Throughout this season we have seen the A’s fall in heartbreaking fashion, and we’ve seen them rise from the ashes to steal a win from an opponent that seemed ready to celebrate a victory. Even though many times during the early portion of the season the A’s found themselves on the short end of things, the lone bright spot seemed that they were consistently “in” games. Meaning they might have been losing, but a break here or there goes their way and those L’s could’ve been W’s.
As the season went along many of those potential losses did in fact turn into wins as the team gelled. The emergence of those little quirky celebrations, the pies in the face, the Bernie Lean, Josh Reddick and his Spiderman suit added to the chemistry of the team, and helped fuel their run to contention.
As the season came to an end for the Athletics on Thursday, and we all began to reflect on the season as we watched all the other remaining teams play on, something dawned on me. The Oakland Athletics character, that quality that made them fight until the very last out of every game, is strikingly similar to that of the defending World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.
We all know the story of how the Cardinals were down to their last strike in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, twice. David Freese tied the game against Neftali Feliz, and the Cardinals rode that momentum swing all the way to their 11th World Series Championship. Fast forward a little over 11 months to the 2012 NLDS, the Washington Nationals jump out to an early 6-0 lead over the Cardinals in the decisive 5th game of the series. But they didn’t add on beyond that, and slowly but surely the Cardinals chipped away at that lead to get within striking distance. The Nationals added what they thought would be an insurance run in the bottom of the 8th on a Kurt Suzuki RBI single to make the game 7-5 heading to the 9th. Drew Storen came in to send the Nationals to the NLCS, and like Feliz in 2011, got within a strike of doing so, twice. He walked Yadier Molina, and he walked David Freese. After that Daniel Descalso tied the game with a single, and Pete Kozma gave the Cards the lead that sent them to the NLCS.
It was an amazing turn of events, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in… 2 days. Going back to Game 4 of the ALDS for the Athletics, they suffered against Max Scherzer and mostly strong bullpen work until the 9th inning. While Jose Valverde never got the chance to be within a strike of sending the Tigers to the ALCS, the A’s showed the same kind of never-say-die attitude the Cardinals would show just a couple nights later.
It’s a unique quality to say the least, and it speaks to the character of each individual on the team as well as the team as a unit. Credit also goes to their managers, Bob Melvin has been a huge part in leading this team to the 2012 playoffs through helping to build and nurture the character of this team. Much the same way Tony LaRussa did, and Mike Matheny does now with the Cardinals.
Undoubtedly this cannot happen without supreme talent on the field, something the Cardinals clearly possess now, and something the A’s are developing. Perhaps what we see with the Cardinals is a glimpse of what the future may hold for the A’s. The Cardinals are never out of a race or of any game, and opposing teams know that, and they will fear that uprising can come at any moment.
So while the St. Louis Cardinals take on the San Francisco Giants as they continue their quest to defend their title, take note of how they go about their business. Perhaps in the coming years we may see much of the same in Oakland.