The first half of the 2014 season came and went with the Oakland Athletics clearly emerging as the best team in baseball. Last week was about two things -- celebrating that first-half success, and getting started on the second half of the season. Both of those things went very well.
The early part of the week brought us the All-Star break. This is usually a time for A's fans to take a few days off baseball, stopping for a moment to tune in to the eighth inning of the Midsummer Classic to see our token middle reliever record a couple of outs against NL reserves. This year, things were different. Oakland sent two representatives to the Home Run Derby, and one of them won it -- Yoenis Cespedes became only the second player to win back-to-back Derbies (joining Ken Griffey Jr), and only the third to win more than one at all (Prince Fielder is the third). Josh Donaldson didn't do much in the competition, but at least he was there and he didn't embarrass himself with an 0-fer like Yasiel Puig did. Then the A's sent six players to the actual All-Star Game, which is the most that they've sent since 1975. Add a seventh player in the form of recently acquired Jeff Samardzija, who wore a Cubs uniform for the NL team.
When the regular season resumed on Friday, the A's opened with a series at home against the Orioles. Lest you worry that any magic has begun to fade from this club as the summer drags on, the very first game brought with it a thrilling walk-off home run by Donaldson which turned a two-run ninth-inning deficit into an exciting win. The A's went on to take two of three from Baltimore to get the second half started on the right foot.
Here are the main stories from the last week.
Cespedes goes back back back-to-back
Yo knows homers. Here is a video of all 30 of his bombs from the Derby.
And here is Donaldson's considerably shorter highlight reel.
A's vs. NL
The A's didn't do much in the All-Star Game, but they accounted for around 20 percent of the roster. Here is what everyone did in the game:
Josh Donaldson (starting): 0-for-2, good defense
Derek Norris: 1-for-2, run scored
Yoenis Cespedes: 0-for-2, hilarious throw 20 feet above cutoff man's head
Brandon Moss: 0-for-1
Scott Kazmir: 2 outs recorded, 1 hit, 1 strikeout, no runs, hold
Sean Doolittle: 2 outs recorded, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts, no runs, hold
Here is Norris collecting his hit off of former Athletic Pat Neshek:
... and Doolittle fanning Starlin Castro:
At the time, I thought it was weird that Boston/AL manager John Farrell pulled both Kazmir and Doo mid-inning. However, a look over the box score shows that Farrell managed his All-Star pitching staff better than perhaps anyone I've ever seen. He managed to get 11 pitchers into the nine-inning game, and no team had its hurlers account for more than four outs. That means that a maximum number of fans got to see their teams contribute without one club taking over, which seems to me to be the point of the game in the first place. The teams who got four outs were the A's (Kaz 2, Doo 2), the Mariners (Felix 3, Rodney 1), and the Red Sox (Lester 3, Uehara 1). In fact, it was kind of nice to see Farrell go for the A's pitchers over his own star closer, who got to face only one batter.
The only guys left out were Mark Buehrle, who was surely being saved for emergency long relief in his fifth All-Star Game, and Dellin Betances, who is a Yankee (which means no one is shedding tears and it's kind of funny that Boston's manager left him unused). And Toronto fans had Jose Bautista to watch for two days, and Yankee fans got to obsess over Jeter all day. Kudos to Farrell for remembering the spirit of the game.
Bonus: Here is a Yankee manager complaining that a Yankee didn't get enough love in the All-Star Game. That sound you hear is the crickets from nobody else in the world caring that a Yankee was snubbed, much less a Yankee almost-rookie on a team full of stars who have all achieved mountains more than he has to this point. That's what it feels like to be a fan of every other team, Mr. Girardi.
Oh, and the A's now have home-field advantage if they make it to the World Series, thanks largely to All-Star MVP Mike Trout. See, the Angels are good for something.
It looked like a bummer of a way to start the second half. The A's were down two runs in the ninth, and the opposing closer had a 1.30 ERA. Cespedes beat out an infield single on a 40-foot grounder. Moss dropped a broken-bat flare into right field for another hit.
Then, it started raining. Figuratively.
Has he done it? HE HAS!
According to a graphic on the Sunday broadcast, this is the leaderboard for walk-off hits since the beginning of 2012:
Russell Martin, 6
Freddie Freeman, 6
Josh Donaldson, 5
Coco Crisp, 5
A.J. Ellis, 5
Paul Goldschmidt, 5
A few nice performances from the Baltimore series to start the second half:
Donaldson: 4-for-12, HR, 2B, 5 RBI, 4 runs
Cespedes: 5-for-13, 4 runs
John Jaso: 3-for-9, 2B, 3B, 3 RBI
Stephen Vogt: 4-for-9, 2B, BB, RBI
Eric Sogard: 2-for-4 on Sunday, with an RBI groundout
Sonny Gray: 6⅔ innings, 2 runs (1 earned), 2 hits, 8 K's
Ryan Cook & Eric O'Flaherty: combined for 5 shutout innings w/ 2 hits in 4 appearances, one win in relief (by O'Fats)
No Country For Old Cubs
On the other hand ...
Jeff Samardzija: 7 innings, 4 runs, 4 K's, 2 homers, 2 HBP, many missed locations
Jason Hammel: 2+ innings, 5 runs, 6 hits, 2 homers, 2 walks, 2 K's
Shark was wild, but at least he kept things under control and kept the team in a game that they eventually came back and won. Hammel, on the other hand, was an absolute gascan. If you're a pessimist, you may freak out now after two subpar starts. If you're an optimist, chalk this up to the fact that he hadn't started in 10 days and that starters are notorious for preferring their normal, routine rest. In Hammel's first start, he was on a new team in a new league. In his second, he hadn't pitched in 10 days. His next start will be his first routine outing in green and gold. I will personally be withholding judgment until then.
'89 World Series reunion
This video is 25 minutes long. You will probably still enjoy it anyway. Happy 25th anniversary to Oakland's most recent World Series champs.
Those who watched the weekend's broadcasts were treated to in-booth appearances by the likes of Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart, Dave Parker, Jose Canseco, and Tony LaRussa. Bob Welch's No. 35 jersey hung in the dugout as a tribute to the late pitcher.
Now you're just showing off
Cespedes notched his MLB-leading 12th outfield assist of the season, but this one felt cheap.
Y'know, it's also OK to just catch the ball, Yo.