There is no doubt whose side the baseball gods have been on this season. Of their 30 sons, the Oakland A's are clearly their favorite.
The baseball gods have been kind to the A's this year, showering them with rookies made of solid gold, bats filled with pure thunder, a plethora of walk-off wins and other bonuses such as pies and the "Bernie Lean."
For several months now, it has all been good. The A's won the AL West on the strength of a 51-25 showing in the second half of the season, and they now find themselves one win away from the American League Championship Series after evening the score against the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS with a pair of wins at home. Their victory last night was fairly loaded with typical A's magic.
The A's found themselves down 3-1 entering the ninth inning of Game 4. Three more outs, and they would have been forced to watch the Tigers celebrate on their very own field.
The baseball gods didn't let it happen. They blessed the A's with a single by Josh Reddick, a double by Josh Donaldson and a game-tying two-run double by Seth Smith before even a single out was recorded.
With two outs, the baseball gods blessed the A's one final time with a walk-off single by Coco Crisp.
Counting the regular season, it was Oakland's 15th walk-off win of the 2012 campaign. It's gotten to a point where ninth-inning magic has kind of become par for the course. As A's manager Bob Melvin said after the game, all the walk-offs have given the A's "a sense that we're never out of it until the last out."
Some people look at Oakland's magic and call it luck. This is to say that some people view the A's not as a team of destiny, but as a fluke.
If the A's are a fluke, the Tigers will get the better of them in Game 5, no doubt with a lot of help from Justin Verlander. And after what happened on Wednesday night, it's fair to say the Tigers are probably owed some good fortune.
But if the A's really are a team of destiny, Game 5 will be just another in a long line of thrilling A's victories.
And then, finally, it will be time for those who aren't taking the A's very seriously to start doing it now. It will be time to come to grips with the notion that, heck, maybe the A's are just one of those teams.
You know, a team like the 1967 Boston Red Sox, the 1969 New York Mets or the 1987 Minnesota Twins. Or, if you prefer recent history, perhaps the A's are like the 2003 Florida Marlins, the 2004 Red Sox or either of the last two St. Louis Cardinals champion teams. The odds were against these clubs becoming champions, but they became champions anyway in spite of their long odds.
The A's look motivated to do the same. What may make them a little different is that they really couldn't give less of a damn about results. What matters more to them is the way they play the game.
"I don't think we should change anything," said Crisp after Wednesday night's game. "Just keep it loose, have a lot of fun and give it a hundred percent. Whatever the results are going to be, win or loss...I think we can live with ourselves because we do give it a hundred percent."
An approach like this calls into mind the whole "idiots" thing that the Red Sox had going on back in 2004. It also calls into mind the "us against the world" mentality that the '03 Marlins and just about every other surprise champion had going for it. Teams that aren't supposed to win have a tendency to get rather large chips on their shoulders, and the chip the A's have on their shoulder has gotten to be abnormally large at this point.
"We're not going to stop until they tell us we have to. I guarantee you we could go play another nine right now," said Donaldson after Game 4, via MLB.com.
Are the A's beatable?
Of course they're beatable. Verlander did the honors in Game 1 of the ALDS, and the A's then beat themselves in Game 2 of the series. Up until Jose Valverde entered into the fray in Game 4, the A's looked like they were pretty well put away.
At the same time, the A's have the look and feel of a team that nobody wants to play, especially not at O.co Coliseum. It's an awful park for baseball that has killed the numbers of many a good hitter, but it's a place where the A's don't suffer losing. It may be a lousy park, but it's their park.
No, really. Dating back to the regular season, the A's have won eight straight home games and 10 of 11 overall at the Coliseum. Making matters more complicated for Oakland opponents is the fact that the locals have been showing up in droves recently, and they have a way of making a crowd of 36,000 sound like a crowd of at least 56,000.
In a league full of hostile environments, no environment is more hostile than Oakland. Mark it down.
The Baltimore Orioles should therefore beware of the A's. If they manage to survive the New York Yankees in the ALDS, they'll have to head west to play the first two games of the ALCS in Oakland. The last time they visited Oakland, they lost two of three.
The Yankees would host the A's for the first two games of the ALCS if they finish off the Orioles and the A's finish off the Tigers, but the Bombers wouldn't be looking forward to Games 3, 4 and 5 in Oakland.
After all, the Yankees were swept in four straight the last time they visited Oakland in July. It was a series that sent out a resounding signal: "Woah, the A's look like they're for real."
They haven't lost many games since then, and at this point the club's swagger is at an all-time high.
The reality that there's really no pressure on the A's to win anything only helps. They're not like the Yankees, who are expected to go out and win it all every year simply because they're the Yankees. The A's also aren't like the crosstown San Francisco Giants, who are expected to win because they just won it all two years ago.
No, the A's have already far surpassed expectations. Where the fans are concerned, there is no pressure in the air. Only fun.
The A's themselves had plenty of fun during the regular season, and their M.O. hasn't changed one bit in the postseason. They're still playing like a team that has everything to win, and absolutely nothing to lose.
This doesn't mean the A's will win everything, mind you. Their playoff fate will ultimately hinge on the quality of their talent, and not so much on the quality of their character. It takes great players to win it all, not great characters.
That's the thing about the A's, though: They really don't get enough credit for the kind of talent they do have. Their pitching staff, as young as it may be, would not have finished sixth in MLB in ERA if it didn't have talented arms. Likewise, their lineup would not have led the American League in home runs and runs scored after the All-Star break if it didn't feature talented hitters.
The A's thus enjoy the best of both worlds: They have great players who are also great characters.
So did all the other teams of destiny that have come around throughout the course of MLB history. They were able to see their destinies through to the end. The A's could too.
You'd need a soothsayer to tell you where the A's path is going to take them. All I can tell you is that the path itself is very, very real.
Note: Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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