Well, we’re in. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but on the last day of the regular season, the A’s punched their ticket to the postseason and we get to hit the reset button. It’s a new season, and everyone’s record is zero and zero.
The last two months were as trying of a time as I have experienced as an A’s fan. Watching the team be the best team in baseball, make some huge trades, and then freefall and hit rock bottom over and over again was gut-wrenching. I actually stopped watching games for a stretch in mid-September. I couldn’t take the nightly three-hour frustration-fest and had to just look away for awhile and hope for the best.
I was looking this past week though, at both the A’s games and the Mariners games. The A’s stumbled through a nine-game homestand going 3-6, but the Mariners also stumbled through a trip to to Toronto, dropping 3 out of 4, including a 1-0 heartbreaker on Wednesday that dropped the A’s magic number to clinch a wild card spot to two going into the four-game series with Texas.
Weeks ago, we had been looking at the schedule noting those last four games in Texas and seeing a fairly easy path to the postseason. But the Rangers were red hot – winners of 12 of their last 13 going into the series – and really motivated to knock the A’s out of the playoffs. And they stuck it to us in grand fashion on Thursday night. After another frustrating game full of missed opportunities with runners on base, the A’s went into the 9th locked in a 1-1 tie with the Rangers and Adrian Beltre ended it the way you’d expect him to, with a walkoff home run to sink the A’s 2-1. Magic number still two, with three to play.
Six games, two favorable outcomes needed. The Mariners losing to the Angels and the A’s beating the Rangers in the teams’ final three games of the regular season would seal the deal and put the A’s in the playoffs. The A’s took care of business on Friday night, backing Scott Kazmir’s bounceback effort with six runs to cruise to a 6-2 victory. The Mariners also beat the Angels so the magic number was stuck at one with just Saturday and Sunday left to sort it all out.
Friday’s results created a sticky situation, however. The Orioles lost that night, which ensured that the Angels would end the season with the best record in baseball and have homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. They would have absolutely nothing to play for the rest of the weekend. There was no reason for them to care about trying to beat the Mariners, and perhaps they even wanted the A’s and Mariners to have to settle things in a 163rd game on Monday. Yeah, Game 163. That was going to happen if the Mariners won both of their remaining games and the A’s lost both of theirs.
And the A’s did just that on Saturday, losing 5-4 in another super frustrating game of missed opportunities and behind a homer-prone Jeff Samardzija. Meanwhile in Seattle, the Mariners and Angels were locked in a 1-1 battle that went into extra innings. It was a bizarre game – Mike Scioscia had pulled Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Kole Calhoun, and David Freese from the game in the 6th inning. This was a game that was 1-0 at the time. Yeah, they didn’t care about winning. It was a strange mix of emotions on the field. There were lackadaisical Angels players alongside intense faces of the Mariners, fighting to keep their season alive. And the Mariners had to scratch and claw to eek out one run to take the game 2-1 in 11 innings.
And so it would go to Game 162. The Mariners had Felix Hernandez pitching so the A’s had to win to avoid getting on a plane to Seattle. They needed someone to come up big, either on the mound or with a big hit in a big situation. And they got their man in Sonny Gray, as he gave the A’s a clutch performance like Tim Hudson did 14 years earlier, against these same Rangers with a trip to the playoffs guaranteed with a win. He threw a shutout in just 103 pitches, allowing just six hits and getting timely strikeouts and double plays to the point where there was little doubt most of the afternoon that Sonny had this in the bag.
And so it didn’t matter that Felix and the Mariners won on Sunday; they finished with 87 wins while the A’s had 88 and it was time for the green and gold to celebrate for the third year in a row. It’s a huge relief. They almost went from a playoff lock to the worst collapse in baseball history. That’s not an exaggeration – if they missed the playoffs, it would’ve been the worst collapse in baseball history. All the baseball of all time. But that didn’t happen. RESET and let’s go, Oakland.