Bob Melvin sat in his office, marinating in cheap champagne, dessert topping and the hugs of The Team That Money Would Never Have Thought Of Buying, reminiscing about ... well, reminiscing so fast that it was hard for him to collect them in a coherent sentence when it suddenly dawned on him:Hey, we have a game tomorrow.And a pretty important one, traveling secretary Mickey Morabito added.But when asked if the players in the clubhouse who were still in full revelry would suddenly have the same epiphany and clamp their joy, assistant general manager David Forst laughed and said, Theyve played through worse than this. And someone else chimed in, "You should see them at 10:30 in the morning some days."Of course you should, and of course they have. The Oakland Athletics took the record they were expected to have had in March and turned it on its head, finishing the job that couldnt be done by beating the Texas Rangers, 4-3.INSTANT REPLAY: A's are postseason bound
The win cemented a wild-card berth for the As, but with two more games to play, they can still win the AL West outright and skip the play-in madness entirely. In short, they celebrated like madmen with regular-season work still to do, one more unintended gift of the new playoff system.But Melvin had decreed, more or less, that the players could treat Monday and Tuesday as separate items, like they have all year. They dont think about tomorrow. They think about today.And after 92 fine todays, they are still playing the cigar-sotted and alcohol-drenched hand they dealt themselves Monday night.Because of the circumstances of the new jerryrigged playoff system, it is hard to write with historical sweep of the As first postseason berth in six years when theyve still got an aquariums worth of fish still to fry. When Melvin looked up and said, Weve got a game tomorrow, he seemed half surprised and half disappointed, even though he knew all along that this was the first scenario.And though the players, staff and owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff consented cheerfully to bathe in the joy of the moment, smiling and mugging for cameras as though this were the end of the road, the road they are headed toward has not yet begun and the one theyve been traveling hasnt reached its end yet.Travis Blackley, the veteran-turned-rookie, pitches Tuesday night in what is a must-win game for the As if they wish to evade the pitfalls of the one-and-done game. Avoiding a Friday game in Baltimore is the new job, and that requires that Blackley and then A.J. Griffin handle the Rangers as Jarrod Parker did Monday night.And when we say handle, we mean in the As sense, when they dont have to resort to the bottom of the ninth or beyond to win the game.I actually thought that was how it might play out, Melvin said. Thats how we do it, right?But the As didnt allow themselves that luxury. A seventh-inning homer by Mike Napoli brought the Rangers to within the final margin, but Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour got the final nine outs without incident five strikeouts, a routine grounder, a fly ball and a warning-track shot by Josh Hamilton in the eighth that had more hope than impetus behind it.There was no scrambling from behind, no jaw-slackening heroics, no unusual deeds and no surprises . . . save perhaps Melvin getting pied himself for the first time all year.I had no idea that was coming, I swear to you, he said, remnants of the event still stuck stubbornly to his ear. I expected the Gatorade (two tubs), but the pie ... not at all.Then again, who better to get the latest one but the man who guided this baffling team through more odd moments than a normal team should reasonably be asked to endure? Manny Ramirez . . . Bartolo Colon . . . Brandon McCarthy . . . changes and trades and relocations and reassemblies all required to go from 12th place on June 11th to tied for third on October 1. In that time, theyve gone 66-33, and in doing so reacquainted the clubhouse with the smell of throwin champagne and sweat-ranked uniforms.It was a festival of happy and shocked faces, and nobody was heard saying, You guys didnt believe in us, because while that was true, the players didnt believe either, not for a long while. Even Melvin said it took until the middle of June for things to start settling in his mind that this team had something to show us.I always believe we can win, every day, he said. But this ... this ... and then he laughed again.We have a game to play tomorrow, he said, and he wasnt saying it just for effect. The As do have a game to play, and it matters just as much as this one did.