Just as Grant Balfour strolled in from the bull pen that lies in foul territory no-man's land at the O.co Coliseum, a lovely little breeze kicked the flags at the park into action.
It has been hot here in the bay area since Friday evening. Not hot by peppery Phoenix, or Miami summer sauna standards. But Sunday it was 90 degrees, and Tuesday 94, which for an area that usually peaks around 74 most summer days is hot.
For the last two nights there was no need to use any covers as we slept with windows and even the back door open.
So, that Aolian breeze--for the music was the cacophony of screaming fans who were there, committed, and completely going out of their collective minds--set the tone.
In this surreal environment, Balfour, pitching for his fifth consecutive day, dispatched the Texas Rangers claiming the American League West title for himself and his wondrous youthful Athletic counterparts.
Actually, Oakland swept the Rangers: those same Rangers who pretty much held first place from the first day of the season till October 3, 2012, the last day of said year.
Those are the same Athletics who were 13 games back at their inverse peak, nine games below the .500 mark in June, and five games down with nine contests to go (Oakland set a record by grabbing the crown from this deficit).
This is a team that has had five guys play third base this year--one twice-and have a rookie pitching staff with 54 wins (another record). They have had five Brandons, two Josh's, and by season's end their starting catcher was in the National League, their shortstop had migrated to second base, and their closer had been their closer and then not their closer and then still not their closer and then their closer again.
That would be that Balfour guy, who whiffed six of the last nine Texas batters he faced the last three games, saving all three.
Truth is Oakland more than came out of nowhere.
This is a team with 14 players engaged in their rookie season on the 40-man roster, with 100 games started by first year pitchers (another record).
One where Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, Chris Carter, and Brandon Moss hit a collective 69 homers and where at the break the only player worthy of an All Star slot was another rookie in then closer Ryan Cook.
Oakland did get hot right after the break, playing like a Strat-O-Matic team that gets a one/seven single or a 1/5 home run roll every time they really need it.
And I mean every time.
I am not sure how this happened. I am sure in all the years I have been watching baseball I have never seen anything quite like it.
So, the question is "how the hell did they do this?"
How, with a team makeup--as in castoffs and rookies---that more than traditionally finishes last, and usually loses 94 instead of winning that many, assemble in flight, coalesce, and then turn into a lean mean fighting machine over the course of three months? And, do it enough to bump off the 2010-11 American League champions leaving the AL World Series representatives with their heads hanging?
Oakland quietly held the Rangers back for the Monday win, and slipped past Texas Tuesday night, such that suddenly the Wednesday final game of the regular season for both teams meant everything.
The Athletics jumped ahead with a run in the first, but self-destructed in the third, committing an error, allowing some untimely hits, and then A.J. Griffin was gone and the Athletics were down 5-1.
"Ah well," I thought. "The team made it pretty far. They had won five straight and pranced into the Wild Card slot. Winning six in a row is tough, and well, I guess I will have a game to work on Saturday."
But those ten-A's-cious young Oaklanders came back with a double and a single and a single and a double and a gift error from Josh Hamilton, and suddenly were up 7-5.
Texas, which went back on their heels by then, made some hollers with hits, but no real noise and suddenly it was the bottom of the eighth and Derek Norris smacked a homer off Alexi Ogando. 9-5. And then instead of the rookies folding after their bad inning, the experienced Rangers collapsed like an old ironing board. The results were 12-5.
And then that breeze kicked in, Balfour came out, and the game was over.
Oh yeah, and Oakland won. And the American League West title.