October 3, 2012
By Richard Justice
OAKLAND — Billy Beane‘s players came at him all at once with beer showers and screams of laughter. The Oakland Athletics general manager had slipped into the clubhouse almost an hour after his club had secured the American League West title, as the party was dying down and players were still attempting to grasp what they’d accomplished.
And then it was back on again. First, there were beer showers. They rubbed it into his clothes and his hair. Then outfielder Josh Reddick smothered his face in a shaving-cream pie.
Mostly, there were bear hugs and howls of joy, and when they were done, Beane could have passed for the happiest man on earth. He’d watched the A’s complete a magical journey with a 12-5 victory over the Texas Rangers in front of a sellout crowd of 36,067.
He’d promised himself, virtually forced himself, to enjoy the ride. Looking back on five previous playoff appearances, he remembers little celebrating. When his A’s clinched the division this time, Beane celebrated with his assistant, David Forst, and one of the smartest baseball staffs on the planet.
“Listen, I’m an older guy ,” he said. “You’re so wired when you’re younger. Now I sort of channel my intensity. I want to enjoy it. I want to watch these guys enjoy it. It doesn’t come along that often, especially in this market.”
He paused for a moment to take in the scene around him. Players came and went. So did team officials. Wives and children joined in.
“This is a really good group,” he said. “They have fun, but they keep it within the confines. They’re really good kids.”
Beane rebuilt these A’s from the ground up last winter. He traded older players for younger ones. He signed unheralded veterans.
He moved this piece around, and then that piece, and then he did it all over again during the regular season, changing starters at six of eight spots after Opening Day.
Nine of the 16 players who got into Wednesday’s game had been acquired by Beane in the last 10 months. There were high profile trades like the ones that brought pitchers Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker to Oakland. There was the big-ticket signing of Cuban free agent Yoenis Cespedes.
Beane also found bargains. Seth Smith and Brandon Moss. Jonny Gomes and Travis Blackley.
Every last one of them had a hand in this title-clinching three-game sweep of the Rangers. The A’s also have five rookie starting pitchers and led the AL in home runs after the All-Star break. They are not flukes, not after winning 94 games.
They were 51-25 after the break, the best record in the game. They trailed the Rangers by 13 games on June 30 and didn’t sit alone atop the division until winning their 162nd game on Wednesday.
“I think a little bit of the narrative the last week or so has been sounding like a Cinderella story,” he said. “Listen, if you win 94 games, you’re good. That’s the only thing I didn’t really like. It doesn’t respect the talent. These guys are good baseball players.”
Even smart moves don’t always work out. This time every piece fell into place. The A’s begin the playoffs pretty much a complete team in that they’ve got terrific pitching and defense and a lot of guys who can hit home runs.
“When you play us, you know you’re going to be in for a battle,” third baseman Josh Donaldson said. “I feel like teams are starting to realize that. Obviously, we’re sitting on a mountain right now. To experience this feeling is amazing.”
Manager Bob Melvin, low key, smart and very funny, made it all work. Rookie right-hander A.J. Griffin lasted just 2 2/3 innings on Wednesday, but Melvin strung together 6 1/3 innings from five relievers.
Melvin did the job with honesty and patience and by pushing all the right buttons. No manager in baseball did a better job.
“We fed off his confidence in us,” A’s second baseman Cliff Pennington said. “He was always behind us. It’s definitely special.”
On this final day a sellout crowd showed up and they had the Coliseum rocking to its concrete bones. Suddenly, it was 1989 again. Or 2001.
“Say what you want about this place, but when you get a day like today, this is as tough a place to play for an opposing team as any place in baseball,” Beane said. “I was looking at the crowd. This stadium is very special. Today was special. We had another player out there. Even when we were down 5-1, I thought we were going to win.”