OAKLAND, Calif. -- Forget about “Moneyball 2.” It’s an insult to the 2012 A’s to suggest that they go Hollywood. They’re bigger than that.
They’re “Who’s on First?” with less wordplay and more comedy. They’re orphans about to be adopted by any sensible baseball fan left at-large for the postseason. They’re Australia’s team. They’re South Korea’s, and probably Cuba’s as well. They’re myth-busters and tear-jerkers, and most of all, they’re impossible. Thoroughly impossible.
Dare to imagine a route for their World Series parade, and you’ll feel vertigo taking over. That would be too much. Then they’d be the ’69 Mets, with a hint of Buster Douglas, in a garish gold-and-kelly-green package. Only the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team could outrank a 2012 Oakland World Series champion on the list of sports miracles.
And if Brandon McCarthy can pitch in the postseason, mere weeks after surgery on a fractured skull, Lake Placid’s darlings might have to make room on the top shelf. McCarthy suggested the possibility to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle on Tuesday, between the A’s wild-card clinching win over Texas and their division-sealing 12-5 victory on Wednesday.
It wouldn’t surprise me if he was able to do that,” manager Bob Melvin said. “That’s as far as I’ll go with that.”
McCarthy, a weaving white scar still very visible in his buzz cut, joined the A’s in their dugout for both clinchers, and enjoyed the sprays of beer and bubbly in the clubhouse. The moment a line drive crashed against the side of his head, putting him in a life-threatening situation, was easily the most emotional of the A’s season. The team hung his jersey in the dugout for the next few weeks, using it as a talisman.
“I’d see guys down there before certain games, and they’d touch his jersey,” Melvin said.
Of course, the same crowd rigged up a batting helmet with a drool cup for Monday’s celebration, then put it on McCarthy’s head and snapped pictures. The A’s didn’t get this far by taking themselves too seriously.
If they had bothered to weigh their accomplishments against reality, they might have realized that a team that loses three starting pitchers in a month can’t overtake the two-time American League champions for the division title. The lowest payroll in baseball and an infield full of guys out of position can’t produce 94 wins.
A reliever who played first base until last summer can’t help a club finish off just the fifth-ever comeback from 13 games off the lead on June 30. And using five rookie pitchers down the stretch? Well, that’s no way to become the first MLB team to erase a five-game deficit in the final nine games of a season.
One of those rookies didn’t even know he was one until someone pieced together his major-league credentials in September. Travis Blackley, a 29-year-old Australian, spent last season in South Korea with the Kia Tigers and moved from the bullpen to the rotation when a strained side muscle sidelined Brett Anderson two weeks ago.
Blackley feels pretty certain that Korean baseball fans will become smitten with the A’s, if they haven’t already. He receives Twitter messages from people there, asking him to come back, he said.
“They treated me like a superstar over there,” he said, more than a little incredulously. “... I’d go out and people would be all over me. It wasn’t hard to spot me. There aren’t many guys over with all these tattoos.”
Australia has been on board with this team for a long time. In the spring, the A’s became the first MLB club to have three Aussies on their roster. They’re down to two now, Blackley and closer Grant Balfour, which should be sufficient to hold an entire continent in the A’s thrall.
“The green and gold,” Balfour hollered over the clubhouse bedlam Wednesday, a reminder that the A’s funky color scheme matches the ones in his country’s flag.
“And the A in the caps is a lot like the one for the national team in Australia,” Blackley said.
“We’re global,” Cuban native Ariel Prieto said. Prieto came to the States as a pitcher a generation ago and now serves as the mentor and interpreter for Yoenis Cespedes, the émigré slugger at the heart of the A’s lineup.
There is a hint of the Capra-eque in this tale, including a Mr. Potter, embodied in the ownership pair that reject Oakland as the team’s home and lust for a deal that will allow them to defect to San Jose. But their role had been reduced to a cameo on Wednesday, a sellout that prompted the club to issue a press release warning fans not to appear unless they already had tickets. Normally, walk-up customers have no trouble gaining entry to an A’s game and find seats so remote from any neighbors, they might as well be in the wilderness.
The crowd on Wednesday stood for much of the game, bringing a transformative passion to the place known as the Mausoleum.
“Say what you want about this stadium,” general manager Billy Beane said, “but when it’s like it was today, it’s a tough place for opponents.”
Seven months earlier, as spring training opened, Beane attended the Oscars, wearing a tux and consorting with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow. On Wednesday, Brad Pitt’s muse wore whipped cream on his sportshirt’s collar, the remnants of a pie attack by outfielder Josh Reddick.
Beane, 50, said he realized that he hadn’t stored memories of past clinching moments for the team. Back in the playoffs for the first time since 2006, Beane said age had tempered his frantic energy.
“I wanted to slow down and remember this one,” he said.
The savoring may not be over, and it should be done carefully. This season will not be relived, not on film and not on a baseball field. The memories won’t fade, but they will never seem real. They don’t now.