(Bear with me here, please)
In one of the most important wars of the entire history of civilization, a small, ragtag band of north African cavalrymen and Spanish and Gallic infantrymen were able to bring the mightiest army the world had ever seen to its knees.
For several generations, Rome had established itself as the dominant geopolitical force of the Mediterranean region, even if there was some legitimate competition nearby, and Carthage was a small, but powerful and storied, trading city on the African coast at the tip of modern day Tunisia. Rome was a society that revolved around warfare, and had a litany of experienced, veteran warriors and young, upstart, and aspiring warriors working in tandem, while Carthage was a society that revolved around commerce and had to frugally contract out warriors from neighboring tribes and nations to fight for them. Given the economic interests of each nation, a conflict between the two was all but inevitable.
The first time Carthage went up against the imposing Romans it was beaten rather badly, but Carthage wouldn't back down for long before waging a new war, and in this second fight Carthage had a secret weapon, a young general named Hannibal Barca.
The incredible journey of Hannibal rapidly ascending from fighting minor battles in Spain to fighting major league battles on the plains of Italy aside, Hannibal's journey into Rome was a rocky one. A harsh winter and a daring trek through the Alps took him out of commission for months during the first year of his campaign. The second year was, by and large, successful, but his small, poor, and underfed army lacked the ability to overpower its competition without perfect execution. Hannibal was perpetually outmanned, taking on opposition with more firepower, more money, and more experience, but he stepped up to the challenge nevertheless. By the time his third year in Italy began, Hannibal was noticeably savvier and conditioned to defeat his opponents, and the Romans were utterly terrified of the damage he could do to the young empire. While he was never able to capture the ultimate prize, Rome proper, he made most all Roman's fearful of leaving their homes by terrorizing the Italian countryside and hiding away in the mountains.
Kendall Graveman had a rather interesting ascent to the big leagues, reaching the show for the first time in September of 2014 after starting 2014 in A-Ball. The following offseason, he was the fourth name in the return of a trade that still causes most A's fans' blood to boil, and endeared himself to fans everywhere straight away by alternating quality starts where it appeared he was putting everything together and starts where he couldn't make it out of the third or fourth inning before allowing six or more runs to score. An injury took Graveman out for most of the second half of 2015, but starting in 2016 Graveman had a velocity increase and avoided the injury bug to become the A's only real consistent starter of that season, even if he didn't look exactly like an ace.
This season, Graveman saw yet another uptick in velocity on his already hard-sinker, and has begun to locate his offerings better than he ever has before. Due to Sonny Gray's DL-stint to start the season, Graveman was given the opening day start, and he pitched like the ace no one ever expected him to be. Tonight he upped the ante.
At the battle of Cannae, the Romans set to finish off the Hannibal nuisance once and for all. Nearly ninety thousand (estimated) legions set upon Hannibal's army of an (estimated) forty thousand mercenaries and quickly, aggressively, surged forwards. An expert tactician, Hannibal used the Roman's aggressiveness against them, and slowly retreated with his infantry until his cavalry was able to flank and surround the encroaching Roman forces, leading to a bloodbath in which at most fifteen thousand Romans escaped with their lives, and fewer than one thousand casualties were suffered on the side of the Carthaginians.
Graveman was in control from the very first pitch of this ballgame. The big, powerful bats of the Rangers' lineup was unable to do more than beat Graveman's offerings into the infield grass for easy groundouts. Graveman was able to superbly locate his sinker tonight, consistently hitting 95-MPH at kneecap-height. He was able to field his position mostly well, as well, though he got an error on an errant throw while fielding a comebacker, but worked out of his own jam by fielding another comebacker from the following hitter and successfully started a double play to end the minor threat.
Through 6.2 innings pitched, Graveman threw eighty pitches. A grand total of 74 of those pitches were Graveman's sinker, a strategy right out of Bartolo Colon's playbook. The Rangers were taking strong, aggressive swings on the sinker all night, a pitch that they all knew was coming, but were victimized by their own aggression and couldn't manage a single hit. With Mike Napoli batting with two outs in the seventh inning, Graveman had just executed two consecutive strikeouts, and appeared ready to cruise through the rest of the game with a win for his team and his name in the record books, but the no-hitter wasn't meant to be and Napoli lofted a sinker that stayed too high up in the zone over the fence. Graveman would finish off the seventh after allowing one more hit, but his outing was a no doubt success and major boon for the team.
The A's cavalry on offense did more than enough to ensure that Graveman's overwhelming pitching performance would not be for nothing. The sixth inning saw Ryon Healy come around to score with back-to-back productive outs after Healy began the inning with a muscled double, and in the seventh the A's took advantage of poor defense to squeak another run across. In the eighth inning, the A's capitalized on the Texas air and saw Khris Davis and Jed Lowrie hit doubles and Yonder Alonso hit a home run just beyond the center field wall to provide all the insurance the A's would need.
The A's bullpen prevented things from getting interesting in the Rangers' final at bats and the A's would ultimately win 6-1.
It should be noted that, after Hannibal's groundbreaking victory at Cannae, while all Romans were in a state of shock and disarray, Hannibal chose to do... nothing. He didn't march on Rome knowing that the upstart empire had few to no legions left to take up the fight or make any demands of the frightened Roman senate. He instead chose to continue to maintain the same course of action he had been taking for years in the Roman countryside, pillaging cities and avoiding any and all major conflicts with the Romans. His decisive, earth-shattering victory essentially all went for naught, beyond the message that it sent to the competition. So with the A's message-sending victory tonight, with Graveman emerging as a leader of the pitching staff as he has stated he wanted to be and the A's refusing to roll over against the ace of the team that had a decisive victory the night before, it remains to be seen if the A's will take advantage of their victory and newfound confidence that should come along with it, or if the team will continue on its inconsistent, meandering, frustrating path that it has taken the past couple of years.
There is just enough talent now, and just enough reinforcements coming along the way for this team to make things really interesting. History will tell if the A's can piece it all together.