Of the enigmatic A’s starter Rich Harden, Inside Bay Area’s Carl Steward writes, “for a fan of power pitching, is like crack cocaine, heroin and LSD all rolled into one.” If nothing else, Oakland might have some new candidates for those “I Live For This” commercials (link swiped from Repoz and Baseball Think Factory)

The man is like a powerful drug, even at 3 a.m. from 5,000 miles away, as he was this past week while pitching in Japan. Harden still possesses the most seductive live arm in Oakland franchise history since Vida Blue circa 1971, albeit one that’s about as stable as Britney Spears’ psyche.

A’s fans know this story by heart, and by heartbreak. Harden spins a lethal game, pronounces that he’s finally healthy and that it’s going to be all good from here on in. Then he pitches two or three more times and really starts to convince everyone that he finally can be counted upon to avoid a breakdown.

Yoo-hoo, deja vu. Harden’s back again to tantalize those of us who resolutely said they wouldn’t become dependent on his mound magic again. In Tokyo, the right-hander rolled out some of his addictive stuff ever. The smoking heater. The criminal changeup. The filthy slider and the underwear-twisting split-finger.

Maybe the breakdown won’t happen this time. Maybe Harden will walk the training-room tightrope and make 30 or more starts in 2008. Maybe he’ll pitch 200 innings. Maybe he’ll finally win 17-20 games, help keep the A’s compelling throughout the summer and make a run at the Cy Young Award virtually every baseball writer has forecast for him since 2004, his last reasonably healthy season.

I don’t mind saying I’m rooting hard for Harden. I love watching the dude pitch. What’s encouraging is that he’s still only 26 and can still salvage a sweet career if his body will just play along. He’s an exceptional young man and a fierce competitor. He deserves a break, as do A’s fans and the organization that has pinned so many hopes on his incredible potential to become one of baseball’s best pitchers. Face it, with a healthy Harden, the A’s might have a couple of World Series trophies by now.