ARLINGTON, Texas – There is a beauty to the Oakland A's, something beyond the way they've shown up in September over the past couple years, beyond what they do with what they have, beyond the white shoes. Though it could be the white shoes.
"I don't think we're too worried about what everybody else thinks," their manager, Bob Melvin, said Saturday morning, and maybe that's part of it.
Except that plenty of them are A's because of what other people thought of them, Melvin included, which is how Billy Beane likes to build things, or has to. Either way, you – or I, anyway – sense these moments of extreme capableness are fleeting, and then they're not, because, as it was put to Melvin, is it possible to be the team nobody saw coming … again?
"I don't think we are a surprise team," he said.
By the end of another day, in a clubhouse where the lyrics of the celebration music sneered something about "the bigger they come, the harder they fall," the A's had put another game between themselves and the Texas Rangers. They'd put themselves a day closer to another AL West championship. They'd rolled out Bartolo Colon – not literally – and beaten Yu Darvish for the fourth time this season, this time 1-0, with a first-inning run and then no mistakes.
The A's are 10-3 in September and 16-5 since the fourth week of August, and if that sounds vaguely familiar, remember a year ago they won 57 games from July 1 on and won the division in the season's final minutes. Not the Los Angeles Angels. Certainly not the Angels. Not the Rangers. The A's.
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Now they get used to the questions about who exactly they are – "I know all these guys," Josh Donaldson said with a grin – and what they're doing here. They're winning, that's what they're doing here. Even on a drowsy morning that would lead to the earliest first pitch in the history of Rangers Ballpark, even after a late game the night before and on game five of a six-game road trip and in game 148 of 162, the A's found their spit-polished shoes where they'd left them and stayed at it.
It was early and hot already on Ballpark Way, in spite of a generous breeze. By the 12:06 p.m. start, the sun was directly overhead, so Colon's shadow fell around him like they'd forgotten to take the tarp off the mound. Fans in the top deck forsook good seats near the rails for the back rows, which were covered.
Their Rangers had lost seven of eight and nine of 11, including Friday night to the A's, a four-hour, nine-minute train wreck in which Derek Holland didn't get an out in the fourth inning and a six-run eighth was only just enough to make it close.
They'd been overrun by the A's again, and this time hadn't waited until the season's final weekend. The offense collapsed, Ron Washington talked about how much they missed Nelson Cruz, the pitching staff cratered, neither the bullpen nor the rotation had looked this vulnerable all season, and in two weeks the A's went from three back to 5½ up.
In the worst of times they have pitched, as they did again Saturday, Colon for eight innings over which he was pushing fastballs at 95 and 96 mph, and then Grant Balfour for one. And now, generally, they get after it with the bats. Only the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers in the American League have outscored them in the second half. The A's got exceptionally hot in a four-game series a few weeks ago against the Detroit Tigers, scored 34 runs in four games, and are averaging five runs a game since.
So, if the names on the lineup card don't impress you – Coco Crisp, Donaldson, Jed Lowrie, Brandon Moss, Yoenis Cespedes, Daric Barton, Josh Reddick, Stephen Vogt and Eric Sogard on Saturday – then the runs and the wins they accumulate should. After three hours, if nothing else, teams know they've been in a ballgame, same as they were yesterday, same as they will tomorrow.
"I think a lot of people forget that it doesn't matter about the names on the roster," Moss said 90 minutes before driving in the only A's run. "And a lot of guys in this clubhouse have been told 'no' a lot in their careers."
Of the group that stomped out of the third-base dugout in Oakland for the AL West party, that took the Tigers to five games in the division series, many remain. The bullpen hasn't pitched as well, but the starters have been better. And if there were suspicions that what the A's did last fall was part magic, or voodoo, or luck, or white shoes, or something, then there has to be a shelf life for that kind of stuff, except they won 94 games then, and could win more than that by the end of September.
If other folks fail to recognize or appreciate that, then that's other folks' problem.
Moss laughed at the thought. He's not insulted. Barely more than a year ago he was playing Triple-A ball and hoping to do that well enough to earn himself a decent contract in Japan. On Saturday, he hit cleanup for the first-place team in the AL West, and in his first at-bat turned on a first-pitch cutter from Darvish, lashed it into the right-field corner, and scored Donaldson from first base.
"Hey, I know who I'm not," he said. "I know I'm not Mike Trout. I know I'm not Josh Hamilton."
He'll be 30 in two days. His 27 home runs and 77 RBI are career highs, as are his 469 plate appearances. Since the All-Star break, he is third in the league in OPS. Ahead of him, only Trout and Miguel Cabrera.
Who he is, he knows, is a guy in a clubhouse, and many days a guy in a lineup, a part of something that's worked before, that is working again. Just like all of them. While it might be a mystery to some, the A's know exactly who they are.
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- Bob Melvin
- Bartolo Colon