By Sam McPherson
What hurts the most for the 2012 Oakland Athletics right now is that they came so far, so unexpectedly, and they just didn’t have enough good fortune to beat Justin Verlander this week.
The reigning American League Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player Award winner — and probably a repeat winner in the former category — helped his Detroit Tigers shut down the Oakland A’s Thursday night at the O.co Coliseum, limiting the Oakland offense to just a few hits on the way to a 6-0 win.
The loss for the A’s ends their season, which reach improbable levels of success, for sure, but still leaves a sadness in the air of the East Bay knowing the special accomplishments of this team weren’t enough to get Oakland deeper into Major League Baseball’s postseason this time around.
The A’s won their 15th division title this year — only the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves have won more since divisional play began in 1969 — but their season ends in the American League Division Series for the fifth time in their last six trips to the playoffs, dating back to 2000.
Seven-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion Lefty Gomez — born in the Bay Area, no less — once cracked that he’d rather be lucky than good, and the A’s just seem to be exemplifying the reality of his quip — from the wrong perspective, of course.
Despite being plenty “good”, Oakland just wasn’t able to muster enough offense against Verlander in Game One or Game Five — and asking any team, even one that won 94 games with the lowest payroll in baseball, to beat the best pitcher in the game for the past few years, with everything on the line, was a tall order. For a team of rookies, misfits and outcasts that came together in symbiotic harmony to produce such a magical — and miraculous – season, it was asking for too much, obviously.
Detroit bled A’s rookie starter Jarrod Parker for a couple of runs in the early innings, but in the top of the seventh inning, the Tigers blew the game open with four runs. And that made the last three innings for the Oakland fans pretty tough to endure.
They’d shown up very excited after Game Four’s miraculous comeback win, hoping for one more night of magic at the Coliseum, but it wasn’t meant to be.
The A’s got only two hits and one walk off Verlander in the first seven innings, and they struck out ten times. By the time Josh Donaldson got the third Oakland hit leading off the eighth inning, it was 6-0, and it just didn’t matter any more.
So in the end, this A’s squad surpassed all expectations, won a lot of games and many in spectacular fashion, captured the hearts of their fans and the attention of the nation on their way to winning the toughest division in baseball, and came up just short in the postseason once again.
Business as usual for baseball in Oakland, some might say. It’s been a long time since the A’s won a World Series, and even though Oakland has won all those division titles, six pennants and four World Series since the team moved here from Kansas City in 1968, they’re struggling to compete on a regular basis.
This may have been one of their best chances to capture that fifth World Series flag for the Coliseum, and perhaps that is what stinks the most about losing Thursday night.
They may not get back here any time soon.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.