When the A's traded Cespedes, Donaldson, Moss, and now Norris, no matter the return, my first and overwhelming feeling was sadness. It was painful to watch the dismantling of these last key links to the most fun season I've ever experienced as an A's fan, that the team next year will bear almost no resemblance to the team that stole our hearts three seasons ago. It's hard to say goodbye.
The 2012 season was the first season that I remember truly starting with no expectations. It was my second year of season tickets (yes I bought IN after year 4 of the Geren years, what was wrong with me?) and the year before the team flat out sucked. We had a couple of random, interesting signings in the offseason, namely an aging Bartolo Colon and a mysterious Yoenis Cespedes with an alluring workout video and not much else known about him. We had just dumped 2/5 of an already young and solid rotation, our all-star closer, and were filling in majjo. We didn't have a third baseman at all when Scott Sizemore went down, and our outfield other than mainstay Coco Crisp was yet another mystery. The reliable Kurt Suzuki was behind the dish but spare parts abounded. Jobs were won practically by default. Eric Sogard was the opening day starter at third base. Let that sink in.
Sometimes when you have no expectations, life unfolds in beautiful ways. Kind of like how when you plan to get drunk, your night is usually a disaster, but those spontaneous nights where you just have a few drinks are when things go from normal->epic over the course of the evening.
After a month or so, the season was anything but epic, although it did deliver some flashes of excitement. Jemile Weeks, the only spark from the previous season, was looking like a one-year wonder. Josh Donaldson had a terrible start (leading to Alex Hall later commenting that "His OBP was a frowny face emoticon" and was sent down in favor of the newly acquired Brandon Inge.
On the other hand, Yoenis Cespedes was an instant revelation, crushing home runs in three of his first four games, including the epic laser shot that nearly hit the luxury boxes in centerfield of Mount Davis. Inge's grand-slam fueled tear upon arriving in Oakland and the hot start of Josh Reddick also were pleasant surprises. However, the overall result was pointing to a a sixth straight year or mediocrity for the once-proud franchise. Well, until the eventual arrival of Manny Ramirez coming off his suspension. What, did you forget about that?
Sure, the die-hards made it work. Last year's curiosity, the Balfour Rage, seemed to become a thing. Jonny Gomes was embracing his Bay Area roots. Brandon McCarthy continued his Twitter domination. But it was a slow start.
When June 6th rolled around, the A's were a paltry 24-32. They just lost to Texas the night before, in front of about 11,000 fans at the Coliseum, dropping them to 9 games back of first in the AL West. That day, Kila Ka'aihue was unceremoniously dumped for the unknown Brandon Moss. Chris Carter had been called up a week prior to that to play the same position. Rumblings from the clubhouse indicated that players were upset as Ka'aihue's wife was due to give birth to twins imminently. The team seemed like a typical "Geren" years team. Nice young pitching staff, some veteran bargains; experts at teasing, but not so much at winning.
Despite the various roster moves, June continued to be ho-hum. At the end of the month, the A's got swept by the division-leading Texas Rangers and were looking at a 13 game deficit. However, as the weather heated up, the A's bats heated up with them, and we hit July, glorious July.
Some of the AN Headlines from July 2012:
- July 1: Yu Lose! A's Salvage Finale 3-1, Saved By All-Star Cook
- July 2: Parker Stumps The Sox, A's Win 6-1!
- July 3: A’s walkoff a winner vs. Sawx, 3-2.
- July 4: Bob Melvin is on a roll
- July 4: Top O' The Order To Ye! Crisp, Weeks Come Through As A's Sweep Red Sox
- July 7: Chris Carter's Moonshot Mercifully Ends Snooze-fest, Oakland Walks Off With 4-1 Victory To Reach .500 Mark [And kept on rising]
- July 7: A Look Back At The A's Home Run Streak: 16 Games
- July 8: A’s win a game for the birds! Hitchcockian scene ends in A’s favor, 2-1
- July 13 (post all-star break): Gomes, Strikeouts, Luck lead A’s to victory, 6-3
- July 14: Power Inage! A's Launch 4 HRs in 9-3 Drubbing
- July 15: The Usual: 4 HRs, 9 Runs, Win -- A's Sweep!
- July 18: Brandon Hicks' First Homerun Leads A's to Storybook Walk-off Win
- July 19: Should the A's Even Upgrade?
- July 19: Griffin Rolls Through Bombers
- July 20: What's the Window of This Competitive Cycle?
