by Kim Thomson, Contributing Writer and Loyal A’s Fan
For a team that didn’t have a postseason prayer at the start of the season, July must seem like a mirage. The Athletics were expected to lose about 100 games this season; instead they’re currently in hot contention for a wildcard spot, tied with Los Angeles at five games behind Texas, Detroit trailing a half a step behind. The Rangers were and still are expected to dominate the West, but with the introduction of a second wild card spot, there’s an added note of excitement in the air.
Nothing but a desert vision could explain Oakland’s mind-boggling 16-2 record this month. Some are calling it Moneyball the sequel, though it is of course too soon to expect their current seven-game run will reach anything like 20. It’s also July, not September. However, it is already quite a better season than experts predicted. Seeing as how we’re about a month past the halfway point, the A’s are over-performing to the tune of about 15 wins, each victory hailed by whipped-cream pies in the face and a Gatorade shower.
Where parallels to the 2002 A’s can be drawn — the A’s of Moneyball — is in their fight. They have been battling back in late innings and even extra innings, recently celebrating their league-leading 11th walk-off home run. That’s something they haven’t done in a long time.
Despite the blockbuster title, money certainly isn’t what’s driving this team, owning one of the lowest payrolls in baseball (second only to the Padres). No, grit and a deep-seated desire to please — associated more with younger, less established players — are behind the hard-fought games that have brought them well-deserved recognition this month, culminating in their recent four-game sweep of the Yankees.
Down by four in the fourth in the last game of the series, the A’s clawed back, putting up runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Seth Smith’s tying home run in the ninth landed them back in the fight and Coco Crisp brought home the winning run in the 12th. This is the type of hard fighting I’m talking about. Each of the four games was won by only one run, delineating just how hard they were fighting.
If they performed this well against the only team currently at .600, it’s not surprising, then, that they walloped the last-place Jays last night, 14-0. At this moment, I can’t help but think that Toronto has a record much like I expected the A’s to have by this point, and that their match-up could’ve just as easily ended with Oakland’s players solemnly exiting Rogers Centre. By the second inning, however, the damage was done. Jays starting pitcher Ricky Romero left the game that inning with eight runs on his back. And Toronto never came back.
You can bet this fan won’t be changing her shirt. C’mon eight!