Even as I write this, I recognize that the A’s haven’t yet been slotted in for the 2018 second Wild Card just yet. With five games to go, and trailing the Yankees by 1.5 games, the A’s have to make up the two game deficit, plus an additional game to offset the Division tiebreaker held by the Yankees in order to win the first Wild Card slot (and with it, home field advantage) all within the short span of games. However, without its existence, the A’s are playing those five games on a wing and a prayer; there would have been no champagne celebration last night, and the possibly of a 95+ win season and still missing the playoffs would be very real.
The second Wild Card was announced in the 2011 offseason, and put into play in 2012. Its biggest detractors claimed a story line that it would water down the playoffs, perhaps put a .500 team in a winner-take-all game with a 95-win team. Its biggest supporters, of course, claim that it allows a whole different tier of teams to still compete long after the Divisions have been decided; that a team that came on late could still have a chance to roll the dice in that one game and perhaps earn themselves a spot in the “real” playoffs.
This is the seventh year of the second Wild Card. In the eighteen years of the single Wild Card before it, the A’s went to the playoffs as the Wild Card exactly once, in 2001, after winning 102 games, losing the Division by fourteen games. It would have been near-criminal had they been left out in an 100+ win season due to an all-time great season by their Division leader; yet one can argue the case for both the Yankees and the A’s this season, as well. With five to play, the A’s have won 95, and with six to play, the Yankees have won 96. Both teams will finish the season at, or just a shade under, 100 wins. And thanks to the Wild Card, both teams will at least see one playoff game. As they should. This season has featured four powerhouse teams from the American League (five if you count Cleveland), and no matter what happens from here on out, the A’s should celebrate. This wasn’t a year in which a lesser team snuck through in a weak Division; the A’s won 95+ games. They are not only playing with the big boys; they are one of them.
The difference between the A’s first second wild card win (2014) and this season’s is literally night and day. On July 16, 2014, the A’s had the best record in all of baseball; a claim to the Division, seven All Stars and the Home Run Derby champion. And from the break on, we watched as the A’s took a nosedive downhill, barely—and I mean barely—hanging on to the second Wild Card spot. It was enough to get them into as the visiting Wild Card team, and we know in the seesaw battle, the A’s finally went down to complete their disappointing season, with all of the “what ifs”, the high-mortgage players, the hopes and dreams of the one time they had “The Team” going down with them. I didn’t look at a baseball for months afterwards. The season, which had so much promise and so much fun right up until All Star Weekend, left a bitter taste behind.
The 2018 Oakland Athletics have complete erased that feeling. Unlike 2014, when the only thing that mattered was one single game; this whole season has been fun. Pure joy. Night after night, the team entertained us; first as a teAse; ‘hey, there’s a no-hitter against the unbeatables!’, then as a, ‘wow, we’ve won a lot of games recently!’, and then, ‘did we just come back from a late 8-run deficit?’, and finally as ‘we’re going to make the playoffs!’ And last night, we did. It doesn't matter what happens in the Wild Card game; not where it’s played, not the outcome, really. Because the 2018 Oakland Athletics have already won. They have put magic into our world. They have us following them like it’s 2002 and The Streak is on the line. They are so...likeable. They should be the darlings of the playoff race; the team you follow if yours doesn’t make it. The fun, unpredictable stories of a couple of has-beens, a few never-will-be’s, the rookies and near-rookies, and a youth movement too young to know what we know; that seasons like this don’t come around every year; maybe not even every decade.
So soak it up. They, as well as us. We have nine days to enjoy being a playoff team before we get to see how much longer we are granted.
But in a world that is so often devoid of magic; take this one in the spirit it was intended; a gift for everyone. Maybe last night’s champagne toast was the celebration. And the only one. But we have at least 95 reasons to think that maybe it wasn’t.