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AL Wild Card Playoff Game Thread: Oakland Athletics at Kansas City Royals

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I don't need to say a single word to hype up the first playoff game of 2014. I'm not looking for a "Win or Go Home" sign in the clubhouse; no one needs that reminder. Here, in the land of zero expectations, at the close of a season that has been dying a slow death since August, this battered, bruised, all-but-beaten A's team, against all odds, finished the regular season, and with their last gasp of breath, managed to split a four-game series as they stumbled over the finish line, the last team to end. Yet even now, they could resurrect their season in a single moment and be reborn tomorrow as a bone fide playoff team. All it will take is one road win over the feel-good story of the Kansas City Royals, who are making their first playoff appearance in 29 years in front of a crowd that hasn't seen a playoff game in a lifetime.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Good afternoon and welcome to the first game of the playoffs! In an ironic nod to platoons, your front page writers are mixing up today's game thread so you can hear different voices of coverage for the 2014 playoffs. I have opened this game preview thread, and I'll be adding the overflow game threads, so feel free to be as chatty as possible; if I have to open a thread an inning, I certainly will!

I'm going to start with the elephant (Hi Stomper!) in the room, so to speak, as we move from despair to hope as I assure you that this game is not another Game 5.

What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today.

For many of us, the last six weeks of the season devolved into a Groundhog Day nightmare from which we weren't sure we'd ever emerge. It looked an awful lot like A's baseball on the surface; yet no matter what we--or the team--tried, the game ended in a loss, and it repeated itself night after night, day after day, in a seemingly never-ending story of bad baseball. And not just any bad baseball; one-run losses, mental errors, a different type of failure every day; you get the picture--you lived it. Of course people were down on the A's; it would have been impossible to watch the months-long collapse and not eventually give up on the idea of any 2014 playoff game.

And not just any playoff game. A single-game win-or-go-home contest for the right to play into an ALDS series. I'm looking right at the elephant: The A's historically suck at elimination games. Much better teams than this one have fallen in the do-or-die game; no matter how the team arrived at Game 5, you could have put cold hard cash on the loss.

Straight from Moneyball:

""My s*** doesn't work on in the play-offs. My job is getting us to the play-offs. What happens after that is f****** luck."

Never has this quote been more poignant than right now. You all know that there would be no bigger irony than this bunch of Oakland Athletics going to the ALDS on equal footing with some of the powerhouses of Oakland's past. Because the truth: It's a one-game playoff game. It's a coin flip. And if there was ever a time for Oakland to come out on the winning side of a coin flip, it would be right now.

Kansas City and James Shields will wear the pressure in this one; it's their game to lose. The A's are in the playoffs only because new playoff rules added a second Wild Card; it's only by virtue of this team existing in 2014 that we have a playoff game today at all, and if you're looking for a win/win, either the A's will lose and complete the collapse, Groundhog Day will finally end, and we can move on to 2015...or the A's will win, fly to Anaheim for a second chance at the series that wasn't and--except for one single home game advantage--erase all traces of August and September and start the playoffs in earnest on Thursday in the exact same position as before the collapse.

I repeat: This is not Game 5.

Which is why you should feel like this tonight:

The A's aren't supposed to be here; yet, here they are and for once, they have a real ace on the mound. Jon Lester will start the biggest game of 2014 for the Oakland Athletics, while we roll the dice, hoping for boxcars.

The A's are gearing up for a 1-0 game by shoring up the defense behind Lester while the offense tries to scratch out a run against the Royals' ace, James Shields. Who also happens to be right-handed, a big plus when you consider the string of left-handed pitchers the A's have faced. And it is the playoffs; to win, you have to beat the other team's ace.

I heard this song on the radio this morning and I think it hits the key points. The chorus of "Whatever", "It Doesn't Matter" and "Oh Well" perfectly matches our feelings as if we'd given up on the season long ago; we hope we're dancing on the edge of the Hollywood sign as the team flies to Los Angeles tonight, and "Ain't nobody gonna tell us to go 'cause this is our show" is my dream for tonight's game.

Followed shortly by this:

I could talk about the Royals; their game, the years of struggle in Kansas City, the fans alive and whipped up into a frenzy at their own playoff baseball, but they have their own website. Here it's is all about the green and gold. As with any road game, but especially this one, the longer the A's offense puts up zeros on the board, the smaller the margin for error for Lester. If the A's can manage to get a run or two early, they might be able to ride Lester all the way to a win. Nothing more to do now but sit back, try to relax, and enjoy the show.

Here are your lineups for the only game in town, your 2014 Oakland Athletics, A Playoff Team:

Today's Lineups

OAKLAND A'S KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Coco Crisp - CF Alcides Escobar - SS
Sam Fuld - LF Norichika Aoki - RF
Josh Donaldson - 3B Lorenzo Cain - CF
Brandon Moss - DH Eric Hosmer - 1B
Josh Reddick - RF Billy Butler - DH
Jed Lowrie - SS Alex Gordon - LF
Stephen Vogt - 1B Salvador Perez - C
Geovany Soto - C Omar Infante - 2B
Eric Sogard - 2B Mike Moustakas - 3B
Jon Lester - LHP James Shields - RHP

LET'S GO OAK-LAND!