Before the fun of All-Star festivities could begin, there was business for the A’s to tend to.
They took care of it Sunday at Safeco Field, beating the Seattle Mariners 4-1 to avoid a series sweep and closing out a sensational first half of the 2014 season.
They did it in the manner that they’ve rang up so many of their 59 victories to this point. Sonny Gray turned in a shutdown starting performance on the mound. They hit two home runs –- one from an expected source (Brandon Moss), another from a not-so-expected source (Nick Punto).
And slamming the door in the ninth inning was closer Sean Doolittle, whose emergence at the back end of the bullpen led to his first All-Star selection.
“I’m really excited now that the first half is wrapped up,” Doolittle said afterward. “It’s starting to sink in a little bit more. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Figure that the same sentiment is shared by the five other Athletics who are making the trip to Minneapolis for Tuesday’s All-Star Game. The A’s lead the majors with six All-Star selections –- seven if you count starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who is representing the Chicago Cubs. Five of those six players are first-time All-Stars, with left-hander Scott Kazmir the lone exception.
Now’s a time not only for Oakland players to soak up the euphoria of the next couple of days, but the fan base too. When’s the last time the A’s were such a focal point of the All-Star itinerary? In addition to the half-dozen players suiting up for the American League, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson make up two-fifths of the A.L. roster for the Home Run Derby.
This is the payoff for the A’s (59-36) building the majors’ best record to this point. No team has posted as many as 59 wins before the All-Star break since the 2006 Detroit Tigers won that many. True, it’s a bit skewed because the regular season started in March, and when that happens, all 30 teams cram more games in before the break.
But the point is, the A’s played at an incredibly high level over their first 95 games.
They rank second in the majors in runs scored (466, or 4.91 per game). Their 3.09 ERA is the lowest by an A.L. team at the break since …. the 1990 A’s posted an identical mark.
[RELATED: A's need to finish first half on high note]
“This team has worked so hard to put itself where we have,” Doolittle said. “For the rest of the baseball world to take notice of that and show the guys on this team that kind of respect (with the All-Star selections), I think it shows a lot about what this team is doing.”
But for as much as the A’s have accomplished, it’s no secret the work that still lays ahead for them in the second half. The team with the majors’ second-best record, the Los Angeles Angels (57-37), are breathing down their necks, just 1 ½ games back in the A.L. West. The Mariners are 8 games back but are still very much a threat, particularly if they make a significant addition before the trade deadline.
The hard work resumes Friday when the second half begins with a three-game series against Baltimore. For now, the agenda is simple for A’s fans: Savor the moment.
When it comes to the All-Star Game and everything it involves, times can’t get much better than this.