Melvin: 'We've got some unfinished business'
OAKLAND – The wild postgame celebration had a familiar feel to it Sunday.
The A’s couldn’t have been happier to clinch the American League West in front of the home fans, just like in 2012, and party it up in their own clubhouse.
But there is a distinct difference between the 2013 A’s and the club that shocked the majors last season by winning the West on the season’s final day.
“Anything short of winning the World Series isn’t gonna make us happy,” third baseman Josh Donaldson declared, as champagne sprayed all around him following an 11-7 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
Last year, the A’s entered the playoffs with the look and feel of a team playing with house money. Just making it to the postseason was more than anyone expected from them.
No doubt they celebrated hard after Sunday’s game, and probably continued doing so after leaving the Coliseum. But the team-wide theme after clinching the division was one of unfinished business.
The A’s (93-63) are 30 games over .500 for the first time since the 2003 squad finished the season 96-66. They are just 1 ½ games behind Boston for the best record in the American League, so the top seed in the A.L. is attainable.
They appear to have the pitching, depth and offensive ability to make a postseason run.
“We’re not quitting yet,” A’s co-owner Lew Wolff said. “This is not a fluke at all. It’s a very solid team.”
Reliever Jerry Blevins concurred.
“I think we are playing our best baseball right now. Our team is so deep in every aspect, so many guys you can lean on. And the fact we don’t have to lean on any one player in any role is huge. We can do it in multiple facets of the game.”
The A’s took a potentially anti-climactic clinching scenario Sunday and registered maximum impact for a crowd of 30,589.
They were in the top of the third inning against the Twins when Kansas City beat Texas on a walk-off grand slam, wrapping up the A’s 16th division championship. A couple of relievers, including Blevins and Grant Balfour, were in the clubhouse watching the Rangers-Royals game on TV before rushing to the field.
Players on the diamond knew what was up when fans with knowledge of Texas’ loss suddenly delivered a standing ovation.
“(Section) 149, they gave me a little bit of a heads-up,” right fielder Josh Reddick said.
Between the top and bottom of the third, highlights from the Rangers’ loss played on the JumboTron, and A’s players and coaches exchanged hugs in subdued fashion.
Then, in tune with how they’ve handled business over the past month, the A’s turned up the intensity at a time when they could have relaxed and lost focus. Leading 6-4, they continued pouring on runs against five Twins pitchers. The A’s scored 39 runs total in sweeping Minnesota, tied for their most in Oakland history over a four-game series.
Everyone in the clubhouse agreed that finishing off a win – in the final regular-season home game -- was the only way to cap the day.
“You always wanna do it in front of your fans, where you can have a loud celebration,” Reddick said. “The only bad part is our clubhouse is gonna stink for about two weeks. But we’ll take it.”
The A’s have been a model of consistency, posting a winning record in all six months of the season. But starting with a late-August series at Detroit, when they took three of four from their potential Divisional Series opponent, Oakland left Texas in the rear-view mirror behind an offense that leads the majors in runs (240) since Aug. 9.
They also lead the majors in homers (82) since the All-Star break. Coco Crisp (three-run shot), Daric Barton and Jed Lowrie all went deep Sunday.
That has helped take pressure off a pitching staff that ranks fifth in the A.L. with a 3.54 ERA. The starting rotation ranks second behind Detroit at 3.71.
“We knew we weren’t gonna sneak up on teams (after winning the division last year), so our margin for error was a little bit less,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “We came together as a team and kind of found our identity, and from there on, we played really, really good baseball.”
A’s general manager Billy Beane said this year’s team showed a season-long steadiness that was a product of all roster components fitting together.
“It really was a team put together where all 25 guys have a useful role,” Beane said. “I don’t know that we’re surprised because the club was built that way and (manager) Bob (Melvin) used them masterfully in the roles they were meant to play in. That’s the great thing about this year. There hasn’t been a lot of surprises. It’s been a nice, comfortable year.”