OAKLAND -- Well, they did it. The Oakland Athletics are the 2012 American League West Champions and it is safe to say no one saw it coming outside of the guys in the clubhouse, and even they looked a little stunned at times when realizing they were wearing grey shirts with the words "2012 American League West Champions" across their chests.
Not a lot of the so-called baseball experts believed this could happen. They weren't being cynical, just realists. The A's were 13 games back on June 30, they were five out with nine games to play -- a deficit no team in Major League Baseball history has ever come back from. They had lost players like Brandon McCarthy, Brandon Inge, Bartolo Colon, and Brett Anderson all in a much-too-cruelly-short span of time. They survived a daunting 10-game road trip through Detroit, New York, and Texas that was supposed to sink their season.
Heck, they traded away almost every player that had any value in the offseason. Yet here they are. Popping the champagne for the second time in the last three days.
They finished the regular season with 94 wins, 26 games over .500, their 10th best win total in Oakland history.
"I don't think any of us have ever been in this situation maybe but three or four guys," rookie catcher Derek Norris said. "I just think we are too young and dumb to know the difference between what's pressure and what's baseball, you know?"
The A's never held sole possession of first place in the American League West until they won the last game of the season to take it from the Texas Rangers. Oakland is only the third team in the history of Major League Baseball to clinch a pennant with just one day alone atop the division.
It's not how you start, it's how you finish.
"One day don't matter," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "It's like a race you can lead 300 of 301 laps if you don't get the last laugh it don't count."
With the back-to-back defending American League Champions visiting the Oakland Coliseum, the A's had a very tough task ahead of them. Sweep the Rangers and win the West. The A's played loose, insisted on having fun, and didn't wear the pressure. As the games played out the guys in Green and Gold didn't look like a young inexperienced team with their backs against the wall. The team with eight players on the 2012 All-Star team, however, looked like they were pressing.
"They were the ones with everything to lose today," Brandon Moss said. "They had the division lead almost the entire season. They were trying to cling to it. We had nothing to lose, everything was ours to win."
The A's took the first game of the series 4-3 which clinched them a spot in the postseason and celebrated like they won the lottery. Then they came back to work the next day and defeated the Rangers 3-1. Then on Wednesday, with everything on the line, they broke out for a 12-5 win and achieved the truly improbable, but apparently not impossible.
"I've seen a lot of things happen before that people say have never happened," Moss said. "In this game anything can happen. Just like how we were supposed to lose 100 games and almost won 100 games. That's not supposed to happen but that's why you play the games."
The A's did it in front of sell-out crowd of 36,067. The fans were on their feet, deafeningly loud at times, and provided the team with a spark. For a fan base that is often ridiculed for it's poor attendance, they showed up when it mattered the most. It didn't go unnoticed.
"When we came out there it was electric from the moment we came out on the field," Melvin said. "And hopefully the fans know that. They went a long way in us coming back and being able to finish it off today, our hats are off to them and we really appreciate the support."
The A's will start the postseason on the road against the Detroit Tigers. Winning the West is a feather in their cap, but the postseason is just beginning. Now they have to contend with a Tigers team that has Justin Verlander, the reigning MVP and Cy Young in the starting rotation, and Miguel Cabrera, who won the first triple crown since Carl Yastremski did it 1967, in the lineup. The A's could be considered the underdogs again, a role that suits them better than Kelly Green, Fort Knox Gold, and Wedding Gown White.
"Ever since the first day I've been here it's always been all about everybody saying the A's can't compete with the payroll, can't compete with this team and that team," Norris said. "You know what? We are better off if we are doubted it just keeps giving us the extra energy and I hope that they keep doing it."
They certainly aren't lacking in confidence.
"I wouldn't want to play us," third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "We've got guys up and down the lineup that are coming through at any given point. We've got a bullpen that is nails right now. Our starting pitching depending on the day has been nails."
"People say this is a miraculous season, or a Cinderella season," Moss said. "With the pitchers we have and the hitters we have all we are doing it playing to our ability."
The A's have reasons to be confident. Their pitching staff finished the season with a 3.48 ERA, which was second best in the American League. Their 111 home runs since the All-Star break led all of baseball. The 53 wins accumulated by rookie starting pitchers were the most in major league history. The A's made history on Wednesday, but maybe it is less of a surprise than we thought.