When game five of the American League Division Series concluded last night the Tigers players stormed out to the mound, filled with joy. The A's made their way to the dugout, beginning to come to grips with the end of a season that began in March at the Tokyo Dome.
The funny thing is, the crowd didn't act like it had lost the series. Thousands stood and chanted "Let's go Oak-land," complete with rhythmic hand claps. The fans knew that the A's hadn't lost anything. This team, which defied everyone's expectations had done something so magical, so inspiring that they didn't need to win it all to be the champions.
Across baseball there was no better story than the Oakland Athletics.
Fifteen walkoff victories (including one in the playoffs), twelve rookies on their playoff roster, a playoff rotation of four rookies and a pitcher barely recovered from Tommy John surgery.
This is the stuff of legends.
A rookie third baseman in Josh Donaldson who is a converted catcher, and a key bullpen piece in Sean Doolittle that is a converted position player who this time last year was pitching in the instructional league -- the lowest rung of professional baseball.
This team, before a pitch was even thrown, traded away this year's potential NL Cy Young award winner in Gio Gonzalez and the team's last three All Star representatives -- Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gonzalez. If this wasn't enough, they ended the season without ESPN The Magazine's cover star pitcher Brandon McCarthy who took a line drive to the head, necessitating brain surgery.
Go ahead. Make the argument that any of the other teams, even the Orioles, were a better, more compelling story than the A's. Consider too that the team plays in a stadium detested by its owner and the commissioner of baseball and that their payroll on opening day was the second lowest in all of baseball.
There was a reason why the fans stood and clapped and waited before they shuffled over the BART bridge and back home. They knew they were witnesses. Witnesses to something magical and something that may never happen again. Without a doubt, every member of that team was a champion.
The A's couldn't slay the Goliath that was Justin Verlander, but their trophy case was hardly empty. Albert "The Machine" Pujols and Josh "The Natural" Hamilton -- among other high-paid "superstars" -- were bested in a division that was thought to belong to either the Angels or the Rangers.
The A's had a 0.5 percent chance to win the AL West according to Las Vegas. On June 30th they were 13 games back of Texas. They not only overcame that deficit, they did so on the last day of the season defeating the Rangers in a thrilling come-from-behind win to cap off a thrilling sweep punctuated by two clinches -- playoffs and division.
The Athletics weren't Cinderella embodied or a real-life version of Major League. These analogies are far too simplistic. The Oakland Athletics in 2012 were their own story and maybe someday Hollywood, or an enterprising writer, will detail it.
They were original, and they were ours as A's fans.
We bore witness. We were forged in the fire along with these inspiring players.
This A's team reminded a lot of fans across the country of just what can happen in baseball and why this franchise is so crucial to the game. The Coliseum's sun-bathed tarps with decals signifying the five Philadelphia championships and the four Oakland ones are not enough. This team needs a beautiful new home and they need to wave flags in the outfield for nine world titles, 15 American League pennants, 15 West Division titles and one Wild Card berth. This team needs a cathedral.
The fire that fueled the end of this great season comes from the flame that has remained lit from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland from Connie Mack to Jimmie Foxx to Dick Williams to Tony LaRussa to Dave Stewart to Billy Beane to Bob Melvin.
The 2012 A's reminded us that the A's must remain relevant to baseball.
The green and the gold. Very special colors indeed.
It was a privilege to be there with you.