Today is the day. The day we have been waiting for all season long — well, to be more accurate, since mid-June or actually mid-July. Up until then it didn’t appear that there would be 2018 October baseball in Oakland’s future.
Facing and Overcoming Adversity
First they lost starters Jharel Cotton and top prospect A.J. Puk just days prior to the start of the season and then, not long after, Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman, each to torn ulnar collateral ligaments requiring Tommy John surgery. Then most recently the team lost their ace Sean Manaea, who in April tossed a no-hitter against the team with the best record in the league, to season-ending shoulder surgery. Despite sustaining severe injuries to the starting rotation — along with season-ending injuries to many of the pitchers who attempted to replace them — the A’s managed to finish the season with a record of 97-65 along with having the best record in baseball since June 16, all despite having the lowest Opening Day payroll in the game.
Yet, isn’t that what the Athletics have always seemed to do over their 50 year tenure in the City of Oakland? Defy the odds? Overcome adversity? Playing this win-or-go-home game at Yankee Stadium may not seem like the ideal situation, but it may actually be favorable for the Athletics, who always seem to be the team to shock the baseball world.
Beginning with the oft-overlooked, underdog A’s of the 1970’s, the only team besides the Yankees to ever win three consecutive World Series Titles, to the late 80’s-early 90’s A’s who won three straight American League Championships and swept the San Francisco Giants in the World Series in spite of an earthquake so large that it ravaged the entire Bay Area.
You can keep moving forward to the A’s of the early 2000’s, a young team that went to the postseason four straight seasons and who won (what was at the time) a record 20-straight games. The last three of which were improbable wins. Each victory decided by a walk-off, including overcoming losing an 11-0 lead in the 20th game to have Scott Hatteberg win it on a pinch-hit home run to win the game 12-11.
Of course there was also the greatest season of my adult life, 2012. The supposedly lowly A’s were predicted to lose 100 games that season. Instead the team went on to obliterate those predictions winning 93 games and the AL Western Division Title over the Texas Rangers in Game 162. A game that took place six years ago today. I’m not saying it out loud nor writing anything more about that small fact, but you know I can’t stop thinking about it and what it may signify.
Playing in the Bronx may not be a disadvantage
As we all know, the A’s will take the field in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium in about an hour, while many of you will watch from the The Treehouse at the Coliseum. This situation could actually benefit the A’s enough that we may see them back in The Town sooner than next April.
Take for instance the difference in stadium size. The alleys to left and right field at Yankee Stadium are just 314 feet vs. 330 ft at the Coliseum. The Yankees hit a record 267 home runs in 2018. It’s easy to conclude that the reason would be having a powerful lineup, which of course is true, but did they have the league leader in home runs? Nope, I didn’t think so. Perhaps the A’s could have made a run at that record too if they played half their games this tiny little New York ballpark, instead of the large, looming, coastal confines of the Coliseum.
And let’s not forget that the Athletics also broke a home run record in 2018. Of their 227 home runs, 136 of them were hit on the road, more than any other team in history. Even if every member of the Yankees starting lineup hits one out of the yard tonight, it’s pretty likely that Khris Davis, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Stephen Piscotty, Jed Lowrie, Marcus Semien, and Ramon Laureano could too. It’s just as likely that Nick Martini and/or Jonathan Lucroy will be on base when they do it. The point is, both of these teams have top-notch power.
Then there’s history to think about. The A’s and the Yankees have played each other in 10 postseason games since the turn of the century. Of course, those series are ones we’d all like to forget so I won’t get too far into them except to say that the words “the flip play” and “slide, Jeremy, slide” still haunt my dreams to this day. The important part to note is that the A’s were 1-4 when playing at home during those 10 games and 4-1 when playing at Yankee Stadium. The A’s haven’t had any luck at all playing the Yankees in the postseason at home. Personally, I don’t want to test luck one more time in a win-or-go-home game.
Also, if you take into account the difference in the weather —- regardless of the year — the ball will travel farther in New York. In Oakland, the Marine Layer would inevitably settle in making it hard for anyone — save for perhaps Davis, Stanton, or Judge — to get the ball over the outfield fences and into the stands.
No experience, no problem
Among the players on the A’s Wild Card Game roster the majority have no postseason experience. Actually, most don’t even have very much big league experience at all, but even that perceived disadvantage doesn’t seem to phase them. They’ve played for the day, everyday of the season and that’s exactly what they will do today. The team has been described by Lucroy as “pretty laid back,” “pretty chill” and as “a great group of guys to battle with in a playoff game.” Similarly manager Bob Melvin said yesterday,
“You know, as far as the looseness, it’s just kind of the way the group is. It plays well for us. They don’t get too far ahead. Obviously they’re going to be excited about this game, but we’ve been pretty loose all year long, so I don’t think we should handle things any differently. We’ll go through the same routine out there on the field leading up, and you insulate kind of in your preparation and so forth. It’s just the personality of the team.”
And again, from pre-game today:
“They came in the same. The music’s loud, unbearable at times. But it’s a good thing in the fact that it’s kind of keeping them loose.”
These mostly young A’s have played calm, cool, composed baseball this season and done so very well on the road. They don’t see this game any differently, despite its importance in continuing on in the postseason. The A’s plan to go out there and shock the baseball world (again!). We know they can, we’ve watched them do it all season long. Now, they just need to do it one more time, as they take on the postseason one day, one game, at a time.