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October 4, 2012

DAHLBERG: A's write a script good as "Moneyball"

OAKLAND — Forget the movie about these Oakland A's. Already been done and, besides, Brad Pitt has moved on to other things.

No one would believe this anyway, even if it came from a Hollywood script.

The events that unfolded on a sun-splashed afternoon Wednesday in Oakland should never have happened - they shouldn't have had a chance to. Once they did, there was no way even Hollywood could imagine this ending.

Win a division when you've got the lowest payroll in the majors and a starting rotation filled with rookies? Finish it off with a three-game sweep of the mighty Texas Rangers to grab the lead in the AL West for the first time in 162 games?

Do it by rallying from a four-run deficit to tie, only to be handed the lead all nicely gift-wrapped by Josh Hamilton?

Keep this up, they may start removing some of those green tarps from the empty seats at the Coliseum. Heck, they may even force the ownership of the A's to stop coveting that new stadium all the way out in San Jose.

I know one thing. It will take a brave gambler to bet against these A's somehow finding a way to cap it all off by making their way to the World Series.

Speaking of which, could it somehow be possible? A Bay Area World Series for the first time since 1989 - only this time without the big earthquake?

The A's had just celebrated two nights earlier, with a whipped cream pie to the face of manager Bob Melvin and a clubhouse party the likes of which these youngsters had never experienced before. Making the playoffs for the first time since 2006 should have been good enough, but the kids just didn't know when to quit.

So they celebrated even harder less than 48 hours later, after beating Texas 12-5 to cap a run from 13 games back to capture the AL West title and become the most improbable $59.5 million payroll division winners you'll ever see.

Let Texas experience the nervousness that comes with a one-game wild card playoff. The A's like their chances in a longer series, even though they start in Detroit with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and the AL Central champion Tigers in the other dugout.

And why not? Since the first of July, this team has been winning two out of every three games it plays. That's the best mark in baseball, made even more remarkable by the fact that Las Vegas oddsmakers, who usually know a few things about talent, had the team at 100-1 odds at the All-Star break to win their division.

"We've enjoyed every step of the way,'' said first baseman Brandon Moss. "There was never any pressure on us. We were supposed to lose 100 games.''

This wasn't a "Moneyball'' team, nothing like the clubs that Billy Beane put together with smoke and mirrors and little money celebrated last year with Pitt playing the general manager's role on the big screen. It was more of an accidental contender, never expected to play a starring role in a division that featured the Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels with Albert Pujols.

Beane had traded away the team's top two starting pitchers and its closer for a collection of prospects and castoffs. Despite the signing of Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, it looked like the A's were trying to build a team for a few years down the road, when team ownership hoped they would be playing in a new stadium in San Jose.

"We wanted to create a team that had a chance to get better from the first day forward. That was the expectation we set,'' Beane said before the game. "We just didn't know where we were going to start from. In fairness, maybe we were a little further ahead when we started than maybe anybody anticipated.''

There were five - count `em five - rookies in the starting rotation. Another pitcher - Sean Doolittle, who gave the A's an inning of no-hit ball Wednesday - was a first baseman until he was converted in the instructional league last year.

Moss and center fielder Coco Crisp provided the veteran leadership every team needs, but this was a team that relied on raw youth, with 19 different rookies playing a part during the season, including 12 pitchers.

They didn't know they weren't supposed to win. When they began doing it, it became contagious.

The Rangers had the great players, the big payroll and the huge expectations. The A's had players who did whatever it took to become a great team.

"No one was into numbers,'' Melvin said. "It wasn't about themselves. It was all about the team.''

The party began when Crisp caught the final out, and seemed like it would never end. A raucous sellout crowd that had been on its feet since the middle innings may have been late getting on the bandwagon, but now they had no intention of jumping off.

The A's battled their way through the hangover of the party less than 48 hours before to win two more games and escape baseball's sudden-death wild-card game. They'll need to overcome another hangover and go on the road to keep their magical season alive.

It's not "Moneyball'' or even "Moneyball, the Sequel,'' but for the real life Oakland A's, it could be even better.

 

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