There’s a line in the Moneyball film towards the end, as the Oakland Athletics are about to lose to the Minnesota Twins in Game Five of the 2002 American League Division Series: “Forgive the A’s if they’re not celebrating just yet; they have been here before, last year, in fact … and went nowhere after …”
Same story, different day, for the Oakland A’s and their General Manager Billy Beane.
Perhaps it was inevitable Oakland would once again have to play in an ALDS Game Five — if they’re ever going to conquer the franchise’s current postseason demons, they need to actually win one of these things first, after losing them in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2012.
And if they do, it’ll be rookie starting pitcher Sonny Gray who will be remembered for his heroics on the mound in this year’s ALDS against the Detroit Tigers.
Gray was announced as the starter for the deciding game on Wednesday by A’s Manager Bob Melvin, even though Game One starter Bartolo Colon is ready to start as well.
“We looked at it a bunch of different angles, we have a lot of smart people in our front office and baseball operations and the short of it is, it came down to Sonny’s last game that he pitched in similar conditions in our ballpark,” Melvin said in a conference call with the media. “So that’s the route we’re going to go.”
Colon, however, could be ready to pitch as well, with six days of rest.
“He’s willing to do anything and he was great about it, but I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with his routine,” Melvin added, in regards to Colon’s availability for relief duty in Game Five. “We will see [Thursday]. Again, he’s open for anything, but he does have a little different routine and I’m not sure how I’m going to handle that yet.”
The Tigers roughed up Colon a bit in Game One, notching 10 hits off him in only six innings, but Detroit didn’t score off Colon after the quirky first inning.
And of course, Gray was outstanding in Game Two, pitching eight scoreless innings while striking out nine batters.
So forget who is on the mound for the Tigers this time around (same guy as last year’s Game Five, actually — you probably have heard of him?): the A’s know if they take care of their own business and do what they’re capable of, they will win this game and advance to AL Championship Series to face the Boston Red Sox.
“I think we have confidence, we’re playing at home,” said shortstop Jed Lowrie, also via the media conference call on Wednesday. “We know what we’re up against in Justin Verlander, but I think we’re all prepared and know that it’s a winner‑take‑all scenario and everybody will be ready to go.”
Oakland has outhit (33-30) and outscored Detroit in this series (15-14). They’ve played better defense, too. So the A’s and their fans know this is a different matchup than it was in 2012, when Game Five was a slow, painful conclusion to a surprisingly awesome season.
This year, perhaps expectations were higher, which means the disappointment could be greater if Oakland once again cannot win a Game Five in the ALDS.
Plus, with the Red Sox eliminating the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday and the St. Louis Cardinals knocking out the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night, the A’s also represent the last of the “little guys” left in the MLB playoffs.
And we all need a little more of the underdog in our daily lives, even Bud Selig.