Cespedes is but one of many bright spots for the A's from 2012.
Once again and for the last time, let's look back at the special season that was 2012 for the Oakland A's. From Bob Melvin to Yoenis Cespedes to Josh Reddick to Jonny Gomes to Ryan Cook to Josh Donaldson, this was a team that truly was greater than the sum of its parts. As a journalist, they were fun to cover because it brought back memories of the early 2000s.
But as a fan, I have never had more fun watching an A's team than the one in 2012. They defied expectations, a sluggish start and more rookies than a police academy to take down the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers at the finish and win the AL West for the first time in six years.
It was a remarkable story, and while duplicating it seems daunting, we shouldn't forget this team wasn't even supposed to be in a position to have expectations in the first place. So watch and enjoy...a retrospective on the A's amazing season.
The season began in the Far East, as the A's and the Seattle Mariners played a two-game set that happened during the end of spring training, but still counted in the standings. So much was different. For example, Brandon Allen was the starting first baseman. He would be gone before April ended.
The A's split a pair of games in Tokyo, but not before Yoenis Cespedes put everyone on notice that he would be no bust with a line drive missile in the second game to give the A's the win.
For the first 20 or so of the season, the A's trotted out a struggling Josh Donaldson and then a guy named Luke Hughes, who both were absolutely putrid early on. But then help came in the form of Detroit Tigers veteran third baseman Brandon Inge.
Needless to say, Inge immediately paid off for GM Billy Beane and the A's. He would hit two grand slams and drive in 12 runs in his first two weeks with the club and would provide leadership and a power bat that would help spark the midseason turn around for Oakland.
If there were a stretch that you could look back upon and say this was the moment the 2012 A's took off, it would be the four games played against the New York Yankees on July 19 to the 22. Never in franchise history had the A's swept a four-game series against the big, bad Yankees.
Not until July 2012 that is. Beating the Bronx Bombers in their classic, never-say-die fashion, the A's went from a fun story to a real story, moving to 51-44 and continuing their hot play over the remainder of the second half. They would win two games in walk-off style and another with a Brandon Inge home run in the eighth inning.
This was the stretch that clearly established that the A's had something special going. And it would continue the rest of the season.
At the beginning of the season, the A's had a platoon of Daric Barton and Kila Ka'aihue at first base. Needless to say, they weren't very good. Lacking power at the most typical of power positions in baseball, the A's demoted Ka'aihue and called up Brandon Moss, who was a journeyman that had played for three teams and hit 15 home runs in an abbreviated five-year career.
With the A's, the light shined like a 100000 watt halogen, as Moss slammed 21 home runs in 84 games and proved to be a quick study, improving at first base as the year went along. To go along with Moss, the A's recalled prospect Chris Carter, who had performed dismally in his first two stints with the big club.
Well, 2012 was the year Carter finally put it together, socking 16 home runs in 67 games as well as a .350 on-base percentage. Together, this tandem moved the A's away from the no-power days of 2010 and 2011 and helped the team mash 195 home runs, most since 2006.
In a normal year, a rookie that hit .292 with 23 home runs, 82 runs batted in and a slugging percentage of .505 would probably be your American League Rookie of the Year. Well, 2012 was not a normal year for rookies.
Regardless, Cespedes went from being a calculated risk at four years and $36 million for his contract to an absolute steal by Billy Beane. After a slow start, Cespedes hit .343 in the month of June and .311 in the second half of the season. His speed, ability to adjust to off-speed pitching and improvement in left field made him invaluable to this team.
How so? Well, the A's were 82-47 with Cespedes and 12-21 without him. Now entering the prime of his physical career, the sky is not only the limit, it might be the floor for the "Cuban Missile."
It kinda started slow, but by the end of the year, there was a dance craze that had completely overtaken the East Bay. It was the Bernie dance. Made famous by the 1980's film Weekend at Bernie's, the zombie-like gyrating dance was a staple of games at the Oakland Coliseum.
