PADECKY: A well-deserved salute after dream season ends
Published: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 10:52 p.m.
OAKLAND — They tipped their caps, that's what the Tigers did Thursday night. When the last out was made, when they knew for certain they were going to play for the AL pennant, when they knew those pesky A's were finally extinguished, the Tigers turned toward the A's dugout and its players. Led by manager Jim Leyland, Detroit's players grabbed the bill of their caps, removed them every so slightly and pointed them toward Oakland's side of the field.
It was a classy gesture uncommon in pro sports, where athletes typically are so concerned about images and appearances. It was respect the Tigers were giving the A's, the kind of professional respect one gives an opponent who gave them what-for every game on each pitch. In the hierarchy that matters most to the players — what does my opponent think? — this was the best compliment the Oakland A's received all season.
“Single-handedly we brought baseball back to Oakland,” said Petaluma's Jonny Gomes of Oakland's first winning season and its first playoff season in seven years. Yes, A's baseball this year was more than just a test of fan loyalty. It was a remarkable example of what a team means and how a team acts.
That it all ended Thursday night with Justin Verlander, well, he was their curse. Nothing is so rude to a dream, so insolent to a thing called “A's magic,” than the right arm of Verlander. It crushes fairy tales, humbles aspirations and Thursday night it cruelly brought Oakland's season to a screeching stop. The A's will chew on this one for a while, this 6-0 whuppin' they took in Game 5, and then they should move quickly on, to what did happen, as opposed to what didn't. It will get them to sleep easier.
This is what happened: The A's went as far as their ability could take them. Yes, those 15 walk-off victories were terrific and a .190 hitter winning a game now and then makes for a great story line. But, truth to tell, a team can live off those rare flash points only so often. To sustain, to go deep into the playoffs, to be thought of as truly a World Series contender, a team needs more predictable modes of transportation to victory. Fifty strikeouts in five games is not the common route to glory.
The A's need to make no apologies for their flaws, those strikeouts, that .194 team batting average. They are who they are. They came into the ALDS with the lowest team batting average (.238) of any club to make the postseason in the last 44 years. Big swing. Small odds. Cross your fingers. See what happens. It worked until it didn't work — the A's had three homers in 155 at-bats in the ALDS.
For a team that required The Big Fly to stay alive, the A's died on the vine when they weren't able to turn things around with one swing of the bat. Of course, Verlander had a lot to do with that — those obscene 22 punch-outs in his two games.
“I think he may have had his best stuff of the year,” said A's center fielder Coco Crisp. Verlander has stopped a lot of streaks and, when adding to that the A's proclivity to swing and miss, it was almost preordained Verlander would have this kind of success. Unless the right-hander tripped coming out of the shower and sprained an ankle.
With two stellar starts against Oakland in the ALDS, Verlander was a buzz buster. Considering how easy he frustrated the A's with his 98 mile-per-hour fastball and 84 mile-per-hour changeup, it may take some effort for Oakland to remember everything that went right in 2012.
The A's used up every smidgen of skill; not every team can say that. Squeezing ability from this team was essential. With 19 rookies on the team at one point, with no .300 hitter and no 100 RBI player, no pitcher winning more than 13 games, it was all-hands-on-deck for the A's. In each and every game.
The A's also can claim with a cold certainty they left nothing in the clubhouse; not many teams can say that, either. Leaders like Gomes and Crisp would have none of that. This was the team with the second-lowest payroll in the major leagues. The A's couldn't afford to waltz.
In fact, the A's can admit — if they allow themselves to be so coldly penetrating — they even surprised themselves. They had the second-best record in the American League. They were the first team in major league history to start three rookie pitchers in the postseason. A's rookie pitchers started a record 101 games during the season; the highest number previously was 70. There can't be, and shouldn't be, shame in that.
“It takes the sting out of this defeat,” Crisp said, “knowing what we did this season.”
So when the crowd of 36,393 at the Coliseum on Thursday night chanted over and over, “Let's Go, Oakland!” the A's acknowledged them by coming out of the dugout and waved to them. The players gave them their money's worth and more. The Rangers, the Angels, the Dodgers, the Phillies, the Red Sox, all of them were structured to make a deep playoff run; none even made it to the postseason.
The A's went where the rich guys wanted to go. That Verlander put a stop to all that, well, he's done that before to a lot of teams. What Verlander couldn't do, however, was dismiss the A's. That's why he tipped his cap. That's why his teammates did as well. That kind of acknowledgment doesn't happen a lot. Then again the 2012 Oakland A's don't happen a lot, either.
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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