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How The (2013 American League) West Was Won AN Style - In April

I meant to write one of these this last year, but honestly, the AL West was no more than a shadowy idea in my mind, even as late as late September. This year, with an actual magic number countdown (something we saw not once in last year's comeback), I thought it would be fun to see how exactly the A's managed to wrest the AL West out of the grip of the Rangers for the second straight season. Congratulations to the Oakland Athletics, your 2013 American League West Champions!

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

It took the A's 156 games to win the American League West this year, which is a tiny, if not slightly less exciting, but better for your blood pressure, improvement from 2012. Do you remember how they did it? Do you remember the highs; the winning streaks? The losing streaks? The key games? The best games? Well, here's a reminder as we celebrate all the way into October, and hopefully beyond. This was one crazy roller-coaster, but here we sit, exhausted but happy, reveling in the thrill of back-to-back Division titles.

For the ninth straight year, the Oakland Athletics opened the season with a loss; the fourth out of five years that they have lost to Felix Hernandez. For all those that were comparing 2012 to 2013, the season was off to the perfect start. In Alex Hall's opening game thread, the memorable quote appears: I'm a lot more concerned with the 162nd game of a baseball season than the first. Note: The A's lost 2-0, and Houston beat Texas the day before, giving the Astros first place, and with the Angels and Mariners' opening night win, the Rangers and A's shared the basement.

The second game of the season was plenty worse than the first; although the A's scored their first run of the season on Yoenis Cespedes' first home run of the season, that would be the extent of their scoring. A's lose 7-1, and from Billy Frijoles: You can be excused for panicking. Normally an 0-2 start isn't cause for alarm; it is a long season, and the A's aren't exactly known as fast starters. However, the A's have looked atrocious in these first couple of games, so feel free to lament, whine, cry, throw stuff, and kick your best friend. The A's won their third game of the year, as yours truly, baseballgirl, brought you the call, But then…something different happened. Instead of rolling over for the next 24 outs, the A's actually put together a real offense, scoring runs in multiple innings, while Tommy Milone dusted himself off and set down 16 out of 17 Mariners to finish his first outing with seven strong innings and 102 pitches. The A's would wind up splitting the series with the Mariners as they won the fourth game of the season in commanding style. Alan Torres with the call: After their bats were in a slumber for the first two games, the next two games have shown flashes of the team we grew to love at the end of 2012. The A's .500 record was good enough to pull them into second place, behind the Rangers, and set-up the seesaw that would continue for a hundred and fifty-two more games.

The A's then flew to Houston to take on the newly-AL-minted Houston Astros, basically the best thing to ever happen to the rest of the AL West, and certainly partially responsible for the A's solid first half. They won the first game, baseballgirl tells us: But then came the fifth inning. If you like to use your baseball games to run errands, perhaps get a haircut, make some dinner, walk the dog, perhaps a short movie; then the fifth inning would have been perfect for you. Clinging to a 1-0 lead, the Astros handed the A's seven runs in the inning to give them a 8-0 lead. And in the second game, says Alex Hall, Bartolo Colon needed just 83 pitches to complete 6 quality innings, and Houston manager Bo Porter left in his starter, Bud Norris, for just one or two batters too long. There were also dingers. And they completed the sweep, as Nico has the call: "Winnin' Stupid"? That might be the best motto for the A's 5th consecutive win, a 9-3 trouncing of the hapless Houston Astros. This was the game where Brett Anderson couldn't keep his bare hands off the ball, and where Reddick dove into a wall with the A's up 8-0. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20, but this is where Reddick's season first was derailed. Little did we know that Anderson would have more to worry about than his fingers this season. But with the A's 5-game winning streak, they pulled in front of Texas for the AL West lead after the first seven games (Texas would tie it up on the off-day.)

The winning streak would reach 6 as the A's moved into Anaheim. Alan Torres: While the A's only had 2 errors on paper, miscues by Chris Young in right field and Scott Sizemore at second base directly led to 3 Angel runs in their half of the 6th. The A's would answer right back, though, scoring 5 times in the top of the 7th on a John Jaso two-out pinch-hit three-run home run, and a Brandon Moss two-run shot two batters later. The bullpen then settled down, as Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, and Grant Balfour came on to get the last 9 outs of the game. Drink. The A's would win the series the next night, on the strength of their 7th win in a row. baseballgirl has the call: Well, that was fun. No, actually, it was a LOT of fun. Think back to last week, when the A's won their first game of the season on last Wednesday night. Fast-forward six games, and six wins to tonight. Posting over 2500 comments, five game threads, including a new thread an inning during the really fun part; winning seven games in a row, winning this series and sending the division-rival Angels to the cellar as Houston beats Seattle for the second consecutive night, the loud "Let's Go Oak-land" cheer from Anaheim while Brandon Mossome runs amok through the ninth game of the season? Seriously, what's not to like? The sweep was all-but-inevitable as the A's extended their winning streak to 8 with this game, called by Lev Facher, When's the last time the A's were at .800? Man, this season has been fun so far. Tonight, the A's finished off a sweep of the Angels in their own ballpark — the cumulative score for the series was 28-11. The A's hit six home runs, too. All without Josh Reddick. With a shiny 8-2 record and a game and a half lead in the West, the A's looked well on their way to distancing themselves right out of the gate.

