10/04/12 11:30 PM ET
Overcoming adversity speaks to A's talent
By Jane Lee / MLB.com
That construction has Oakland set to open the American League Division Series against the Tigers in Detroit on Saturday at 3 p.m. PT on TBS.
"I think a little bit of the narrative the last week or so has been sounding like a Cinderella story," general manager Billy Beane said. "Listen, if you win 94 games, you're good. That's the only thing I didn't really like. It doesn't respect the talent. These guys are good baseball players."
"People say this is a miraculous season or a Cinderella season," Brandon Moss added. "I really feel like with the pitching we have and the type of hitters we have that all we're doing is playing to our ability. I don't believe that anybody's having a magical season. I really don't."
Aside from influential and calming veterans like Jonny Gomes, the A's are a perfectly mixed group of castoffs, like Moss, and rookies who have performed at the level expected of them -- only by developing at a much quicker pace than expected. These are unselfish and unrelenting athletes who do boast talent and have come together, despite the odds against them, to become one of the best sports stories of the year.
"Pretty amazing," manager Bob Melvin said. "This group ... I would have to say, as far as a team goes, they pretty much embody the word. They're just a selfless group that worries about wins and losses at the end of the day. Numbers and such really didn't come into play for this group. They just wanted to win. We talked about guys, and it ended up being close to the whole 40-man roster that contributed for us this year. We needed everybody."
To fully appreciate the accomplishments of this young A's team -- predicted by few to win 94 games and the AL West crown over their richer foes from Texas and Anaheim for their first postseason berth in six years -- is to know that they did endure some luck along the way -- bad luck, that is.
"There have been a lot of adjustments on the fly from the first full-squad workout," Beane said.
That's when third baseman Scott Sizemore, one of only a handful of returning members from the 2011 squad, suffered a season-ending left knee injury during fielding drills, a freak accident of sorts that spoiled the possibility of what the A's hoped would be a breakout year.
Quietly, as Sizemore was helped off the field, catching prospect Josh Donaldson made his way to third base and, by the next morning, was told he could put his catching gear away for the time being. His new task was to learn third base, and it was his job for the taking.
Though a quick learner at third, Donaldson struggled greatly at the plate, collecting just three hits in his first nine games for an .094 average. His on-base percentage, too, was .094, and the A's couldn't continue to carry him, instead choosing to platoon Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales -- normally of the utility type -- at the position. Donaldson was ultimately brought back, for just 18 games, and in that time brought his average up to .153. But the A's wanted more.
Enter veteran Brandon Inge, who provided the A's just the boost they needed at a dire time, what with a magnetic personality and a knack for offering late-inning dramatics, before he, too, went down with a season-ending injury in mid-August, forcing the A's to give Donaldson another shot. The 26-year-old Alabama native responded in fine form, collecting eight of his nine home runs in the last six weeks of the regular season.
Donaldson's transformation mirrors that of the A's, who endured a nine-game losing streak in the first half, their AL West deficit once swelling to 13 games. They went 72-38 after the skid, including 51-25 after the All-Star break, to pull with within five games of the Rangers on Sept. 24. Oakland won eight of its last nine games, one of which ended with the club's Major League-best 14th walk-off win, en route to becoming the first team in history to win a division or pennant after facing such a deficit with fewer than 10 games remaining.
This, even after the A's lost steady hand Bartolo Colon to a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test. This, after witnessing the horrific scene of staff ace and leader Brandon McCarthy taking a line drive off his head, leading to emergency brain surgery. This, after lefty Brett Anderson, his season already shortened because of rehab from last year's Tommy John surgery, suffered a right oblique strain in the middle of a crucial September road trip. This, all without the likes of Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, traded away last offseason for Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook and Josh Reddick.
"Everything we've had to deal with just makes it that sweeter," Moss said. "People had their reasons to doubt us early in Spring Training. We just keep coming to the ballpark, keep trying to play and put up one more run than they do."
Where would the A's be without Moss, an outfielder-turned-first baseman who was all but forgotten before the club gave him a chance and reaped the benefits, receiving 21 homers in 265 at-bats? Without those trade goods? Without Sean Doolittle, formerly a first baseman who is now the club's best lefty reliever? Without Evan Scribner, Game 162 hero who was simply a waiver pickup by the A's last winter? Without Coco Crisp, the lineup igniter whose free agency took him to the A's because, while others laughed, he wanted to be with a winner? Without Yoenis Cespedes, the once-unknown Cuban product who tore up Major League pitching in his rookie year?
"It's fantastic because each day, somebody new comes up and does something miraculous," co-owner Lew Wolff said. "We had a nine-game losing streak at one point this season, and I'd go to bed thinking about that. Now, it's just amazing."
It is, considering the majority of this group will be intact come 2013. But to look so far ahead would go against the grain of Oakland's plan.
"All the way down from Bob to the players, one thing that's unique about this group of players is that it really has operated on one day at a time, and I know it sounds cliché, but I think it's true," Beane said. "This has been my most enjoyable year."