Late last night, the improbable unfolded in the windswept concrete confines of the unapologetic blue-collar husk of a football venue known as Oakland Coliseum. Again.
Down two runs, Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde had just three outs to seal the win and the American League Division Series. Not so fast.
Josh Reddick led off with a single. Josh Donaldson doubled. Seth Smith pounds a double off Valverde that rocketed off the wall in deep left-center and Reddick and Donaldson score to tie the game. Then, improbably as only Oakland knows, facing two outs, Coco Crisp hits a single that was awkwardly gloved in shallow right field, scoring Smith.
Facing win-or-go-home, the A’s played the last two nights in stride. They faced all 54 outs one at a time, and instead of dealing with the stress of winning three games to stay alive, their skipper, Doug Melvin implored the team to just take it as it comes. Written off multiple times earlier this summer, that is likely key to why they continue playing. The smallest payroll in baseball is also one of the Major’s youngest. A team with a deep bullpen and young, ferociously determined players who don’t know how to win outside the ninth inning. This year, the team eked out a league-leading 14 walk-off wins. Three of those came from Coco Crisp, who added number 15 last night.
During the postgame interview, Crisp took a shaving cream pie to the face. Reddick tried to shine some light on this team’s anxiety-inducing style of winning. “I’ve heard people say we’re not smart enough to know when to lose a game.”
Earlier this year the team has flashes of decent play, but in June they were written off for dead. They were dead last in the league in a host of statistical categories including hits, RBIs, batting average, slugging percentage, and OBP – the very stat embodied by Billy Beaneto win over old-school scouts in an attempt to assemble a veritable list of nobodies that successfully strung together the longest winning streak in Major League history.
Coincidentally, this season is the tenth anniversary of that feat, famously depicted in this summer’s surprise hit, “Moneyball.”
It is also the 40th anniversary of the first world title ever won by a Bay Area team. Long before the 49ers, Raiders, Giants and Warriors, The Oakland A’s snagged that honor in 1972, four years removed from arriving in the Bay Area. They didn’t lose that distinction very easily, reeling off three consecutive world titles from 1972-74.
If the Giants unlikely run to the World Series in 2010 was ‘torture,’ than this late-season push by Oakland is a sustained heart attack. And it is anything, if not more exciting than the plot line for “Moneyball.”
Despite sitting directly across the choppy San Francisco Bay, about 10 miles as the baseball flies from the shiny jewel of AT&T Park, the Oakland A’s are a small-market team living in the shadows of one of America’s most popular tourist destinations and a rabid fanbase energized by a recent tradition of winning. Meanwhile, Oakland continues winning despite playing in the shadows of the National Football League Raiders who utilize all three decks of the coliseum. The A’s, they use just two.
Equally fascinating about these October heroics is that the San Francisco Giants are making a similar push, albeit, in foreign territory. This morning, the Giants play a decisive fifth game of the National League Divisional Series against the Cincinnati Reds. You could say that today is a huge day for Bay Area baseball. But, the A’s hope to make it truly historic.
Let’s see if the fans are still breathing later tonight.
This 600-page 2012 Oakland Athletics’ media guide is sure to keep the diehard entertained with all sorts of history and statistics.
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