October 11, 2012

Something is happening in Oakland.

The 2012 Philadelphia Phillies were underwhelming. This is not breaking news; going from 102-60 to 81-81 will sour a fan base real quick.

So god bless my friend Peter. He's a die-hard Oakland Athletics fan, and whenever I'd go over to watch baseball (which was often) I'd inevitably end up catching that night's A's game.

Imagine my surprise, then, when those same A's ended up winning the AL West. And it was genuine surprise; even though I'd seen them play (and mostly win) a few dozen games in 2012, I never thought they had what it takes to catch the Texas Rangers. Let alone wallop them and virtually end their season.

But it's given me a team to root for in these playoffs, which paid off handsomely when Oakland came back against the supremely overrated Jose Valverde and his Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of last night's near-clincher.

In fact, I texted Peter (who was there) before the ninth began, "Good luck pal. You know how bad Papa Grande is." Fortunately for Oakland and all the team's fans, adopted or otherwise, I was right.

You have to look at this Oakland roster to realize how truly special they really are. The A's are so platoon-heavy, and had so many moving parts, that only eight players had more than 300 plate appearances this year. And one of them was Brandon Inge.

But Brandon Moss, a lefty who smartly faced righties in 79% of his plate appearances, ended up with an insane .954 OPS. Yoenis Cespedes surprised everyone by hitting .292/.356/.505 in his first season. Josh Reddick smacked 32 dongers. And Jonny Gomes, according to OPS+, had his best season since 2005.

And the pitching. Oh, the pitching. The A's started 2012 with Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy and someone named Graham Godfrey in their starting rotation. Tyson Ross and his 6.50 ERA started 13 games. And the bullpen ended up being anchored by two rookies.

But the rookies -- Sean Doolittle (pride of Shawnee High School) and All-Star Ryan Cook -- were stellar. Doolittle struck out 60 in 47.1 innings. Cook had a 2.09 ERA and a 0.941 WHIP.

Meanwhile, Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin combined for 75 starts and over 453 innings. All had ERAs under 3.75. They're 25, 23 and 24 years old, respectively.

It's an amazing story, and unfortunately, one that might end real soon. Justin Verlander will be the opposing pitcher in Game 5, he who struck out 11 A's in seven innings on Saturday. He threw 121 pitches that night, and after last night's bullpen implosion he might throw 150 tonight.

But however how it shakes out (and I can say that because I'm not a real A's fan), the Game 4 comeback was probably the most exciting moment of the baseball season. After many months of frustration and mediocrity in Philadelphia, it was nice to see a team that battled back like the Phillies of old.

Here's rooting for a World Series parade in Oakland.

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