There were a lot of great months in the A's 2013 playoff run, but none better than the month of September, that saw the A's overcome a 2-game deficit to eventually win the Division and finish the season five games ahead of the Rangers, who were knocked out in the play-in Wild Card game. The A's played strong when it counted, and as Texas faded, they took complete advantage; even Texas' end-of-the-season winning streak was too little too late to dethrone the 2-time defending American League West Champions, and that's why the Oakland Athletics will be playing tomorrow.
The A's started September by finishing a sweep of the Rays, obviously catching them, too, at their weakest point of the season. A lot of the A's success--winning the Division with a full week to spare--came by playing Texas and Tampa Bay at exactly the right time. Had the AL West and Wild Card gone down to the wire with the A's still in the mix, they would have had to win out to keep pace with the other teams, who won the remainder of their last games to get into the playoffs, even briefly. Before the penultimate showdown between the A's and the Rangers, the A's first took out the Rays, in game #136. Nico has the call: Joe Maddon thought he would try as many different pitchers as possible, so the A's decided to score in as many creative ways as they could and the end result was a 5-1 victory, a sweep of Tampa Bay, and just 1 game between Oakland and Texas in the standings as the Rangers come to town. This left the A's just one game back, as they geared up to face the Rangers.
Unlike previous experiences with the Rangers, the A's did not waste this opportunity, fighting hard to take two out of three, and climbing back on top of the AL West. Game one was recapped by Lev Facher, who coaxed the A's to a tie: A solid five innings from Dan Straily, home runs from Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes, and scoreless relief work from Dan Otero, Brett Anderson, Ryan Cook, and Grant Balfour have the A's back in a tie for first place. In front of 23,495 frenzied fans on a sun-splashed day at the Oakland Coliseum, a few costly mistakes on Texas' part and a nerve-wracking yet effective four innings from the bullpen gave the A's a 4-2 win, and seemingly all of the momentum in the AL West race. There really wasn't anything "seemingly" about it. Aside from losing the following night, the game also handled by Lev Facher: Well, the A's are back in second place. An all-around uninspiring evening from the green and gold has the A's a game behind the Rangers, making the rubber match tomorrow afternoon almost a must-win with three games in Arlington looming on the horizon. Bartolo Colon was both mediocre and unlucky tonight, while the A's offense stalled repeatedly with runners in scoring position. The bullpen wasn't great, either. Heard this one before?, the A's would strap on their playoff underoos and decimate the rest of the month, winning series after series. They finished the Rangers' series with a win, as baseballgirl tells us, the game also marking the return of Daric. Barton. The plucky A's, winners of eight of their last ten games, shook off yesterday's loss like it didn't even matter, and continued their trend of stomping all over ace pitchers as they dismantled Rangers' starter Yu Darvish and gutted the rest of the Texas bullpen to the tune of 11-4. The big blows of the game were home runs off the bats of Moss, Donaldson, and Coco. Oh, and also: Daric. Barton. This tied the A's and Rangers for first place, with barely 20 games to go in the season. Hold me.
While Texas faced off against Anaheim, the A's tried once again to make Houston their September cushion. They lost the first game; however, and it wasn't pretty. Lev Facher tells us all about it: The A's are back in second place, looking up at the Texas Rangers, after a 3-2 loss to Houston tonight at the Coliseum. The Astros have now taken three of the last four games in Oakland between the two clubs, and the A's once-perfect record against them has now fallen 12-4. Back went the seesaw, dumping the A's into second place, again. But luckily, the A's remembered they are actually better than the Astros, and this is an all-important 4-game series, so they pulled it all together. Alan Torres called the game: It was necessarily pretty, but the A’s got it done today after failing to do so last night. A.J. Griffin was solid early, swerved around in the 3rd and 4th, and finished with a bang. Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie provided most of the offense, with Chris Young contributing both some bad and good luck. With this, and the Angels finally taking a game from the Rangers, the A’s finish out the day in sole possession of first place in the AL West by a half-game. The third game saw another A's win--guaranteeing at least a series split--as Nico handled the recap: Now one thing you need to know about the Houston Astros that they will never rest until they have made as many outs on the bases as they possibly can. Barnes broke for 2B against Doolittle on a pickoff throw to 1B, but made it thanks to an offline one-hop throw by Daric Barton. So then Barnes -- with 2 outs, mind you, and Villar at the plate -- broke for 3B as Doolittle kicked towards 2B. Doolittle calmly stepped off the rubber, fired to 3B, Donaldson slapped the tag on one of Barnes' 83 tattoos, and the inning ended. The A's had a chance to take 3 out of 4, and they would do just that. Lev Facher describes the scene in detail: Brandon Moss picked up the first Oakland RBIs of the day with his double to left field, which scored Eric Sogard and Stephen Vogt, both of whom reached base on singles. Yoenis Cespedes ripped a single to left, scoring Moss, and Alberto Callaspo drew a walk immediately thereafter. Daric Barton hit yet another single to center field, scoring Cespedes and bringing up Seth Smith with two on and two out. Smith, who's struggled mightily since the All-Star Break, broke the game open with a three-run home run to right field, giving the A's a 7-1 lead that would be more than enough for a win. With Texas losing more than they were winning at the time, this series would mark the very last time the A's ever flirted with second place. Taking a 1.5 game lead on the Rangers, the A's never looked back; not then, not now. It would just take another couple of weeks to officially crown them with the AL West title.
