Not much goes on in Oakland sports anymore. Nothing good at least.
But now, in 2012, something’s brewing in Oakland. Something special. Something magical. However, it’s something we’ve seen before. It’s something we see just about every year in Major League Baseball. We can go as far back as 2003 and see that this year’s Oakland Athletics don’t differentiate very far from what certain Major League teams do just about every year. The 2012 A’s are special, but they’re not one of a kind.
2004 Boston Red Sox – Baseball fans already know the story behind this team, but to elaborate: The Red Sox won seven of their last nine in 2004 and stormed into the playoffs. Boston took that momentum and swept the Anaheim Angels in the ALDS, then proceeded to fall behind 3-0 against the Yankees in the ALCS but miraculously won the series. Fittingly, the Red Sox swept the Cardinals to win the World Series. This magical team wasn’t just full of unique characters and compelling performances, but it was also a Wild Card team.
2006 St. Louis Cardinals – Although this team attained the best player in baseball at the time (Albert Pujols), the 2006 Cards only finished 83-78 on the season (how this team made the playoffs is beyond me). They defeated the American League’s Wild Card team – the Detroit Tigers – in the World Series that season.
2007 – This season was mostly about the Colorado Rockies, who went on an absolute tear from September 16 to September 27 by winning eleven straight games. They also won the last three, the last of which happened to be a fittingly dramatic 13-inning game 163. The Rockies swept the Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks before being swept by the Red Sox in the World Series. Everything seemed to come together at the right time for the Red Sox that season – it was the only way the Rockies freight train was going to stall.
2008 – This season was mostly about the darlings in Tampa Bay. The Rays won 97 games in 2008 after losing 96 games the season prior. They beat the defending champion Red Sox in the ALCS, but lost to the Phillies in the World Series. Just like the Red Sox the year prior, everything came together for the Phillies in that series, from health to pitching to overall team consistency. They played the best ball at the best time.
2010 San Francisco Giants – The 2010 Giants, aided from a San Diego Padres’ late-season collapse, had to win the final game of the season to clinch the National League West and claim a playoff spot. The Giants did that and never looked back. They hung onto their “pitching and defense” identity until the final out and won the World Series in one of the most memorable fashions in recent memory. This eccentric band of misfits had no business being in the postseason just weeks before the playoffs, but perpetually seized opportunities until they became champions.
2011 St. Louis Cardinals – Last year’s Cardinals backed into the playoffs until they met the luxury of a Houston Astros series to end the season. It also helped that the Braves royally choked in probably the wildest regular season culmination in baseball history. Once the dust had settled, the Cardinals let their consistent bullpen hold the team together, while Pujols upped his play after an average season (by his standards) and David Freese played the hero role. Everything came together at the right time, and when it did, the Cardinals prevailed in a World Series slugfest versus the Texas Rangers.
See, it’s not always (and is hardly ever) the best team in baseball that wins the World Series. It’s the team that plays the best baseball at the right time and finds a way to put the pieces together. This season, the Oakland A’s had question marks entering the season and issues in different areas throughout the season – from losing Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez to shortstop questions to first base questions to starting pitcher injuries – and continued to find ways to compensate. Once July hit, the A’s started ripping off wins and won 18 of 21. When it seemed as though they would fizzle out, they enjoyed a nine-game winning streak from August 24 to September 2. Later in the month, they endured two emotional losses to the Yankees, but bounced back from that too by, well, doing what they did in the final nine: winning eight and sweeping the Texas Rangers to win the division.
So how do you beat a ridiculously hot team that seems to be totally cognizant of its identity and continues to show resilient traits? How do you beat a team that shows qualities comparable to a combination of the 2010 Giants (premium pitching, fun clubhouse, electric fans), the 2004 Red Sox (eccentric characters and magical performances), the 2008 Rays (baseball darlings) and the 2011 Cardinals (power hitting)? How do you beat a team that has the residuals of a "We Believe" fan base behind it at home?
We’ll let fate decide, but what the A’s are doing right now is undeniable. It’s remarkable from a baseball sense and beguiling from a fan’s perspective. Billy Beane may be Oakland’s general manager, but he’s one of those fans, too.
“It’s been my most enjoyable year.”
Ours too, Billy. Ours too.