A's defy logic on improbable run to postseason
OAKLAND -- In the ninth inning, they all found different ways to deal with their emotions.
Oakland Athletics owner Lew Wolff retreated to a spot in the concourse to watch it unfold, to soak in the moment.
"I just didn't want anyone to see me," he said. "It has been so special. We expected to be competitive, but we didn't expect this."
Meanwhile, A's manager Bob Melvin fought hard to focus on the task at hand, to count down the final outs and do his job.
Yet Melvin's mind kept drifting to other places and other times. He grew up here, cheered for the A's, attended World Series games.
Inside his office hangs just one photograph: a 1976 Who concert he attended at the Coliseum at the age of 15.
"It means so much if you're from here," Melvin said. "You take pride in wearing the uniform. Lot of people really believe in this whole thing here, and that goes a long way for me."
Down on the field, center fielder Coco Crisp looked around and captured the scene in his mind.
"The fans were so into it," he said.
That's the thing Crisp has always appreciated about the Coliseum, how Monday's crowd of 21,162 sounded much louder.
Crisp laughed at closer Grant Balfour, how he finished the game and was so pumped up that he was ready to pitch another game then and there.
This was the latest chapter of an improbable and unexpected journey for the A's, who defeated the Texas Rangers 4-3 to clinch their first playoff berth in six years.
They also kept their division championship hopes alive by cutting the Texas lead to a single game with two to play.
But this was no ordinary story.
The A's never thought this would be their year. When general manager Billy Beane began retooling his roster last winter, it was with an eye on rebuilding and maybe competing again in 2013 or '14.
When Beane saw the pitching talent he'd accumulated, he knew the A's were going to be really good, but he didn't know when it would happen.
In a season that re-enforced his genius in both assessing talent and assembling a roster, Beane watched as the A's went on an amazing run.
They did it with 19 rookies, including five members of a rotation decimated by injuries and losses. They did it with home runs, too, and by playing their best baseball when the games counted the most.
The A's did it by never giving in to adversity or injuries or any of the other things teams go through. On June 30, they trailed the Rangers by 13 games.
But they kept going. Melvin pieced together platoons here, there and everywhere. Two rookie pitchers -- Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker -- won 13 games. In Monday's clincher, Melvin used three rookie pitchers in all.
Josh Reddick, who Beane acquired from the Red Sox, hit 32 home runs. Rookie Yoenis Cespedes added 23. Brandon Moss, who had 15 in five Major League seasons, hit 21.
It was that kind of season. When the A's needed a new hero, one stepped up. Either Beane acquired him or summoned him from the Minor Leagues.
And after trailing the Rangers by four games with six to play, the A's kept a larger goal -- a division title -- in sight.
Inside the clubhouse, there were bear hugs and champagne showers and laughs. They are just kids. They never figured out they weren't good enough.
"It's absolutely amazing," Melvin said. "We don't get this done unless everybody believes in everybody and plays selflessly."
As Melvin spoke, players came up to shake his hand or slap his back or just to smile. The A's say winning a division championship remains a goal, but that's a challenge for Tuesday.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.