The A's flew out to Minnesota for their next series (the first time they had seen the Twins all year), where they dropped the first game, as Josh Willingham had his way with the Athletics, says Lev Facher: The A's lead in the AL West could very easily have grown to three games tonight. It also very easily could have been trimmed to just one. Oakland blew a late-inning lead in Minnesota, while the Rangers almost pulled off a huge comeback in the bottom of the 9th against Pittsburgh. In the end, the A's lead in the division held at two games, and I, for one, will take it. The A's rebounded in the next two games, and would win the series. Game 2 involved a lot of runs--all of them green and gold--as the A's scored a total of 18. baseballgirl explains: In what would turn out to be a much-needed laugher in Minnesota tonight (minus one very large injury scare), the A's had the perfect opportunity to play their bench, rest their starters for the day game tomorrow, and win the game with little effort after their 10-run fourth inning. With the Rangers' loss in Arlington, the A's have opened up a 3-game lead in the West as they steam towards the end of the season, looking to represent the AL West in the playoffs. Do you remember July 28th of this year; the very height of standings porn, where we checked the scoreboard to find the A's a full six games up on the Rangers? Barely 10 days later, on August 7th, the lead was gone entirely; the Rangers had tied the A's for the Division lead. They wouldn't stop there; by August 23rd, the Rangers held a 3.5 game lead over the A's, and things were looking grim for our heroes. But something funny happened on the way to September; the A's took on the powerhouses of the American League and clawed back, and tonight they suddenly find themselves with a three-game lead in the AL West with one more to go in this series before taking on the Rangers head-to-head this weekend. The series finale proved that the A's didn't use up all of their runs the day before, as Alan Torres starts to see the finish line: Behind another big third inning, the A’s took a lead they would both add on to and never relinquish. A.J. Griffin had an impressive outing – but of course allowing a solo HR, his only blemish – over 7 one-run innings. In winning two of three games in Minneapolis and now up 3.5 on the Rangers, the A’s are in prime position to really make it hard for Texas to overtake them for the division lead. With the series win, and the Rangers poor play, the A's had opened up a 3.5 game lead, just in time for the final showdown between the two AL West candidates, with Texas needing a sweep to upset the A's. Despite the benefit of hindsight, the West was very much in question right up until this series.
There was a sweep, all right, but it wasn't Texas. Our plucky little Oakland A's, battered and bruised, underdogs to the core, stormed into Arlington and swept the Texas Rangers, all but ending the Rangers' AL West hopes, and grabbing the title for themselves. It wasn't easy. Or stress-free. Let's start at the first game. The A's jumped out to a huge lead, and they ended up winning by a single, tiny run. baseballgirl with the Friday the 13th call: There wasn't one moment in the first seven innings that I didn't think the A's nine runs were more than enough to win. How can you blow a 7-run lead in six outs? Finding out cost me a refill of wine, large clumps of hair, most of my fingernails, and I'm still not sure my heart or blood pressure would register within normal limits. Although the offensive heroes of the game will be listed as the red-hot Cespedes, Donaldson (whose father saw him play for the first time tonight), and Moss, the true hero of tonight's game was Sean Doolittle, and by extension a ballsy Bob Melvin, who left Doolittle in to close the ninth, where he struck out the side for the all-important save; the only member of our vaunted trio of late-inning arms that we really wanted in the game when the season was on the line. The second game was equally stressful, as the A's hung onto a 1-0 lead all the way to the end. Trust me when I say that never happens in Texas. Or trust Alex Hall, who recapped for us, and our ownership of Yu Darvish: Yu Darvish just can't catch a break against the Oakland Athletics. He's tried being really good, and he's tried being really bad, but nothing seems to work when he faces the A's. He's lost all four of his starts against them this season, and today's game marked the second time this year that Oakland has beaten him by a score of 1-0. If you're going to own any pitcher in the league, I guess you couldn't pick a better one than the ace of your biggest rival's rotation. The A's completed the sweep in much less dramatic fashion, but it was the first single-digit magic number, as we counted down from 8 on. Nico made the call: Jarrod Parker was supposed to be the starting pitcher but he got sick. Yoenis Cespedes was supposed to start but nagging soreness in his shoulder kept him out of the lineup. That meant there was space on the mound for Tommy Milone and room in the OF for Chris Young and Josh Reddick. So Milone tossed 5 IP of 1 run ball to earn his 11th win, while Young and Reddick were instrumental in the A's scoring, and that depth may be all you need to know about why the A's are now a robust 6.5 games up on the reeling Texas Rangers with 13 games to play. Oakland's magic number to clinch the AL West is 8. With an almost insurmountable 6.5 game lead on the Rangers, the A's left Arlington to go back home to face the Angels.
