monday

Despite the current disparity in this Bay Bridge rivalry, there was a spirited atmosphere at the sold-out park for a Monday night game in June. A’s fans had more to celebrate, cheering loudly as Oakland built a five-run lead in the second inning. The Giants went the first four innings without a baserunner, the loudest reaction from the home crowd possibly coming before the seventh when two Giants fans got engaged on the Kiss Cam.

Dueling chants of “Let’s go, Oakland!” and “Let’s go, Giants!” cropped up in pockets of the stadium throughout the game, the former more prominent in the later innings.

The final score, meanwhile, was a reminder that despite the direction of these teams after three months, there is still a half-season to play. Perhaps it’s too soon to crown the Giants in the National League West. Perhaps it’s too soon to expect another July sell-off by the A’s.

Neither theory would be without basis. The Giants began this series 32-10 in their past 42 games, the best record in baseball, eight games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers in their division. The A’s were 19-31 since the start of May, with players such as Josh Reddick, Rich Hill and Danny Valencia already being floated as potential trade targets for contenders.

Oakland was a trade-deadline seller a year ago, dealing several veterans for prospects amid a last-place finish. The A’s believe those deals bolstered a promising crop of talent developing in their minor-league system. But many of those players are currently at lower levels of the minors, admittedly likely a year or two from reaching Oakland.

For the Giants, signing Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to mega-deals amid an offseason spending spree sent a clear message: They intend to contend for the division title and, after missing the playoffs in 2015, make a run at a fourth World Series appearance in seven years.

That stretch has given the Giants a clear advantage in area popularity. On Tuesday night, they announced the 448th consecutive regular-season sellout at AT&T Park, the longest streak in the majors. Their average of 41,551 fans per home game before Monday was third highest in the majors. The A’s average of 18,127 at the outdated Coliseum was the third lowest.

A late-arriving crowd Monday meant there were a good amount of empty seats behind the plate at first pitch. For some fans, particularly those wearing green and gold, the context of recent seasons and current records, for one night in June, seemed not to matter.

“Not to me,” Melissa Maddox of Modesto said while watching batting practice from behind the visitors’ dugout. “Here’s the thing with A’s fans: We lose a lot more than we win. But we’re going to be true to the end.”

Later, as the A’s took a 6-0 sixth-inning lead on a double by Marcus Semien, Giants fan Tony Solis stood watching from under an overhang in the right-field corner, working on an ice cream sundae. Solis said where he had been sitting was “surrounded by A’s fans.”

“Let me tell you,” he said, “in that five-run inning, it was ugly.”

Solis said his cousin, an A’s fan, had tickets for the series finale Thursday in Oakland. It would be a chance for Solis to see the Giants enact some revenge. And the game offers a layer of intrigue with Giants manager Bruce Bochy weighing whether to scrap the designated hitter and let pitcher Madison Bumgarner hit. It was not enough to sway Solis.

“I said, ‘I’m not going over there,’ ” he said. “The Coliseum’s a pit.”

18,127 A’s average home attendance this season

As the A’s added to their lead late Monday, Jaime Medina stood out atop a right-field bleacher section because of his green jacket and cheerful demeanor.

“Giants fans are awfully quiet!” Medina said.

Nearby, one of those fans, Tyler Basker of Pleasant Hill, took a cynical tone.

“If (the A’s) win tonight, this is their World Series,” Basker said, “you know that, right?”

The two fans soon entered into a spirited, if amicable, back-and-forth.

Basker: “Just put even year equals Giants World Series. That’s it.”

Medina: “See, he has hopes for his season.”

Basker: “Hopes and guarantees, because that’s what the Giants are.”

Medina: “No, no. At this point, they’re hopes.”