- July 20: Milone's Fantastic Start Leads To A's 10th Walk-Off Win
- July 21: Parker Stifles Yanks, A's Win 2 - 1
- July 22: COCO AGAIN!!!! Walkoff #11 Comes In The 12th, Sweeps Yankees
- July 24: Blackley, A’s prove they can do it on the road, beat Jays 7-2
- July 25: Lucky Number Seven! A's Win Streak Reaches New Heights in 16-0 Win Over Toronto
- July 27: Green Machine Rolls On, Stuns Baltimore With 6-run 9th Inning En Route To 14-9 Victory
- July 28: Cespedes, Carter Homer As A's Continue to Roll; Weeks Collects Three Hits in A's Win
- July 29: A's Play Like We Expected Them To Play All Year, Fall 6-1 [a nod to how far the season was beginning to exceed expectations]
- July 31: Weeks Joins "Wacky Walkoff Wonder" Crew In The 15th! AND Weeks is the latest walk-off hero, A's win in 15! [so good it needed two recaps]
Baseball girl wrote this after July's astounding six-walk-offs, first ever four game sweep of the Yankees, and full 9.5 games gained in the standings:
The A's went 19-5 in the month, a winning percentage of .792; 11-3 at home, 8-2 on the road. They scored 117 runs, while only giving up 83. The A's offense collected 36 homeruns in the month, and the starting pitching ERA was 3.14.
July was the torrid start of a months long love affair with the 2012 A's, and they ended the month just 3.5 games back of first, making the AL West a three team race, with an interloper crashing the big spenders party.
Moreover, we as fans had gotten the sense that the A's were never, ever out of a game. Every inning was exciting no matter what the score was, because time and again the A's made a habit of coming back and snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Not routinely dominant, not a well-oiled machine, but really a bunch of guys that just went out there and balled. Above all, this team was fun.
Sometime over the summer, Jerry Blevins started playing a song in the clubhouse. Coco Crisp started doing a dance. Brandon Inge started using it as his walkup song. The right field bleachers got into it. And soon the entire Coliseum was doing the Bernie Lean. A music video was born. And the A's marketing guys even got into it, inviting the original "Bernie," actor Terry Kiser, to the Coliseum to throw out the first pitch. The A's won that game against the Red Sox 20-2. That is not a typo, we put up a 20 spot against Big Papi and co. And we had a promotion featuring an out of date actor most famous for playing a dead guy decades before that absolutely zero current social relevance.
After the A's picked up George Kottaras around the trade deadline, Kurt Suzuki was traded to the Nationals and the young Derek Norris was promoted back up to the big leagues, this time to stay. It was sad to see a longtime sufferer of the "Geren Years" be jettisoned during his first ever contending season, but the A's had an inexorable youth movement. With far more rookies than veterans on the squad, why not try another one?
However, after the hot July, the stretch run was not without difficulties. Inge went down in a heroic effort, where he made a diving stop and threw a runner out at first AND notched the game-winning hit with a dislocated shoulder.
With preseason plan Scott Sizemore and midseason pickup Inge out, the A's had no choice but to give a young Josh Donaldson another shot in the midst of a heated race. It turned out to be pretty good, as Donaldson proved to be a star. He truly arrived on August 17, when he went 4-4 with a double and made a great play at third, powering the A's to victory despite a Cleveland Indians grand slam.
While the highlights continued, the adversity didn't stop. On August 23, with the A's in a dogfight, rotation anchor Bartolo Colon got hit with a 50 game suspension for PEDs at the worst possible time. The A's had to call up yet another untested rookie, Dan Straily, and throw him into the fire. A's fans were besides themselves. Colon had let down the fans, players, coaching staff, everyone. But these 2012 A's did not falter. It truly seemed like the magic was with the A's.
On September 11, the A's were in a critical matchup against Anaheim. Grant Balfour had taken a seemingly insurmountable lead and turned it into something pretty damn surmountable. In the bottom of the ninth, Jerry Blevins came on with the bases loaded and no outs, and a slim one-run lead against a vaunted Angels offense. Blevins got the strikeout and double play, the A's pulled off the victory, and an Athletics Nation writer made good on his bet and pissed his pants. The A's were just three games back of the Rangers and up on the Angels by a similar margin.
However, late September, the A's had a tough road trip, and doubt started to seep in.
It was a tight 5-5 game against the hated New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. In one of the worst losses in my A's regular season memory, the comeback kids somehow fell short in excruciating fashion. The A's took the lead in the top of the 13th with three home runs in the top of the 9th. I remember running around my apartment screaming at that point. Cespedes, Gomes, and Carter all went deep to stake the A's to a 9-5 lead. It seemed like an easy win, another magic victory in a season full of them. And then the A's bullpen coughed it up, Raul freakin' Ibanez hit a 2-run jack to tie it, and a Brandon Moss error gave the victory to the Yankees in the bottom of the 14th. Ouch.
The A's were ahead of the Angels for the wild card and four games back of Texas. As luck would have it, that road trip ended with a four game series in Texas and a chance to wash away the memory of the Yankees series. With a prime opportunity to gain ground, the A's failed to do so. Heading home with a split, the A's had six games left, three against the Rangers, and were down by four. Texas was going to play Anaheim while the A's would host Seattle. It looked like a wild card berth was a strong possibility, if the Rangers took care of the Angels. However, if the Rangers took care of the Angels, it would all but put the division out of reach. We all know how it unfolded, but it's worth re-living that week again (and again).
Those last six games were about as fun as any six games could possibly be. The A's started off with an 8-2 victory over the Mariners, while the Angels took game 1 versus the Rangers. The division lead was down to three with five games left.
