Josh Donaldson

Five best anecdotes from Josh Donaldson's A's-Phillies 2014 walk-off

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AP

Five best anecdotes from Josh Donaldson's A's-Phillies 2014 walk-off

The Bringer of Rain returns.

Josh Donaldson was one of the A’s brightest (and most brief) stars, dominating the hot corner in Oakland from 2012 through 2014.

During that final season with the A’s, Donaldson already had clubbed several walk-off homers going into a late-September series against the Philadelphia Phillies.

After speedster Billy Burns took the field to replace Nate Freiman as a pinch-runner in the bottom of the 10th inning, Donaldson strode to the plate and crushed his third walk-off homer of the season.

But you can see the game in its entirety on Sunday, as it will air at  5 p.m. on NBC Sports California.

Here are five anecdotes from a wild Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.

Clutch gene

As I previously mentioned, Donaldson already had hit a pair of walk-off home runs in 2014. One came off former Detroit Tigers shut-down closer Joe Nathan, while the other came courtesy of then-Baltimore Orioles pitcher Zack Britton's fastball in mid-July. 

Donaldson hit an astounding .362 with two outs and runners in scoring position that season, as he was one of the team’s most reliable players when it mattered.

Familiar foe

Now with the A’s, relief pitcher Jake Diekman was just a spry, 27-year-old in his third season with the Phillies back in 2014. Philly drafted Diekman in the 30th round of the 2007 draft, and the southpaw eventually made his MLB debut in May 2012.

Diekman also spent time with the Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Kansas City Royals before finding his way to Oakland in 2019.

Diekman threw one inning in that contest back in 2014, allowing one hit while facing four batters in the bottom of the eighth inning. Donaldson happened to be one of those four, but Diekman struck the slugger out swinging.

Where’d everybody go?

Year-to-year roster turnover obviously is common in MLB, but teams usually have at least one player whose career with the club spans at least a decade.

Not with these two teams, however. Not one player who took the field for either team that day in 2014 still is with the A’s or Phillies. Talk about turnover.

Feels weird, right?

Rivalry renewed

A’s-Phillies used to be one of the bigger rivalries in baseball, as both teams occupied the City of Brotherly Love between 1901 and 1954. The “City Series,” as it was known, pitted Philadelphia’s two professional baseball clubs against each other. The initial vitriol between the crosstown rivals even kept the teams from playing each other until 1903. 

Now on opposite ends of the country and in opposite leagues, there isn’t much fire between the clubs.

They still meet every few years, but this was the last time the squads faced off in Oakland. The A’s took two out of three in Philadelphia back in 2017. The two former neighbors were supposed to play each other this upcoming season, although it remains to be seen how the MLB schedule will be adjusted after the coronavirus pause.

[RELATED: Exclusive: Melvin explains how MLB could return post-absence]

When it rains, it pours

2014 was one of Donaldson’s finest professional seasons, as the third baseman finished eighth in AL MVP voting and was named to his second All-Star team.

However, after an offseason trade to the Toronto Blue Jays, Donaldson won the AL MVP in 2015 after hitting 41 home runs and finishing with a league-leading 123 RBI.

The slugger did encounter some injury trouble in the years following his MVP honors, but he made a major comeback in 2019. Donaldson smashed 37 home runs with the Atlanta Braves en route to winning the NL's Comeback Player of the Year award last season.

Why Matt Chapman, Matt Olson are A's best prospects from the 2010s

Why Matt Chapman, Matt Olson are A's best prospects from the 2010s

The A's have been quiet this offseason. After losing in the AL Wild Card Game the last two seasons, they have their eyes set on winning the division and having an easier road to the World Series. 

There really is a method to their madness, too.

Why haven't the A's made any big moves this offseason? Because they're focused on keeping their core of young stars together for the long term. In the near future, that will start with shortstop Marcus Semien, who is a free agent after next season and is expected to earn nearly $14 million in arbitration this offseason. 

But right behind him are two homegrown stars in Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. MLB.com listed Chapman as Oakland's best prospect success story of the decade, and they're not wrong. However, Olson isn't far behind. 

Looking at Baseball America's list of A's top prospects for the 2010s mostly is nothing more than a sight for sore eyes. Need proof? Here you go. 

2010: Chris Carter
2011: Grant Green
2012: Jarrod Parker
2013: Addison Russell
2014: Addison Russell
2015: Daniel Robertson
2016: Franklin Barreto
2017: Franklin Barreto
2018: A.J. Puk
2019: Jesus Luzardo

The best of the bunch are the last two names. Puk and Luzardo -- whom the A's acquired in a trade with the Washington Nationals in July 2017 -- made their MLB debuts last season and look set for stardom. They are two of the best left-handed pitching prospects in baseball and can lead the A's rotation next season. 

Chapman and Olson both are former first-round draft picks by the A's, and clearly it was a mistake by Baseball America to never have them atop the team's top prospects list. Oakland took Olson with the No. 47 overall pick in the 2012 draft before selecting Chapman at No. 25 two years later. 

Since they made their respective big league debuts, the two Matts have been two of the best players in baseball.

Olson had a short 11-game stint with the A's in 2016 before breaking out in 2017. The powerful first baseman had 23 homers in 79 games in Triple-A for the Nashville Sounds. Somehow, he was even better with the A's. 

The 6-foot-5 lefty smashed 24 long balls in just 59 games with the A's as a rookie. He had a .651 slugging percentage and 1.003 OPS. Since then, Olson followed his rookie year with seasons of 29 and 36 homers. 

