Getty Images file photoBrett Anderson’s further abbreviated season is the latest bad news to come from the A’s clubhouse

A's the ultimate underdog story, no matter how it ends

It’s already been one of the most remarkable baseball stories in Bay Area history. If it ends with a World Series, so ends the debate.

Win or lose, if the A’s reach the Fall Classic now, after having suffered the loss of their three most proven, veteran starting pitchers in a disheartening span of less than a month, they will represent the most amazing story not just in the history of Bay Area baseball, but in Bay Area sports history.

And it’ll be right up there among the best stories in the history of sport anywhere in the world. Seriously.

Already the darlings of the 2012 baseball season for confounding the many experts who predicted as many as 100 losses, as well as the Vegas betting line that set the over/under on wins at 71, the A’s awoke on Aug. 22 in the thick of the American League playoff chase.

They were there thanks in large part to a surprisingly stout starting rotation led by 39-year-old castoff Bartolo Colon, in the midst of a career renaissance for which a radical stem-cell procedure has been getting much credit, and 29-year-old journeyman Brandon McCarthy, a cerebral sort who’d figured out a way to manage the chronic stress reaction in his pitching shoulder while re-inventing himself as Oakland’s de facto ace and Opening Day starter.

On Aug. 21, Colon, McCarthy and the collection of raw rookies that comprised the rest of the A’s rotation was heartened by the wildly successful return of 24-year-old Brett Anderson, who would have been the club’s Opening Day starter had he not been recovering from Tommy John (reconstructive elbow) surgery.

In front of a typically sparse crowd announced at little more than 13,000 on a cool night at the Coliseum, Anderson had christened his comeback with seven innings of four-hit work in a victory over the visiting Minnesota Twins that made clear to anyone still doubting as much that the A’s were not just for real, but that they were hanging around for the long haul.

The victory moved Oakland to 10 games over .500, at 66-56, just a half-game behind the similarly surprising Baltimore Orioles in the race for the second AL wild-card spot.

Alas, on Aug. 22 it was announced that Colon had been suspended for 50 games, effectively ending his season, for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

How did the A’s respond? By winning that day, and continuing to win and win and win and win. They lost on Aug. 23, but thereafter ripped off a season-high winning streak of nine games, and despite losing for the second time since Colon’s suspension on Sept. 3, and again on Sept. 4, the A’s awoke on Sept. 5 tied atop the AL wild-card standings, 76 wins and whatever cash they might have won their most optimistic fans in hand.

Alas, that night McCarthy took a line drive off his head, necessitating two hours of brain surgery that ended his season and threatened his life.

How did the A’s respond? After a day off on Sept. 6, they ripped off a six-game winning streak, lost a game, then took two of three from the visiting Orioles in the biggest series to come to Oakland since the 2006 AL Championship Series.

A sellout crowd enjoyed the opener of that series.

Alas, on Wednesday, after winning his first four starts off the disabled list with a 0.69 ERA (before losing his fifth start), Anderson suffered a side strain that will sideline him for the rest of the regular season and very likely the postseason.

That is, if the A’s even reach the postseason. On Thursday, they pounded pout a 12-4 road win — what else? — that solidified their bid.

Can they keep winning with a rotation that now features four rookies and a no-name Aussie who was cut by the Giants earlier this season?

Hell, would Vegas even take that bet?

Probably not.

Mychael Urban, host of Inside The Bigs (9 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturdays) on 95.7 FM The Game, can be followed on Twitter @BigUrbSports. His website is UrbsUnchained.com.

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