Just about every story in western culture follows a general pattern called the Hero's Journey. Our A's are no different, as simply demonstrated by today's game.
The Ordinary World: For today's game, anyways, the "hero" being introduced into the ordinary world is Jesse Hahn. Hahn, while an integral part of the team's first half rotation last season, has been long removed from the A's starting staff and has begun his season in Triple-A Nashville. While his stuff has been dominant, the A's have felt as though the best path for Hahn is to stash him away in the minors, citing his injury from last season and slowly and surely recovering and rediscovering his stuff and accuracy as the reason for his stay in Nashville. While Hahn has toiled away in the minors, the A's played themselves to a .500 record and are in the early hunt for the playoffs.
The Call to Adventure: Brought on by a multitude of reasons, but Hahn was finally brought up to the major league team as a result of the injury to Chris Bassitt, who may or may not wind up receiving Tommy John Surgery on his elbow within the next few weeks. Someone needed to step up and take the reigns of the team, and Jesse Hahn rose up to answer the call.
Refusal of the Call: Jesse Hahn wasn't the first alternate choice for the starting rotation, nor was he the second. Eric Surkamp started the season for the A's, pitching just well enough to keep the team close in each game that he pitched, but not necessarily well enough to bring comfort to the fanbase, and rookie phenom Sean Manaea received the call directly before Jesse Hahn, making his debut amongst lots of buzz about the future of the Oakland Athletics' franchise. Jesse Hahn's debut, just one day later, didn't have the same excitement surrounding it, but that doesn't mean that his debut was any less significant for the team as a whole.
Meeting with a Mentor: This would likely be the call itself that brought Jesse Hahn to the major league team. The Oakland A's had a need, a major need with Bassitt going on the disabled list, and Jesse Hahn did not hesitate to step forward and retake his place on the major league club. Everything that happened last season was now irrelevant, all of Hahn's past successes, etc, with all the focus now shifting on how Jesse Hahn could potentially take a club that would be flirting with mediocrity and a .500 record all season and turn it into a playoff contender. With a pitching staff that has a usually great Sonny Gray and an incredible late career revival in Rich Hill, Jesse Hahn represents what the team would hope to be stability and consistency in the rotation for the rest of the season, as well as the chance to push the starting rotation from merely "good" to "great."
Crossing the Threshold: Jesse Hahn's minor league experience this season showed a lot of promise, but in his most recent starts Hahn hadn't been going very deep into games due to bad luck via the weather. There were certainly questions surrounding Hahn regarding how deep he would be able to pitch into the game today, and whether or not he finally found the accuracy that made him a formidable force in previous seasons. Hahn responded to the concerns of everyone around him by facing the minimum number of batters through the first five innings of the game. Any and all batters who reached base would be immediately eliminated via the double play.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies: Jesse Hahn did his job today (a sentiment that really is an understatement considering how well he pitched overall), but the A's would not have emerged victorious through Hahn alone. Against new Astros starter Chris Devenski, Billy Burns hit a two RBI single, scoring Yonder Alonso and Josh Phegley, after the A's started a two out rally in the second inning. The rally was sustained largely via the walk, something that the A's, surprisingly, haven't been doing all too much of this season. Once the A's took the lead, they never looked back.
Approach: As Jesse Hahn pitched deeper and deeper into the game, concerns about his stamina began to arise, as bad weather in the minor leagues had limited the number of pitches he was capable of throwing in his previous two starts. While Jesse Hahn had been pitching in a refreshingly efficient manner, he wasn't going to be able to finish the game he started, and in the seventh inning he was finally removed, bringing his final pitching line to a very respectable 6.2 innings pitched, just three hits and two walks, four strikeouts and no runs allowed. Perhaps if the A's had managed to push across a few more runs Hahn would have been allowed to remain on the mound for a few batters longer, but with the game on the line, it made sense to hand it over to the dominant A's bullpen.
The Ordeal: Pushing slightly forward, the biggest test for the A's in this game occurred in the ninth inning. With the usually dependable Ryan Madson on the mound, the Astros managed to load the bases courtesy of a couple of walks and a single. Since the A's only managed to score on Billy Burns' single in the second inning of the game, a hit would be able to tie the score, and potentially spoil what had been a very well played, very promising ballgame for the young club. However, Ryan Madson buckled down and induced a game-ending double play to push the A's back over .500 and give the A's a winning month overall.
The Reward: A victory over any division rival is wonderful in itself, especially when said division rival is the consensus favorite to win the division this season. The victory for the A's today doesn't get the team back into first place, but it does bring the A's within a game of first place, at least temporarily so. While the journey is still far from over, the victory that was had on this day will be a boon for the team in the days and weeks to come, especially considering the team's previous struggles with winning at home and with another long road trip on the horizon.
The Road Back: Today's victory is nice and should be celebrated, and it ultimately guaranteed a winning month for the team, but it is also important to acknowledge that the season is now only one month over, with five more months of regular season baseball followed by one month of postseason baseball still to come. Soon, players who have been struggling will no longer have the excuse of "it's just early, give them time to adjust," but at the same time, those players that have been struggling have finally started to show signs of life, as Khris Davis is no longer an automatic strikeout at the plate, and Yonder Alonso followed up last night's' walk off homerun with a double and a run scored today.
The Resurrection: Jesse Hahn received his first test today, and he passed it with flying colors. However, with the vast season still waiting before him, Hahn still has a lot to prove, and has to do a lot to silence those who believe that he is either too fragile or simply not good enough to anchor the A's pitching staff. Typically, in the hero's journey, the hero makes one final major sacrifice that is able to push their cause over the top and ensure ultimate victory, but Jesse Hahn has yet to reach that part of his journey. Perhaps the major sacrifice takes form as Chris Bassitt needing Tommy John surgery, all but guaranteeing that Hahn remains in the starting rotation, but all are still holding out hope that the pitcher with the Wainwright-esque ability is able to stay on the field.
Return with the Elixir: This part of the A's hero's journey has eluded the team for decades. Time and time again, the A's have threatened to take the world series crown but have come up just short, losing winner-take-all after winner-take-all in the playoffs. And time will only tell whether or not the A's will be able to finally take the ultimate prize or not. However, the A's have long been the heroes of this fanbase, and will continue to be the heroes for years and years to come. It's only a matter of time that the team finally steps forward as the ultimate victors, and it could happen at any moment. You just gotta believe, and the A's are certainly a team worth believing in.
A's are now 13-12 and going for the sweep tomorrow. The hero's journey is long and arduous, but with the fanbase by their side, this team is certainly capable of greatness.