Never in my wildest dreams.
Entering 2018, I didn’t think there was any chance that the Oakland A’s could make the postseason. And yet, on Monday night they punched that very ticket by clinching a Wild Card berth. The A’s are going to the playoffs.
Oakland won their game against the Mariners Monday night, but they didn’t even need to do that. Shortly after they began playing in Seattle, the Tampa Bay Rays lost their own game on the East Coast, sinking them far enough behind in the standings that they mathematically couldn’t catch up. That the green and gold also triumphed later in the evening was just a cherry on top, avoiding the awkward situation of celebrating after a loss.
This summer the A’s were coming off three straight last-place finishes. The starting rotation looked like a huge question mark, and indeed it fell apart over and over as the season progressed. But somehow they pieced it together for six months, all while the promising lineup exploded into one of the elite units in the sport and the bullpen stepped forward to deliver a historically great effort.
We last saw the postseason in 2014, and it did not go well. That Wild Card game is etched into our nightmares for the rest of time, wedged between the gut-punching second-half collapse that preceded it and the soul-crushing fire-sale rebuild that came next. It’s been a tough few years for the A’s faithful, even compared with the repeated October disappointments we’ve witnessed over the nearly 30 years since the team’s last championship.
Now the A’s will get their next chance. Maybe it will be here in Oakland, but more likely it will be in New York. Either way it will take place against the Yankees on Wednesday, Oct. 3, and the winner will meet the Red Sox in the ALDS. And remember, even though Boston has won 106 games this year, the A’s have baseball’s best record since the All-Star break (40-20) and also since mid-June (60-26). No one wants to play this team right now.
Looking back on the journey (so far)
After an offseason filled with accusations of collusion by cheap owners around the league, the A’s and three other teams (who all receive revenue-sharing dollars) were singled out in a grievance by the Players Association for allegedly not spending enough money. Nothing came out of that complaint, but here’s what came out of Oakland’s supposedly non-competitive payroll:
The A's now have 95 wins this season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 25, 2018
That's the most wins by a team to have the lowest Opening Day payroll in MLB in the last 30 seasons.
To see the next teams on the list, here’s Buster Olney.
And the other clubs in the grievance? The Rays are the ones that Oakland just eliminated, and they’ll probably win 90 games; the Pirates are above .500; and the Marlins, well, yeah, they might deserve a grievance, but I’ll at least give the new owners a chance to prove themselves first.
The @Athletics are the first team on record (since 1988) to make the #postseason with the lowest #OpeningDay payroll ($66 million, per @baseballpro). pic.twitter.com/VUewt5Cs1r— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) September 25, 2018
The season started slowly for Oakland, much like it had during the similarly magical 2012 campaign, and once again in June they took off and never really came back to Earth.
#Athletics playoff chances went from 3.1% on June 15 to 100% on September 24 (h/t @fangraphs) https://t.co/5ii31o6S6z pic.twitter.com/fmFjhWALZW— Ben Ross (@BenRossSports) September 25, 2018
Perhaps it’s fitting that the clinch ultimately came in Seattle. For the first half of the season this playoff spot looked like it belonged to the Mariners, but just as the A’s got hot the M’s fell apart. They had injuries, they lost their superstar to a PED suspension, and the whole season just went as Mariners as possible. If you don’t feel at least a little sorry for them then you’re a monster, but they’re still our division rival so you’re forgiven for sneaking a smile over the fact that there was at least a champagne celebration at Safeco this year.
This latest postseason berth also breaks an important all-time tie.
MLB MOST POSTSEASON APPEARANCES— Mike Selleck (@MikeSelleck) September 25, 2018
The championships are already 9-8 in favor of the A’s, in case you needed a reminder.
It began with the happy kind of Hug Watch.
Break out the hugs #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/DHjqlnltb3— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 25, 2018
And then ...
Calm before the storm.#WinForHeroTown pic.twitter.com/XnovADJrhg— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) September 25, 2018
It’s LIT #WinForHeroTown pic.twitter.com/oWN3iSNVNV— Oakland Athletics ⚾️ (@Athletics) September 25, 2018
For some excellent photos, check out Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle, and the A’s official account.
Of course, there were post-game quotes. Here are some of the best:
More Forst: "Nobody expected them to do really anything coming out of spring training. They believed in themselves and they fought through a lot of things, individually and as a group. We lost guys along the way and everyone stepped up. It wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t."— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 25, 2018
Melvin: "This is the best group I’ve had in all my years managing. It’s about playing for the guy next to them. That was kind of a theme we talked about, play for the guy next to you. It’s more powerful than playing for yourself. That’s what these guys do better than anybody."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) September 25, 2018
Khris Davis: "I’m watching my dreams come true. I’m just appreciate of the moment right now. It’s amazing just to share it with my teammates and give them hugs and tell everybody that I’m proud of them and I’m proud to be with them."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) September 25, 2018
Pinder: "There are literally no words for this. I’ve never felt anything like this. I told Oly, we need to grab a picture, because it’s crazy. Three years ago we were doing this in Midland, Texas, and it’s something we definitely talked about. It’s special."— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) September 25, 2018
Marcus Semien's teams had never finished higher than fourth place, going back to his 2013 rookie year with the White Sox: "This is special. I've been in last place my whole career. This was our goal in the spring, and now we gotta do some more with it."— Martin Gallegos (@MartinJGallegos) September 25, 2018
Regarding that last tweet: The A’s last playoff season in 2014 was marked, among other things, by their trade for Jeff Samardzija. They paid a steep price for him but he never even got to pitch in the postseason, and over the next winter they flipped the final year of his contract for a package of players. Three of them are still in Oakland, including the team’s starting shortstop, who in 2018 outplayed the supposed wunderkind (Addison Russell) who had been controversially dealt for Samardzija in the first place.
Ride or dies since day 1. Playoff Bound! #TheTrade pic.twitter.com/1tzDBVZb2N— Chris Bassitt (@C_Bass419) September 25, 2018
Chris Bassitt, Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley
But that’s just one story among so, so many in this clubhouse — like FaceTiming the absent-but-not-forgotten Sean Manaea, and the success of Bay Area native Mark Canha. There are too many to fit in this one post, so for now here’s the whole group.
Playoff-bound A’s: pic.twitter.com/Twe66nu9dY— Jane Lee (@JaneMLB) September 25, 2018
And of course, a baseball team is nothing without its fans. Chaptain America was there to make sure we all got a taste.
Chappy pours one out for the fans at home #RootedInOakland pic.twitter.com/CVEmamzGky— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) September 25, 2018
Soak it in, Athletics Nation. The A’s are in the playoffs, and they’re doing so as the hottest team in the league and as the darlings of the sport. If you want to know the definition of a Team Of Destiny, then you’re watching it play out right now. The next step is to do what the last couple decades of Oakland clubs couldn’t, and turn this postseason berth into something more. Anything can happen in the playoffs, so it’s time to set those sights on a goal I couldn’t have fathomed back in March — a World Series title.
Security guard here at Safeco told me, “Every baseball fan in America who doesn’t have a team in the playoffs this year is rooting for the A’s. What a great story.”— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 24, 2018