Braden Earns Underdog Respect With Perfect Game

Coming from a gray slab of rotting cement as a home and fulfilling the role of the redheaded stepchild before an entire nation can be a beautiful thing — especially when you rub your eventual glory in the face of your richer, more popular and significantly douchier older brother.

That’s exactly what happened on Mother’s Day at the McAfee Coliseum in Oakland, when Dallas Braden, playing for the perpetually poor and overlooked Oakland A’s, pitched the 19th perfect game in Major League Baseball history against the Devil Rays.

Two hours and seven minutes after the first pitch, Braden had not only cemented himself a spot in Cooperstown, but also come out on top of a month-long feud with Alex Rodriguez and the ultra-pretentious New York Yankees.

Prior to this feat, Braden had two distinct reputations. To those on the West Coast, Braden was best known as the bad-ass from area code 209 (Stockton, Calif.) who put Rodriguez in his place during an A’s-Yankees game last month. For those on the East Coast, Braden was the attention whore who tried to extend his “15 minutes of fame” (in Rodriguez’s own words) by feuding with the New York superstar.

In case you missed it, Braden bitched out A-Rod at the end of the sixth inning, yelling at him to stay off the pitcher’s mound. Rodriguez later laughed off the incident, saying that he’d never had anyone tell him that before —”especially from a guy that only has a handful of wins in his career.” (Damn A-Rod, you really gotta bring that up? Braden should have mentioned the third baseman’s glove-slapping abilities to the press.)

But the main reason Braden’s perfect Sunday elicited an enormous smile — with just a hint of smug smirk — for the sea of A’s faithfuls (and small-market fans on the west side of the country) is much deeper than the satisfaction of putting a selfish, roiding slugger in his place. OK, maybe the smirk was because of that, but Braden’s perfect game sent a message to the MLB, along with sports media and baseball fans everywhere who don’t realize there are teams in the league other than the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees: Show some respect for the other teams out there, or you will be brutally embarrassed after getting your ass called out.

The Yankees scoffed at Braden’s reaction to A-Rod because he was a no-name pitcher who plays for a small-market team on the West Coast — an asshole reaction that epitomizes the reason why all those outside the Red Sox-Yankees bubble hate those teams.

The fact that they have the resources to buy themselves championships isn’t nearly as irritating as the fact that their players and fans think that no one else in baseball is worthy of their respect.

So, when Braden continued feeding the press opinions about the shit-talking incident — damn straight he was trying to get some attention. Is that really so wrong? As a young pitcher with a troubled past who’s had a pretty good year, what’s wrong is that he had to cuss out A-Rod to get noticed in the first place.

In the end, actions speak louder than words: Twenty-seven straight outs fight harder than backhanded insults from a guy who makes over $33 million more than you. With A-Rod’s career soiled by performance-enhancing substances, it’s not clear whether he’ll ever make it into the Hall of Fame. If he decides to visit, though, he can check out the section where Braden’s perfect game will forever be celebrated.

This year, a game in May meant almost as much as one in October for unheralded fans of America’s favorite pastime.

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