I've said it once; I'll say it again, I'm glad we matched up against the Rangers and not the Angels, because despite the A's red-hot September, they still lost 2 series to the Angels. This was one of them. Billy Frijoles recapped the start by flu-ridden Jarrod Parker: Jarrod Parker continued heaving from the mound as the Angels teed off and CJ Wilson quieted the A's hot bats. But who cares? Magic number down to 7! The A's would win the second game, with pie!, as Lev Facher takes the magic number down to 6. Coco didn't get the walk off, but he did work a walk after an epic, 10-pitch battle with Kohn. That left the bases loaded for none other than Daric Barton, who was essentially tasked with getting the ball out of the infield, as the Angels brought Cole Calhoun in from right field to play first base and spread the four original infielders throughout the rest of the diamond. After taking the first pitch up and in, Barton proceeded to take two uncharacteristically huge cuts at pitches, took another ball to push the count to 2-2, and then took another huge cut on a 95mph four-seamer that he didn't come close to touching. Josh Donaldson came close to suffering same fate after falling into an 0-2 hole, but in the end, he did what an All-Star and MVP-caliber player does — he hit a line shot to the gap in right-center field that Mike Trout had no prayer of getting to, allowing Jemile Weeks to trot home for the game-winning run. The A's would drop the finale of the series, but as it goes, they still dropped the magic number after a Rays comeback against Joe Nathan and Texas (foreshadowing, perhaps?) baseballgirl explains: Just another day at the ballpark, where everyone collectively says, "Thank God this wasn't the playoffs!" Whatever, it's a loss. They happen to good teams over the season. More concerning however, continues to be the bullpen struggles of first Ryan Cook and now Grant Balfour, who have pitched a full season, yet need to be a whole lot sharper than they have been, and they need to do it in about 10 days. But with Texas' loss, it didn't matter; the A's magic number was down to 5!
The A's played the Twins again, en route to reducing their magic number even further, now to 4. They would win the first game, as Alan Torres recaps: It was a wild game, but the A’s ultimately emerged victorious on the strength of their second-half power surge that they showed off in the sixth and eighth innings. In the sixth, pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo tied the game, and Jed Lowrie would provide the big blow, a two-out three-run homer that for a time appeared to be the difference maker. However, after the bullpen wobbled too far, and some BABIP help, the Twins would tie it before Coco Crisp provided the crowning blow in the 8th, a two-run shot to wrap up the scoring for the evening. They would also win the second game of the four-game series, as baseballgirl tells us: Who would have thunk it? The A's end game #154 with a magic number of 2, which means that they can clinch the AL West as early as tomorrow. Of course, since the A's play during the day, and the Rangers at night, selfishly for fans, it would probably be more fun with the clinch on Sunday. But I know no one really cares; all we care about is clinching the AL West, and you know what? With a 7 1/2 game lead--the A's biggest since 2006--they are on the cusp of clinching the AL West. Just like that, the magic number was 2. The A's would win the next day as well, says Alex Hall, as they won the series, and would look for the four-game series sweep, and the clinch. The Oakland Athletics are the hottest team in the American League, and even Mother Nature couldn't steal their thunder on Saturday. She did her best to rain on their parade, but, after a two-hour delay, the A's improved their AL-best September record to 15-5 with a convincing 9-1 victory over the Twins. Things were looking cloudy at the end of August, but Oakland now finds itself one win away from clinching its second straight AL West title with a week left in the regular season. Magic Number 1! And with the four-game series sweep--well, technically with a Rangers' loss earlier that day, but this sounds better--the A's clinched the American League West and became back-to-back champs! Nico called this one: Thus, Sonny Gray took a 6-1 lead to the 3rd, as Kansas City loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the 10th. But Mike Moustakas popped up. And George Kottaras bounced into a force at home. Oh noes! No clinchies yet. By the way, the Twins got a couple runners on base against Gray, so anyway...KC's Justin Maxwell crushed a walk-off grand slam to eliminate Texas from AL West contention -- and moments later Gray served up a 3-run HR to Oswaldo Arcia to put the Twins right back in the game, 6-4. And the fans were standing, cheering, celebrating, because the A's had just clinched the AL West. Perhaps a bit anti-climactic that Gray gave up the 3-run HR when he did, but let the good times roll! There you have it: The 2013 American League West was won, by the Oakland Athletics!
More games were played to end the season, as the A's tried to overtake the Boston Red Sox for the best record in the AL, which would have matched them up against the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays instead of the vaunted pitching staff of the Detroit Tigers. Pick your poison, I guess. The A's won the first against the Angels, lost the second, and the third. They clinched home-field advantage against the Tigers on game #160, playing the Mariners, no small feat, and no small difference. They lost the second game, and lost the overall record to Boston the next day, but they would finish the season on a winning note.
And now, here we go! A's vs. Tigers, rematch of 2012. Tomorrow night. Hold on to your butts.