The Oakland Athletics play on a home field with washed-out football yard lines still visible. They currently have an all-rookie starting rotation and a rookie starting catcher. Josh Reddick, their leading home run hitter, had hit .147 with one homer in September until finally breaking out of his slump with two home runs a few days ago. Brandon Moss, one of their best hitters, began the season in the minors, a year after receiving six big league at-bats with the Phillies (and going hitless).
We could go on and on. Hopefully you know the story of the Oakland A's by now. And their story just may be this: Team of destiny.
In early September, the A's looked vulnerable. They had finished August with a 20-2 thrashing of the Red Sox and began September leading the wild-card race by 1 game over the Orioles and 3.5 games over the Rays (with the Tigers and Angels in close pursuit, as well). Everyone pointed to a tough schedule down the stretch that would doom the A's; it was a fun ride while it lasted, they said. When the A's lost three straight at home to the Angels -- getting outscored 21-5 -- that seemed to confirm the prognosis. They had 25 games remaining and 19 of them would be against the Rangers, Angels, Orioles, Yankees and Tigers.
The A's have survived this slate -- going 6-0 against the Mariners certainly helped -- and while they haven't quite locked up a wild-card spot just yet, they also still have a chance to win the AL West. They completed a sweep of the Mariners with another late-inning victory on Sunday. They lead the majors with 14 walk-off wins, but decided to win it in the eighth inning. Three key moments from the 5-2 win:
1. Yoenis Cespedes' awesome, towering go-ahead home run down the left-field line that stayed straight and true instead of hooking foul. The blast came off a 1-2 slider from Shawn Kelley. Check it out here -- if only for the dugout celebration between Cespedes and Coco Crisp. Winning is fun.
2. Ryan Cook's seventh inning. Brendan Ryan doubled and Trayvon Robinson singled to put runners on the corners with no outs, but Cook recovered to strike out Casper Wells, Kyle Seager and Jesus Montero to keep the game tied. After losing his closer's job back in early August, Cook has been solid in the middle innings: He's allowed runs in just one of his past 20 appearances and has 28 K's and just four walks in 22 innings.
3. Bob Melvin's quick hook on Tom Milone. While Erasmo Ramirez pitched well for Seattle, Melvin understood three runs may be enough to win this game. He pulled Milone in the fifth, using Pat Neshek and then Jerry Blevins to escape a runner-on-third situation.
A few more highlights from Sunday's action:
Awkward situation of the day: After the Orioles defeated the Red Sox 6-3, the O's and their fans watched the end of the first game of the Angels-Rangers doubleheader on the JumboTron. If the Rangers won, the O's would clinch a playoff spot and be able to celebrate in front of their home fans. Instead they watched the Angels rally off Joe Nathan in the ninth and the O's had to head back to their clubhouse, where the champagne was quickly removed. "I'm not going to say there's no disappointment," J.J. Hardy said, "but we all understand we need to keep playing good baseball to get where we want to be. We'll just worry about ourselves and win the next three games." The Orioles are still focused on the division title as they remained tied with the Yankees. The O's finish at Tampa while the Yankees host the Red Sox. (Note: The Orioles and Yankees later clinched playoff spots when the Angels lost the nightcap to the Rangers.)
Comeback of the day: The Yankees trailed the Blue Jays 5-2 after six innings but scored seven runs against the Toronto bullpen to win 9-5. Blue Jays manager John Farrell went into classic overmanaging mode in trying to go lefty-righty with every matchup and burned through seven relief pitchers in those final three innings. The three big hits: A Derek Jeter flare to right that bounced into the stands for a double; a Robinson Cano double past a diving Adam Lind at first base; then a Jeter RBI bloop to right. Rafael Soriano loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth but got a double play to help the Yankees escape.
Home run of the day plus misuse of your closer of the day: Cespedes' homer was sweet, but Prince Fielder's two-run blast with two outs in the eighth gave the Tigers a 2-1 victory over the Twins. Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire left in right-hander Jared Burton to face Fielder; apparently, it would have been too much to ask closer Glen Perkins to get four outs. Perkins has held lefties to a .194 average on the season, and allowed just one home run. Look, Burton's had an outstanding year (2.21 ERA), but he's been lethal against righties and Fielder does have a platoon split -- 1.015 OPS versus RHP, .791 versus lefties. Perkins should have faced Fielder. Instead, he pitched the ninth against the bottom of the Detroit lineup.
Dodgers still alive note of the day: Matt Kemp homered again after swatting two on Saturday as the Dodgers swept the Rockies (thanks for showing up, Colorado!) to remain 2 games behind the Cardinals. The Dodgers have won five in a row and are 7-3 over their past 10 games -- but so are the Cardinals. Hey, you never give up. The Dodgers finish at home against the Giants while the Cardinals host the Reds. Considering the history in recent years between the Reds and Cards, you know the Reds won't be taking those final three games lightly. I'm sure they'd love to knock out St. Louis.
Whew. Can't wait for the next three days.