Oakland Athletics Eager to Avenge Playoff Demons in AL Wild Card Game

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ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Matt Chapman #26 and Khris Davis #2 of the Oakland Athletics celebrate Davis' two-run homerun during the first inning of the MLB game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on September 29, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

Four years ago, the Oakland Athletics competed in their first Wild Card Game in franchise history. Going on the road taking on the Kansas City Royals was always an uphill battle. But with the A’s sending out their ace Jon Lester in a do-or-die game, the young team liked its chances.

Oakland Athletics Eager to Avenge Playoff Demons in AL Wild Card Game

After six innings, the Athletics were up 7-3, en route to completing a rout of the Royals to advance to the ALDS. Brandon Moss‘ two home runs sent Royals pitcher James Shields out of the game. Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick had two hits each. But the Royals would become the comeback kings. They would score four unanswered runs to tie the game.

In extra innings, despite taking a one-run lead heading to the bottom of the 12th, Oakland could not hold the lead. Down to the final out, Eric Hosmer hit a ball to deep left field for a triple. Christian Colon would then hit an RBI single to bring home Hosmer. On a hit that would be etched into Kansas City lore forever, catcher Salvador Perez would hit the game-winning RBI, giving the Royals a 9-8 win. In the longest “winner-take-all” game in MLB postseason history, it won’t just be the Royals that are remembered for their historic comeback. It would be the Oakland Athletics on the wrong side of history, haunted by the punitive realities of giving up a large lead in the playoffs.

Billy Beane Persistent on Sticking to “Moneyball” Process

One person who was at that infamous AL Wild Card Game in Kansas City was Oakland’s Vice-President Billy Beane. He is quick to admit how the loss still haunts him to this day.

“I absolutely do not want to re-create that night again,” Beane said. “In my professional career, there have been some heartbreakers, but I’ve still always been able to savor the moments. That one was not the case. That was the worst night of my professional life. What we really learned was you want to avoid that feeling ever again.”

Billy Beane will always be remembered for his “Moneyball” mantra as the general manager of Oakland. In 2002, the Athletics had the lowest payroll in MLB. They had lost to the New York Yankees in the ALDS the year before, subsequently leading to Oakland’s star players Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi leaving the team.
It was then that Beane shifted his focus as a team from buying players to buying runs. Despite a low budget, the Athletics used advanced statistics to sign players that could get on base. They would finish the year in first place of the AL West with a franchise record 103 wins.
The analytics-driven front office of the A’s would once again showcase success in 2018. After a slow start that saw them 34-36 through 70 games, Oakland has gone on an MLB-best 63-29 record. They were able to rely on the facets of baseball that get you wins, not necessarily the flashy headlines. The 2018 Athletics have emphasized relief pitching, boasting one of the best bullpens in the league. Given that Oakland generates one of the most fly balls and pop-ups in MLB, it wouldn’t surprise baseball fans that the A’s have one of the best infield defenses.
The team doesn’t have the headline names like the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox. They are an organization that has a winning mentality and a laid-back attitude, that starts from the top with Beane all the way down to the manager Bob Melvin. No two players buy into the Oakland way than Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, who were both drafted and are home-grown players. They aren’t flashy names but from their experience winning in the minor leagues, they are bringing a winning mentality to an energetic Athletics team.

“They learned how to win,” said Ryan Christenson, the A’s bench coach. “I’ve heard numerous players talk about our unbelievable clubhouse vibe, and that’s what we had at every level.”

Athletics and Yankees Renew Postseason Rivalry in AL Wild Card Game

The Oakland Athletics and the New York Yankees, the two teams represented in this year’s AL Wild Card Game, is a matchup of contrasts. The Yankees are in the piers of baseball history. The Athletics are the pioneer of expansion teams. New York is a big market with lots of money. Oakland is a coastal city with a low payroll. But both teams have punched their ticket to the postseason, looking to advance to the ALDS to face the Boston Red Sox.

One of the keys to this game is how the pitching of Oakland will match up with the power hitting of the Yankees, featuring Aaron Judge (.278/.392/.528), Giancarlo Stanton (.266/.343/.509) and AL Rookie of the Year candidate Gleyber Torres (.271/.340/.480). In typical Oakland fashion, they are starting the game with an opener by putting in relief pitcher Liam Hendriks. Given how effective the bullpen has been for the Athletics this season, it is not surprising they are implementing this strategy according to Oakland management.

“We have to do what’s best for our team,” Melvin said. “We talked about it at length. We’ve gone through a couple different options we’re still weighing, maybe the last particular pieces of it, but we’ve been communicating. These guys have handled a lot this year to get to where we are, so I think they’re up for anything and they just want to win.”

For Beane, it’s a familiar foe in the New York Yankees, the team that beat Oakland in the playoffs when he was general manager. Beane and Yankees GM Brian Cashman are close friends, who respect each other’s craft and the impact they have had on the game of baseball. Both teams may have taken different paths to the postseason but according to Beane, Cashman stated back in May that Oakland would be a contender. Be careful what you wish for, Cashman, because the A’s are one win over the Yankees away from going to the ALDS.

“Brian and I started the same year and he’s one of my best friends in the game and one of the greatest GMs in the history of the game. Record-wise, that shows you he’s a slam-dunk Hall of Famer,” Beane said. “We have a lot of respect for each other, and we’ll have a lot of fun.”

Maybe for once, Billy can have some bragging rights over Cash with a victory.

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