OAKLAND — For the Oakland Athletics, it’s the wildest card. They’re winning games when it matters. They’re beating contenders, and that always matters.
They’re laughing and goofing and playing the post-game music at ear-splitting volume, acting like the young men they are, acting like ballplayers who understand what they are doing — as well as what they might do.
Three games out of four from the Astros, who with Justin Verlander are the team that two seasons ago won the World Series. Then, after that lone defeat on Sunday, three games out of three from the Yankees, who with their booming bats — the Bronx Bombers — are the pick of some to win the World Series this season.
Yes, a sweep, accomplished Thursday night with a 5-3 win at the Coliseum before a crowd of 24,758, which was a bit larger than that of Wednesday night — and that was a bit larger than the crowd Tuesday night.
Bob Melvin, the A’s manager, was playing it cautiously, as a manager must until the last game, which the A’s hope comes along in October. But Melvin knows what his team did.
They showed up for the showdown.
They had magnificent pitching — Thursday night Tanner Roark, Tuesday night Homer Bailey, both acquired in July trades. How are those deals working out?
They had timely hitting, or is that a cliché? They had the necessary fine defense.
Before the first pitch Thursday, when there were more media in the dugout than people in uniform, Melvin, who grew up in Menlo Park, who played for that Giants and of course now makes decisions for the A’s, was talking about, well, everything, answering questions about history and rivalry.
No game Friday and then two games against the Giants in Oakland, is, well, strange if not unappreciated.
“We specialize in weekends,” Melvin said, “and then having a Friday off, it seems like it should be a weekday when you come back.”
But the A’s, on a roll, are coming back against the team across the Bay. Remember the billboard at the Bay Bridge that said the Giants built a ballpark and the A’s won four World Series? That was before San Francisco won any.
The Giants are surely team as stunned — three straight losses to the Cubs, and overall four in a row — as the Athletics are elated. Yes, the Giants are good, although not as good as the A’s. And Oakland plays the Yankees three more times, next weekend in New York.
But Roark, who came from the Reds on July 31, is impressed — while being one of factors making the impression. He struck out seven and allowed only two runs in 6.1 innings. He walked nobody.
“Walks in general will kill you,” he said. “You have to limit those. You have to challenge guys, attack, move the ball up and down. These guys, the players, the coaches, are fighters.”
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Roark, who played his college ball at the University of Illinois. “All these guys love to mess around. I’m right there with them, trash talking. There’s always some sort of competition, games in the clubhouse. Today we were shooting baskets. We get to know each other, become better teammates.”
What the best of us don’t know but can guess is that even with more than a month of play remaining, the A’s have all but locked up one of those wildest card spots in the postseason.
This is the time a team needs to play its best, and months after that ragged April start, Oakland is doing that, all the pieces fitting as well as anybody in the A’s organization could have envisioned.
Six out of seven from two of the top teams in the majors? “We’ve got to continue to focus and ride the momentum we’ve had,” Melvin said, “because it’s one of the better homestands we’ve had.”
Six out of seven from the ‘stros and Yanks? It’s simply and clearly the best they’ve had. So far.