You can breathe again, Athletics Nation. The A's are in the playoffs, thanks to a 4-0 victory over the Texas Rangers on the final day of the regular season. Sonny Gray threw a shutout, the lineup scored in two different innings, and the team will travel to Kansas City for the Wild Card play-in game on Tuesday. But before we get into this game, let me take you on a quick journey back in time.
It is Oct. 1, 2000, and the 90-70 A's are facing the last-place Rangers on the final day of the regular season (the record only adds up to 160 games because they had a cancellation earlier in the year). The A's have a half-game lead over the terrifying Seattle Mariners, led by a future Yankee superstar (A-Rod), and whoever loses out on the division is not guaranteed a Wild Card berth with the 90-72 Cleveland Indians lurking for a potential Game 163 tiebreaker.
In that game, Tim Hudson, the young, small-framed, right-handed bulldog, wrapping up his first full season, threw eight dominant, shutout innings. The lineup scratched out three runs. Jason Isringhausen came in to close the door with a mighty yell. The Mariners ended up beating the Angels in their game, but it didn't matter because Oakland held the tiebreaker and thus clinched the division with that 91st victory.
Fast forward 14 years.
It's Sept. 28, 2014, and the 87-74 A's are facing the last-place Rangers on the final day of the regular season. The A's have a one-game lead over the surging Seattle Mariners, led by a former Yankee superstar (Cano), and whoever loses out on the second Wild Card goes home for the winter. Win today, or face a Game 163 tiebreaker against Seattle just to make the Wild Card play-in. Victory is crucial, though both teams are already clear of the 85-77 Cleveland Indians.
In this game, Sonny Gray, the young, small-framed, right-handed bulldog, wrapping up his first full season, threw nine dominant, shutout innings. The lineup scratched out four runs. No relief was necessary; Gray finished the game himself. The Mariners ended up beating the Angels in their game, but it doesn't matter because Oakland clinched the second Wild Card with that 88th victory.
There's not much to say about the game itself. Sonny was the highlight, as he needed only 103 pitches (74 strikes) to silence Texas for nine frames. He only had three 1-2-3 innings, but he also only had one in which he allowed more than one baserunner. The Rangers collected six hits and an HBP (no walks), but they only reached third base once and only got as far as second one other time. A big double play in the fifth halted a first-and-third, one-out rally, and Sonny was never really in trouble other than that. The double play was off the bat of Adam Rosales -- like in a movie, the Curse of the Former A's was magically lifted right when it mattered most.
The A's got their first two runs in the second. Brandon Moss led off with a double to the wall in left-center, and Josh Reddick followed him with a blast just out of the reach of a sprinting Leonys Martin in center; the ball hit the wall and bounced back toward the diamond, allowing Moss to score and Reddick to leg out a triple by the time Martin had retrieved it. Stephen Vogt hit a flare to center that fell in for a hit -- it wasn't pretty, but it scored Reddick for, technically, a crooked number for the inning.
Oakland didn't put another runner on base until the eighth. Starter Nick Martinez and Derek Holland (who came on in relief) retired 17 straight batters until Geovany Soto, who had collected the team's last hit back in the second, singled to center. He was soon eliminated on a double play.
In the ninth, Alberto Callaspo came in to pinch-hit for Adam Dunn, which just ... happy thoughts, it all turned out okay. Hopefully Callaspo won't be on the playoff roster so that Melvin can't keep using him. Anyway, Callaspo grounded out to Adrian Beltre at third, but the four-time Gold Glover flubbed the play and threw the ball away, allowing Callaspo to reach second. With one out, pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes was intentionally walked to bring up Reddick (with Billy Burns and Sam Fuld both in as pinch-runners). Reddick hit a grounder to Adam Rosales, but Rosey clanked it off his glove and everyone was safe. In my imagination, Rosales did that on purpose and then winked at the A's dugout, as if to say, "Thanks for the good times, fellas, that one was on the house."
Up stepped Jed Lowrie. Man, it's been a tough season for Lowrie, who has hit into more bad luck than seems physically possible this year. Today, the script was flipped. Lowrie shot a grounder toward Rougned Odor at second, slightly to Odor's left, but for some reason Odor broke right, toward the base. Rather than easily scooping up a routine inning-ending double play ball, he watched helplessly as Lowrie's hit bounced into right-center for a two-run single. Many on the game thread pointed out how much Odor's play stunk. So, to summarize the rally: two-base error by Beltre, intentional walk, "infield hit" that was really an error by Rosey, and a single that was really a blown play by Odor. The Rangers infield either really wanted to go home, or they really don't like the Mariners and wanted the A's to put up some insurance runs. Those runs helped all of us stay a bit calmer when the last batter of the game, Jake Smolinski, came just a few feet short of a two-run homer off of Gray -- even if it had gone out instead of falling into Fuld's glove, the lead would have been intact.
The A's brought it down to the final day and gave us all a hell of a scare, but they have avoided one of the worst collapses in MLB history by reaching the postseason. Honestly, the Angels were probably going to win the division no matter what Oakland did, so the only real price of this whole two-month nightmare is that the Wild Card game will be in Kansas City instead of in Oakland. I'll take Jon Lester anywhere against the Royals, and I'll take the A's rotation over any other AL team's in a short series.
So breathe easy, AN, at least until Tuesday. The first step toward a World Series title has been completed. It didn't go quite like we thought it would, and it wasn't always pretty, but our team has made it into the tournament. And now, anything can happen.
The new season starts on Tuesday. Every team is 0-0, nobody is hot, and nobody is cold. October is coming.