It only took the A’s 162 games to grab sole possession of first place in the AL West.
The A’s completed one of the most incredible turnarounds in the history of Major League Baseball when they nabbed the division crown from the Texas Rangers earlier this week.
In doing so, the A’s became only the third division winner since the advent of the World Series 109 years ago to spend just a single day in first place.
The New York Giants were the first team to achieve the feat in 1951 and the Minnesota Twins joined them in 2006.
“It shows how important Game 162 is,” A’s right fielder Josh Reddick said. “I don’t think it took 162 games to check the character of this ballclub.”
The A’s were also the first team to overcome a five-game deficit with nine or less games to play and only the fifth team to ever climb out of a 13-game hole. For their remarkable comeback, they earned a date with the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series starting Saturday.
Things didn’t always look so rosy, however, as the team was ravaged by injuries early in the season. Third baseman Scott Sizemore blew out his ACL in spring training, Opening Day starter Brandon McCarthy was sent to the disabled list twice before July 1 and rookie Yoenis Cespedes was shelved for 22 games in May with a muscle strain in the back of his left hand.
The A’s used the disabled list 21 times during the season, resulting in a total of 1,063 games missed.
The club hit rock bottom June 1, losing its ninth straight game to slide into last place in the AL West. The A’s were batting .211 as a team.
But the club put together the best record in baseball after that going 72-38 (.652) between June 2 and Wednesday.
“We were just like a train,” Reddick said. “Once we got on that track, we just kept it going.”
Several key players were called up in June, including first baseman Brandon Moss, catcher Derek Norris, designated hitter Chris Carter and pitcher A.J. Griffin.
The addition of Moss and Carter sparked a power surge in Oakland during the dog days of summer. Moss smacked 21 home runs in 83 games, while Carter hit 16 round trippers in 67 contests. As a team, the A’s led baseball with 111 home runs after the All-Star break.
“The whole time I’ve been up we’ve just been having fun winning games,” Carter said.
But the A’s kept losing players as the summer progressed. Brandon Inge needed season-ending shoulder surgery in September, Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, Brandon McCarthy fractured his skull after getting hit by a come-backer and ace Brett Anderson missed the last two weeks of the season after straining an oblique muscle.
It didn’t matter who the team lost, though, there always someone ready to step up and fill the void. Rookie pitchers Dan Straily and Travis Blackley jumped into the rotation down the stretch and Josh Donaldson batted .280 with eight home runs and 26 RBIs after Aug. 14.
“As far as team goes, we pretty much embody the word,” manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s just a selfless group that just worries about wins and losses at the end of the day.”
Rookies grow up quick
A key reason why the A’s won the American League West is the majors-record 54 wins the team received from its rookie pitchers this season.
The A’s sent 12 rookies to the hill in 2012 and they made 101 starts, had a total of 315 appearances and combined to throw 852²⁄³ innings, a record for a postseason team.
“Someone has to go out there and pitch, right? Why not me?” rookie pitcher A.J. Griffin said. “We just go out there and try to do the job to the best of our ability.”
Rookie pitchers Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Dan Straily, Travis Blackley and Griffin started the last 14 games of the season for the A’s in the wake of veteran Bartolo Colon’s performance-enhancing drug suspension, Opening Day starter Brandon McCarthy’s skull fracture and 24-year-old ace Brett Anderson’s oblique injury.
But the pitchers aren’t the only rookies contributing in Oakland this year. The A’s also used seven rookie position players this season and they combined to hit 55 home runs.
The A’s are only the second team in major-league history, along with the 2006 Florida Marlins, to hit more than 50 rookie home runs in a season, while notching more than 50 rookie wins.