You gotta believe: A's are in the playoffs
October, 2, 2012
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
The fans stood and cheered and stomped, decked in green cowboy hats and bright gold sunglasses and old-school Reggie Jackson jerseys and new-school Josh Reddick jerseys.
Grant Balfour, full of 1,000 volts of intensity, reared back and threw a 95-mph gas ball that appeared like it was delivered from atop a stepladder. Mike Napoli swung through the 3-2 pitch and the Oakland A's had clinched a playoff spot.
The snapshot moments: The celebratory mob scene in the middle of the diamond, the coaching staff hugging each other in the dugout, the bottles of champagne appearing out of nowhere, Coco Crisp running down the foul lines and high-fiving all the fans in the front row, and then to top it off, Reddick delivering a pie in the face to manager Bob Melvin during his postgame interview.
Say it again: The Oakland A's are back in the postseason for the first time since 2006, 4-3 victors over the Texas Rangers, a wild-card berth assured and the AL West title still in their grasp if they beat the Rangers the final two games of the season.
Reddick: "I don't think anybody outside of this team thought we'd be where we are today."
Melvin, who grew up in the Bay Area, attending A's games and concerts at the Oakland Coliseum: "This is some kind of special when you get to do it at home."
Reddick, again: "This is every little kid's dream, being that 5-year-old in the backyard. ... We're very happy with where we're at, glad to have these fans support us this week and happy to do it for them."
Tug McGraw, relief pitcher, 1973 New York Mets: "You gotta believe!"
The A's believe. Their fans believe. Do you believe yet?
That '73 Mets team fell one victory short of winning the World Series, but the '69 Mets did win it all. That team was too young, had too many years of losing, had no shot against the mighty Baltimore Orioles. Those Mets had 24-year-old Tom Seaver and 22-year-old rookie Gary Gentry and 22-year-old Nolan Ryan and 24-year-old McGraw. Maybe like those Mets, these A's are too young not to believe. Jarrod Parker, Monday's winning pitcher, has a 2.63 ERA since the beginning of September. He's pitching like a staff ace, not a rookie.
The 1985 Royals had George Brett, yes, but didn't score many runs and had a pitching staff with Bret Saberhagen, Mark Gubicza and Danny Jackson, all 23 or younger. They fell behind 3 games to 1 in the ALCS and then again in the World Series. They believed.
The 1987 Minnesota Twins squeezed into the playoffs and had the Metrodome and Homer Hankies and Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven, a relic of the '70s. Nobody believed in them.
The 1988 Dodgers? A's fans who are old enough know all about those Dodgers, that's for sure.
How did these A's get here? Reddick said they just followed the Melvin philosophy: One game at a time. Hey, laugh, but it's worked. There was that game in April when Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run homer in the 14th inning as the A's scored three runs to beat the White Sox. There was the outburst from Brandon Inge in May, when the Tigers castoff knocked in four runs in four separate games over a six-day stretch. The game in June when Derek Norris beat the Giants 4-2 with a three-run walk-off home run. Or that series in July, four straight one-run wins over the Yankees, the finale won on Seth Smith's game-tying homer in the ninth and Crisp's hit in the 12th. That really got people believing.
There was the 20-2 pounding of the Red Sox on Aug. 31, part of a nine-game winning streak. The two late wins against Seattle over the weekend. And then tonight: Two in the first, two in the fifth to break a 2-2 tie, six innings from Parker and then three perfect innings of relief from what has turned into a dominant end-of-game trio: Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Balfour, the hard-throwing Australian who talks to himself on the mound, tugs nervously at his cap, and throws nasty sliders. He struck out the side on 12 pitches.
There are iconic teams which come out of nowhere to win it all. It's a beautiful thing for a team and its community when this happens, the delicious joy of celebrating winning baseball day after day, spring to summer to fall. Maybe these A's will become one of those iconic teams. I know they believe they will.