What the Oakland Athletics have done this year, no longer raises eyebrows.
The A's stick to their formula -- the names change, but the team's low salary doesn't -- and they aim for success that way. Sometimes it doesn't work, as evidenced by four losing seasons the past five years, but this year it has. Lesser-known players Brandon Moss and Cliff Pennington helped the A's extend their American League wild-card lead on the Los Angeles Angels to 3½ games with a 3-1 victory at Angel Stadium on Monday night, and no one in the home dugout flinched.
"I'm not surprised anymore," said Hunter, who drove in the only run -- doubling in the third -- for the Angels, who are 1½ games behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild-card spot. "We were surprised when they first started doing this in early August, but I'm not surprised anymore. These guys are really playing the game. They have really good arms over there. You see the bullpen and they've got guys like [Ryan] Cook coming in throwing 98. It's crazy."
Rookie right-hander Jarrod Parker, one of Oakland's promising young arms, baffled the Angels (77-64) through seven innings, becoming the 10th rookie in franchise history to win 10 or more games. The 23-year-old was the centerpiece in the deal that sent former staff ace Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the offseason, a move only the A's would have the nerve to pull off.
"Starting-pitching depth is something they've had the luxury of having," said Haren, the hard-luck loser who turned in his third straight quality start Monday. "It's something probably most teams are very jealous of. Them and Tampa Bay probably have the deepest rotations, but nothing really surprises me in baseball anymore."
The A's (80-60) extended their road winning streak to 10 games and improved to a season-best 20 games over .500, with Moss and Pennington homering off Haren to lead off the fifth and sixth innings. Coco Crisp tripled on the first pitch of the night and scored shortly thereafter to set the tone early.
"They're doing enough to put themselves in a position to win games," Scioscia said. "When you break it down it's not surprising; it's just some of the names have changed since we saw them in the spring. They're playing at a very, very high level."
The Angels swept the A's in Oakland last week and had won 11 of 12 games heading into Monday, so by no means are they panicking. But there's nearly a $100 million gap in team salaries, and the A's are out to prove that irrelevant during the next few weeks.
"We're getting to a point where those teams aren't going away," Haren said. "It's going to be a fight to the finish, and the better team is going to win."
And if the A's end up being that better team, well, no one will be shocked.