Then came the weekend in Detroit. The A's extended their streak to 9 in a row as Alex Hall explains, If you didn't watch tonight's A's game, then don't worry about it. You didn't miss much. It was only a 12-inning affair in which the A's clawed back from an early 3-run deficit while their bullpen tossed 5 dominant innings with Brandon Moss in left field because Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes left with injuries culminating in Josh Donaldson lining an opposite-field walk-off homer which came not a moment too soon because reliever Chris Resop was the scheduled cleanup hitter. You know, same old. The rest of the weekend was rocky, as baseballgirl explains, Let's be realistic. The A's are 9-3 to start their 2013 campaign; they have a chance for the series win tomorrow, and they are leading the Majors in just about all offensive categories. There isn't a lot to complain about. But what is mildly frustrating about today is that FOR ONCE, they played Justin Verlander exactly right. The A's offense valiantly battled Verlander, scratching and clawing to get a run. They strung together three singles in the third inning, and, even though they wouldn't get to him again, they forced him to throw so many pitches (111 to be exact) that he could only complete six innings. That's how to beat the Tigers with Verlander pitching. And had Brett Anderson pitched anywhere in the neighborhood of a quality start - not even a shutout - they likely would have won the game. They would also drop the finale of the series, for their first series loss. Nico sums up the debacle, You want a play-by-play summary of today's game? Sure. First, let me just offer you a play-by-play summary of your last root canal. At around 3:20pm, a sharp needle pierced your gums to deliver the first dose of anesthesia...Oh, you want to me stop? OK. I'm glad we understand each other. Basically, Austin Jackson opened the game ripping a line drive single off of Jarrod Parker and that's how it went until Bob Melvin went to the bullpen after 3.1 IP. It's also how it went against the bullpen at times, but by then no A's fans cared or were sober. Now at 9-4, the A's still held a 1 game lead over the Rangers.

Back home in Oakland, the A's were delighted to face the Houston Astros yet again in this early season, and even more delighted to knock out Eric Bedard after just 0.1 of an inning. Alan Torres explains, On the strength of a six-run first inning, and 6.2 innings of 2-run baseball from Tommy Milone, the A’s took the first game of a three-game series against the Astros at the Coliseum. Lev Facher handled the second game, Josh "Rainmaker" Donaldson hit a clutch RBI triple with two outs in the 8th inning, allowing Grant Balfour to shut the door in the 9th. The A's improve to 11-4, while Houston falls to 4-10. We also were introduced to Rain. The A's completed the Houston sweep with the call from Alex Hall, Sometimes in life, things go exactly as you expect they will. You go to the DMV and there's a three-hour line, just as the stereotype dictates. You wait for the cable guy from 8am to noon, and he shows up at 4pm, just as the joke always goes. Or, you play the Houston Astros and you completely embarrass them in a 3-game sweep. Just as you would expect. Now 12-4, the A's held a 2 game lead over the Rangers; both teams opening up an early 6-game-plus lead over the other three AL West contestants.

The next week brought challenges for the little team that could, as the Tampa Bay Rays swept the A's in the next series in Florida. baseballgirl: First the good news: The A’s scored 3 runs off Alex Cobb, and one of them was Coco’s 5th homerun of the year! Then the bad, which pretty much was the entire game: Three runs wouldn’t be enough to erase Brett Anderson’s 4 run first, and Scribner’s 4 run outing, and aside from the first inning, the A's couldn't seem to hit with a single RISP. Billy Frijoles: Although the A's entered the game leading the league in runs, they were unable to muster even a single run against a trio of Tampa Bay pitchers that have seen little success this season (Jeremy Hellickson, Joel Peralta, and Fernando Rodney). It's important to emphasize the one positive. Jarrod Parker seems to have put behind him the control issues that plagued him in the first three starts of the season. Nico: It was, if nothing else, a team effort, as the pitching, hitting and defense all conspired to make sure the A's experienced their first 3-game losing streak and did it in style. The sweep sent the A's to a 12-7 record, and put them a half game behind the Rangers for the AL West lead.