Olson has 89 homers and an .862 OPS the last three years for the A's. He also been one of the best defensive first basemen in the league, winning a Gold Glove the past two seasons. The 25-year-old has been worth 12.2 bWAR from 2017 to '19. 

And yet, Chapman has been even better. 

The A's finally have their Josh Donaldson replacement. Chapman debuted for the A's as a 24-year-old in June 2017. He wound up hitting 14 homers in 84 games and gave fans a glimpse of his jaw-dropping defense, 

Even though he didn't come up until halfway through'17, Chapman has been worth an absurd 18.5 bWAR. For comparison sake, Donaldson was worth 16.7 bWAR his first three full seasons with the A's.

Chapman already has finished in the top-seven of AL MVP voting twice, won two Gold Gloves and made his first All-Star team last season. At the plate, he has gone from 14 homers as a rookie to 24 in 2018 and 36 in 2019. 

[RELATED: Eight memorable moments that defined the A's this decade]

Like any team, the A's have swung and missed with a handful of prospects. When it comes to Chapman and Olson, though, they couldn't have asked for anything better. 

Now, they must keep these two stars in Oakland.

Why red-hot A's still have work to do to captivate Oakland's home fans

Why red-hot A's still have work to do to captivate Oakland's home fans

OAKLAND -- Redoubtable and relentless, the A’s are four months away from being the only game in town, the most visible representative of a city that craves positive recognition.

They’re launching home runs at an astonishing pace, delivering the equivalent of baseball fireworks.

They’re winning, generally the first requirement of sports popularity, at a rate that keeps them in the thick of the race to the AL playoffs.

Despite these advantageous factors, fans are not flocking to the Coliseum. And, please, let’s not blame local indifference on the ballpark’s lack of freshness and charm. Too simple.

This is about emotional attachment. Listening to fans of baseball in general and the A’s in particular, some variation of that theme consistently surfaces. There are varying degrees of emotional scar tissue, and it has them in their feelings, making them reluctant out of fear of getting burned. Again.

It’s unfortunate, because what these A’s are producing is worth the time and money.

Here they are, surging into the postseason with the second-best record in baseball since the All-Star break and averaging 14,870 fans over three games this week. That included 16,714 witnesses Wednesday afternoon for a stressful 1-0 victory in 11 innings over the Kansas City Royals.

These A’s have something for everybody. Shortstop Marcus Semien, who is having an MVP caliber season, grew up in the East Bay, as did Stephen Piscotty. Mark Canha, who lashed the game-winning hit Wednesday, grew up in the South Bay. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson mash with their bats and sing tender ballads with their gloves.

If homers are supposed to lure folks to the yard, how is it that this club, which now owns the single-season franchise record, remains in a relative vacuum?

Mostly because too many local fans have too often been captivated by A’s teams of the past 20 years, only to feel victimized by the franchise’s cycle of assembling and disassembling, usually in the name of payroll discipline. Each time around, a few more folks stop coming and decide to observe, if at all, from the distance of living rooms and bars.

“I know if, knock wood, we’re able to get into the postseason, they would show up,” manager Bob Melvin told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. “Our fans are into it. They might not be here every night. And I’m not telling people how to spend their money. But it is a terrific fan base. When they’re ignited, and they come out and full force, we feel them like a 10th man.”

This has been true in the past and likely will be again. There is a bandwagon, but it sits in a distant corner, idling, ready to get into should the A’s reach the postseason.

Postseason baseball in Oakland is so vibrant it makes the Coliseum feel spectacular. And some are waiting for a playoff game to light up the yard. Even then, though, there will be holdouts who can’t overcome the scar tissue reminding them of old heartbreak.

Too many fans remember those engaging teams of early 2000s, when pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were rocking batters to sleep while Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye were terrorizing pitchers. Those clubs averaged 98 wins per season and made four consecutive playoff appearances, each ending in painful AL Division Series defeats over the full five games.

The core of that roster -- which drew an average of 2.03 million fans per season from 2000 through 2003 -- broke up and scattered.

Most remember the 2006 team, led by Frank Thomas and Nick Swisher and Chavez, with Zito taking the mound every fifth day. That bunch, which came 23,375 short of drawing two million, swept the Twins in the Division Series before being by the Tigers in the AL Championship Series.

Thomas, the most commanding clubhouse presence the A’s have had this century, left as a free agent and landed in Toronto. Zito, priced out of Oakland -- with, to be fair, declining effectiveness -- headed across The Bay and signed with the Giants.

Lastly, all A’s fans remember the 2012 (94-68) and 2013 (96-66) teams, both of which made quick postseason exits but generated enough momentum for the 2014 A’s (88-74) to draw more than 2 million for the first time since 2005.

Ever since the leader of those teams, third baseman Josh Donaldson was traded exactly two months after the 2014 season despite expressing a commitment to Oakland, attendance has been in decline.

The roster has, once again, been revived by team architect Billy Beane and his lieutenants. The A’s won 97 games last season and have 92 wins with nine games to play this season.

[RELATED: Treinen out 4-6 weeks with back injury; Bassitt to A's 'pen]

An A’s home game offers the best value in Bay Area sports, maybe the highest entertainment-per-dollar ratio in baseball. It’s quality ball at budget-friendly prices in a town that has lost the Warriors and soon will lose the Raiders.

But the breakups of the past have left too many scars. Only if this team finds its way deep into the postseason would those scars be easier to ignore.