And everyone was doing it. The mayor of Oakland. The A's players themselves, particularly Coco Crisp and Brandon Inge. Heck, the club even got Bernie himself, actor Terry Kiser, to come out and throw the first pitch at the game on September 4.
It was this laid back and fun atmosphere that kept the clubhouse loose, and instead of playing tight, the A's had the tendency to play their best late in games. And oh boy, did they know how to finish baseball games...
What made 2012 so amazing is that it was clear that the A's needed a break or two every now and then to keep things going. The razor's edge was so slim, you didn't know if/when it might go the other way and the team might fall off the proverbial cliff to mediocrity.
Only thing is, it never happened. Over the course of this wild ride, the Oakland A's would win 14 walk-off games, the most for the club since 2004. But 2004 did not have the thrills of 2012. Innocuously starting with Jonny Gomes being hit by a pitch to beat the Kansas City Royals in April, the A's would win with singles, doubles, sacrifice fly's and yes, the long ball. Six times, an A's player would blast the A's to victory with a home run.
The best part about it was that everyone contributed: stars like Cespedes to role players like Brandon Hicks. Amazingly, for all the magic this team had, running down the Rangers was not the last bit of magic they would give their fans. There was one more miracle left in 2012.
Down 3-1 in the game and 2-1 in the series, the A's had to rally once again to force a Game 5 in the American League Division Series. Against Detroit closer Jose Valverde, Oakland made this Game 4 one to remember. Josh Reddick started the rally with a single. Then Josh Donaldson nearly hit a home run to tie the score, but his double put runners on second and third with no outs.
Seth Smith, another quality acquisition from Billy Beane, promptly laced a game-tying two-run double to right-center field, and the Coliseum was whipped into a frenzy. But in typical A's fashion, they didn't just end the game right away. No, George Kottaras popped up in what seemed to be an obvious bunting situation.
Then, after a Cliff Pennington strikeout, Coco Crisp had his chance. He didn't hesitate, slapping the first pitch he saw into right field, and after Avisail Garcia misplayed the ball, Smith came in to score—and for the 15th and final time, the A's had walked off in 2012.
It would be great if Game 5 had ended differently, but it was simply not to be against Justin Verlander (where was that dominance against San Francisco?). But that was not even as much of a disappointment as a delay because this team appears primed to make another run in 2013. And with guys ready to make the leap (Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Cespedes, Josh Reddick, etc.) there might not be the same need for late-game magic.
But no matter what happens, it will be hard to duplicate what the A's provided their fans in 2012.
Before this season began, the A's were expected to be either a third- or last-place team in the American League West. Having dealt three All-Star pitchers in Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, it seemed like the white flag was raised even before game one was played.
Only problem (if you're a Texas or Los Angeles Angels fan) was that no one told that to Bob Melvin. In spite of injuries to Cespedes, Crisp, Inge, the suspension of Bartolo Colon, the ninth-inning woes of Brian Fuentes and starting more than a dozen rookies over the course of the season, Melvin always kept this team together.
As a result, he won the AL Manager of the Year award. And it was well deserved, no matter what East Coast pundits say about Buck Showalter's job in Baltimore.
When the season began, people said Billy Beane was crazy for dealing those three arms and getting rookies in Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone and a relatively unknown outfielder named Josh Reddick as the centerpieces of those deals.
Well, Parker and Milone would both win 13 games with ERAs under 3.75 and were the stabilizing forces of the young A's rotation. Meanwhile, all Reddick did was hit 32 home runs and win the team's first outfield Gold Glove since 1985.
If Beane had acquired just those three players, it would've been a pretty good haul. But he also fetched the starting catcher in the Gonzalez trade in Derek Norris and an All-Star reliever in Ryan Cook from the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of the Cahill trade.
Combine that with the acquisition of Seth Smith (for Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman) from Colorado, the signing of Jonny Gomes (who hit 18 home runs in less than 90 games) for a mere $1 million and, of course, the signing of Cespedes, and you had Beane winning the Executive of the Year in baseball for the second time.
All in all, it was a remarkable year from a remarkable team. Suddenly, the A's train is ahead of schedule and I for one can't wait to see what 2013 holds for this team.