The next game was a classic 2012 A's special. Down 4-2 in the ninth, Josh Donaldson hit an improbable two-run home run to tie it up. I still have goosebumps as I type this; that was simply insane. Naturally, Brandon Moss followed in the 10th to hit a three run bomb and walk off in style (yet again). That prompted Ken Korach to utter a line that will live in A's lore, "THEY HAVEN'T RUN OUT OF MIRACLES YET!"
With the Rangers and Angels splitting the series, it set the stage for a faint chance at the division. The Rangers were coming back to Oakland for three games. The A's needed one win for the wild card, and a sweep of all three for the division. The comeback kids were about to attempt their biggest comeback of the season.
Game 1 went to the A's on the strength of solid pitching by Jarrod Parker and timely hitting (and balking). With the 4-3 victory, the A's clinched the wild card. And they partied. Hard. Yeah they had a game the next day that was critical for the division title (and avoiding the new one-game playoff). Yeah one of the team's biggest partiers, a journeyman Australian metalhead Twitter addict left handed waiver wire pickup just happened to be the Game 161 starter, but the A's were not deterred. They fully enjoyed that win, epitomizing the difference between a loose, young, happy-to-be-here club vs. the weight of expectations on the team that was heavily favored to win the division after two straight World Series appearances. Side note: That game gave us one of the greatest photos of all-time, Mike Trout watching his season end in real-time. Classic.
Travis Blackley of course pitched six innings of one run ball and the A's took game 2, setting the stage for a winner-take-all sold out Wednesday day game at the Coliseum. The crowd was raucous. I was at work, so a very long lunch at the bar was in order. I'm sure many of you were in the same boat. I did send my wife and her friend in my stead. They would later tell me it was the greatest ballgame they had ever been to.
Although the A's struck first, AJ Griffin coughed up five runs in the third inning. However, if the A's fans had learned one thing by that point, it was to never count this team out. In the fourth, they knocked out Ryan Dempster from the game on the strength of a walk and three straight hits. The rally was on. Replacement Derek Holland managed two outs before Coco Crisp stepped to the plate. Crisp sent a ringing double down the right field line, tying up the game and bringing the A's all the way back. When Cespedes came up, it seemed that something special would happen. Except it didn't, as he hit a lazy flyball to CF Josh Hamilton and oh wait what the hell HE DROPPED IT! Two more runs scored and the A's took a 7-5 lead. The party was on in Oaktown! The brooms came out and the A's took the division. Players ran around the field spraying the fans with water, beer and champagne. It was perfect. The never say die 2012 A's, a team of mostly rookies and castoffs, came from nothing to win the AL West title, breaking a five year playoff drought in the process.
And not only did they win it, they did it with swagger, bernie-leaning, swinging for the fences, and partying their asses off.
Of course, we all know the season ended in playoff heartbreak, but not before they pulled out a couple more miracles. Game 4 of the ALDS saw the A's down 2-1 with Max Scherzer starting for the Detroit Tigers against AJ Griffin. It was a mismatch on paper, and it turned out to be one in real life. The A's were down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth. However, the crowd was LOUD. Moreso, they were nervous. These A's had come back in the 9th all year. Why not one more night of a pie in the face after a walk-off win? Detroit closer Jose Valverde came in, and the inning started off with the luckiest seeing eye grounder ever. No matter, Josh Reddick was on board. Josh Donaldson followed with a laser shot that just missed getting out, going for an RBI double. Seth Smith followed with a double of his own, plating Donaldson. With Coco Crisp up and the crowd at a fever pitch, he delivered a base hit to right that sealed the win. Yet another miracle walk off and hope for game 5, complete with maniacal screeching from Ray Fosse. In the Coliseum, we were losing our minds.
However, it wouldn't be an A's story without some heartbreak. Justin Verlander surgically dashed that hope and the A's went down quietly in the ALDS. But then another miracle happened. As the Tigers tried to celebrate on the field. The A's fans started cheering. "Let's Go Oakland" was ringing out, louder, and louder and louder. The Tigers quickly moved into their locker room, and the A's jumped out on the field. That ovation summed up the entire season. The bond between fan and player, the specialness of the season, the full appreciation for what we had witnessed -- no one who was there will ever forget that moment.
As is the reality in baseball nowadays, the team was not together for long. Chris Carter was traded away, Travis Blackley didn't make the team out of Spring Training, but the core was still intact with Cespedes, Moss, Donaldson, Crisp, Smith, Norris, Reddick, Parker, Griffin, and others. Three years later, barely anyone is left from that team (Sean Doolittle, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Ryan Cook, a recovering Parker and Griffin, and Manager Bob Melvin are the only major players from 2012 still here. A couple of bit players like Eric Sogard and Evan Scribner also remain, for now). With the Cespedes for Lester trade, the writing was on the wall, but it doesn't make it any easier to say goodbye.
No matter what though, those guys gave us 2012. And damn, that was special. It's why Yoenis cried when he was traded. It's why Blackley wrote a love letter to A's fans when he was cut. We can certainly recreate a youthful contending team, but the magic of the 2012 A's? That was once-in-a-lifetime. And now that book is emphatically closed, with only wistful memories remaining.