Historically, the American League Division Series hasn’t been kind to Billy Beane.
And that strange — perhaps ongoing — fate continues to befuddle this latest model of Oakland Athletics baseball, thanks to an 8-6 loss at Comerica Park on Tuesday in Game Four of the 2013 ALDS against the Detroit Tigers.
The A’s took a one-run lead in the seventh inning, but some shaky relief pitching turned that one-run lead into a four-run deficit by the time Oakland came to the plate in the ninth inning. Yoenis Cespedes drove in two runs before the A’s got the tying run to the plate at the end, but they couldn’t complete the comeback.
So now, it’s back to another Game Five — a situation Beane knows only too well.
In the old days, before Beane took over the General Manager position with the A’s, there were no wild-card teams in the Major League Baseball postseason. If a team won its division, it went straight to the League Championship Series. That served Oakland well as it won division titles in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1981, 1988, 1989, 1990 and 1992 under that old format — advancing to the World Series six times in those ten seasons.
But since the advent of the wild-card round in the 1995 playoffs, the additional round before the LCS hasn’t been kind to perennial division winners like the A’s. Everyone should know by now that only the New York Yankees (18) and the Atlanta Braves (17) have won more division titles than Oakland has in the 45 years of divisional play, but unlike the Yankees, with their five World Series championships in the wild-card era, the A’s and the Braves haven’t really mastered this additional round of playoffs.
The Braves at least won the World Series in 1995, the first year of the wild-card playoffs, but since then, Atlanta has failed to win another. And Oakland… well, it’s been a different path to a similar madness.
The A’s have lost five of their six previous ALDS matchups, all of the losses coming in five games, and four of those Game Five defeats coming at home in Coliseum. This is odd, considering the profound home-field advantage the old stadium, its with loud, raucous crowds, provides its young teams. For a franchise that liked its odds in the ALCS way back when, Oakland has had a really hard time just getting back to that round since the wild-card era began and Billy Beane took over the GM duties.
Is it a hex? A jinx? Sometimes, franchises are just unlucky for long stretches of time. Ask the San Francisco Giants: they lost playoff matchups in 1962, 1971, 1987, 1989, 1997, 2000, 2002 and 2003 before finally winning the World Series for the first time on the West Coast a few years ago. And then they did it again, two years later. For a franchise that was known for its postseason shortcomings, the Giants have turned fortune into their friend the past few years, with no notice whatsoever that such a turnaround was imminent.
(And think about the Boston Red Sox, as well: they couldn’t do anything right from 1919 to 2003, and now they’re a model MLB franchise.)
Perhaps, this wild-card era merely has been the franchise’s time to struggle, after all the A’s successes in Oakland since moving there in 1968. Even the Yankees were terrible for a handful of seasons between their World Series wins in 1978 and 1996, right?
So it can all change on a single pitch or a single swing of the bat. And for the A’s and their fans, they really hope that change in fate and fortune comes on Thursday night at the O.co Coliseum.