They didn't do much better in the next two series. Against Boston, the A's dropped the opener to lose their 4th game in a row, and all four of the road trip. Billy Frijoles with the call: The A's battled, then battled again, but ultimately couldn't cover their own miscues en route to a 9-6 loss on a frigid night in Boston. They would pull it together in the second game, behind Bartolo Colon, who was starting to show flashes of being the A's early ace in a rain-shortened game in Boston. baseballgirl: You know how people sometimes say, "Everything's coming up A's tonight?" Well, maybe they don't really say that, but that's what happened in a truly horrific weather night at Fenway park as the A's absolutely pounded the Red Sox, taking all of their frustration out on the ball. They would lose the finale; however, in an annoying one-run loss in a shabby game for both teams, that saw the A's lose this one. Alex Hall with the game notes: Before I recap this game, I want everyone to take a deep breath. This was a close game in which neither team really played well enough to win, and the home team ended up with the victory. These things happen. It's still April; let's not dwell on this one too much. The A's were down 13-9, 1.5 games behind Texas.

Unfortunately for the A's, the nightmare road trip just kept coming, as the A's lost 3 of 4 in Baltimore, dropping the first three, but coming alive for the series finale. Alan Torres: After a scalding hot start to the season, the A’s are now ice cold. They have won just once in their last 7 games. Stop me if you have heard this before: The A's scored first, and scored multiple runs in one of the first 3 innings. A top pitcher looked good once through the batting order. Then, everything fell apart. The A's would waste another pitching performance in the second game; baseballgirl with the call: Did you guys see the game!? It was so amazing. Back and forth, one team would score, then the other; the fans were going crazy, and it was so loud, and all of Oakland was rocking, and the team was playing to win! And then Curry, and then Jack, and then Green even made a three! Oh....wait.That was next door. The third game was lost in front of a near-sellout crowd, Lev Facher describes the loss: But the A's couldn't make it happen for the boisterous crowd, and have now lost eight of their last nine games, and three consecutive series to Tampa Bay, Boston, and now Baltimore. Suddenly, the A's hot start had all but vanished, and they found themselves with a record of 13-12, 3.5 games behind the Rangers. The final game of the series, gamethread hosted by Nico, brought us this gem: No I will not date you, Miss .500! No I won't!!!! It took a dramatic Seth Smith HR to tie it in the 7th, then an even more dramatic HR by Yoenis Cespedes to tie it in the 9th, and back-to-back bunts thrown away in the bottom of the 10th to win it, but darn it if the A's didn't somehow avoid a sweep and managed to stay over .500. To us at the time, the difference between 14-12 and 13-13 was huge, and avoiding a four-game sweep had to give the A's the traction that they needed for what still remains one of the best--and most costly--game of the season.

I was roped into politely volunteered to host the guest game thread for the opening night of the Anaheim series at home in Oakland, and boy oh boy, did I walk right into that one. In the recap, I labeled it "Best. Game. Ever.", a bold move in the first month of a long baseball season, but even well over 100 other games, I think it still stands. The epic clash between the A's and the Angels, a fraught-with-peril 19th inning affair won on a walkoff by the A's, despite losing players left and right, remains the best game of the season. It's like that dream you have as a kid, where there's a natural disaster or you're marooned on an island, but somehow you're with all of your friends, and it becomes this really intense survival/sharing time right out of Lost except without the smoke monster or polar bears? Maybe there are polar bears. But either way, it's intense. And awesome. And it's an experience. And you bond. That's what happened with us and the 2013 Oakland Athletics. We weren't really sure about them; if we could possibly like them as much as the 2012 version, but this game won our hearts. baseballgirl with the 7+ hour call: If you thought yesterday's comeback was exciting and fun, you hadn't even had a preview for the awesomeness that was tonight's/this morning's. Again, staring down the barrel of the seemingly obligatory daily 5-run deficit relatively late in the game, the A's offense scratched, clawed, and fought their way back to a ninth inning tie to take it to extra innings. And then we played an entire second game and then an inning more!, complete with Jerome Williams throwing six innings, and Brett Anderson throwing into his sixth, as well. In a game neither started. Both teams took the field the next day, exhausted, and the A's were able to pull out the victory. Alan Torres brings you the call: After yesterday’s marathon, the A’s needed a quick win to secure the series victory and a good outing from Jarrod Parker. For the most part, they got both and beat the Angels. Evan Scribner, Sean Doolittle, and Grant Balfour came in from the bullpen to preserve the A’s 5th straight win against the Angels. So the A's ended April with a 16-12 record, two games behind the Rangers.