A’s-mazing run comes to an end in Oakland

After losing game five on Thursday, Oakland A’s players saluted their fans. (Lance Iversen, The San Francisco Chronicle)

I’ll be the first to admit I had no faith in the Oakland Athletics this year. Time and again, I ruled them out of any playoff discussion and kept telling people they’d eventually fade away and be overtaken by the Angels.

In my post, One month left: What needs to happen (AL edition), I said they wouldn’t be able to reach the playoffs because of their tough schedule down the stretch, in which they played only 11 games against teams with a losing record. They proved me, and many others, wrong by going 22-11 after that story was posted – although they were 12-11 against those teams with a winning record.

Of course they had a little help from the Texas Rangers who struggled mightily at the end of the season, but you can’t take away anything from what the A’s did in sweeping that final series of the year to win the AL West crown.

This club finished with 94 wins, which is 30 more wins than I predicted when I made my preseason predictions and had them finishing last in the AL West.

But that’s what made this team so special. That’s why everyone in the country was rooting for them. This was the ultimate season of Moneyball. A team pieced together through trades and miniscule moves that found a formula for success.

That success – the long ball – unfortunately came back to haunt them in game five as Justin Verlander took advantage of a lot of the A’s free swingers.

The Athletics provided some of the most exciting moments of the season, and if Coco Crisp wasn’t a household name before, you better believe he is now.

They’re pitching staff, which is composed mostly of rookies, finished with the sixth-best ERA in the entire league at 3.48. Their stating ERA was ninth, and the bullpen ranked fourth best in the league with a 2.94 ERA.

They scored the eighth-most runs in the American League and hit the sixth-most home runs. They’re batting average ranked 13 out 14 in the AL at .238, which is why I said they relied heavily on the long ball this season. They also struck out the most in all of baseball.

But again, that’s why this team was so exciting and easy to root for. They weren’t supposed to be here. They weren’t supposed to dethrone the Rangers in the AL West. They weren’t supposed to come back from two games down to force a game five against the Tigers and Verlander. And they most certainly weren’t supposed to finish the season tied with the fourth-best record in all of baseball.

That’s why this great American game is the most amazing sport on Earth. In the NFL and NBA, we know who’s going to be there at the end of the year, and the regular season is deemed meaningless. But for the second half of the Major League Baseball season, and during baseball’s biggest stage, it was the unlikeliest of teams that stole front-page headlines.

While they did bow out gracefully after game five, it was nice to see the warm reception given to the players and coaches by Oakland fans. A city that has constantly heard rumors of having its team relocated showed up and supported its team when they needed them most and expected to see something magical every night.

When I look back on this 2012 season, I hope to never forget the moments provided to us by baseball’s true Cinderella story. What a great year for the Oakland Athletics and a great story for baseball that will live on for ages.

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