A's exit stage left to standing ovation

913055.jpg

A's exit stage left to standing ovation

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND -- The sellout crowd stood on their feet and roared in applause. This was the scene many A's players expected to see when Game 5 of the American League Division Series was decided in Oakland. They didn't expect to see it happen after they lost the game 6-0, though.

INSTANT REPLAY: A's magical season ends
After the final out was recorded by the Tigers, something special happened. The fans started cheering. As the Tigers celebrated on the field, more and more people rose to their feet and joined in the applause. The A's players took notice and came out of the dugout and tipped their hats to the crowd. Some of the Tigers took a moment to stop what they were doing and salute the A's players as well. One last "Lets go Oakland" chant broke out.
RATTO: Oakland rekindles love affair with baseball
After everything they had been through they deserved it. This 2012 Oakland Athletics team overcame a 13-game deficit to win the American League West. No team in the history of baseball had bounced back from a five-game deficit with nine games to play to win the division, but the A's did. They fought through the losses of key veterans like Brandon McCarthy, Brandon Inge, Bartolo Colon, and ace pitcher Brett Anderson. They survived the surprising trade of veteran leader Kurt Suzuki. They banded together and supported pitcher Pat Neshek and his wife Stephanee after the tragic and sudden death of their newborn baby son. Any one of those circumstances could have crumbled a lot of teams; it didn't slow down the A's. Oakland ended up popping champagne bottles and celebrating like mad men twice in a span of three days. It seemed every time the team was dealt a crippling blow they would rise up and throw a haymaker back. When third baseman Scott Sizemore was injured early in camp, eventually Brandon Inge was acquired and a week after he joined the team he hit four home runs and 16 RBI in a span of five days. When he went down, Josh Donaldson exploded back onto the scene and never looked back. When Brandon McCarthy hit the DL, A.J. Griffin was ready to take the reigns. He went an Oakland record 6-0 to start his career. When Bartolo Colon was suspended, Travis Blackley and Dan Straily stepped in. When Kurt Suzuki was traded, Derek Norris and George Kottaras took over. At one point the team had 18 rookies on the roster. They carried 12 into the postseason. The A's had a Major League-leading 15 walk-offs and 11 different players were responsible. It was in every sense of the word a total team effort. The A's were outmatched, outspent, and undermanned entering the season. Their 55,372,500 payroll was dwarfed by most teams in baseball and the second lowest in the league. They ended up leading the league with 589,069 spent per regular season win. They even tied an Oakland record by winning 12 consecutive road games. The A's took a risk on a toolsy player from Cuba named Yoenis Cespedes; he ended up looking like a superstar in the making. They traded an All-Star closer for a fourth outfielder named Josh Reddick, and he ended up hitting 32 home runs. They traded their best two starting pitchers in the offseason for two rookies named Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone, who ended up tied for an Oakland rookie record with 13 wins each. So how did this roster full of guys that were written off forge a run that caught the attention of the baseball world? They didn't care what was said by the so-called experts outside of the clubhouse and they simply had fun. They got along with each other. They played for the love of the game and not the money. As manager Bob Melvin often said, the A's take it one game at a time. It worked for 166 games and then they ran out of tomorrows. The story of the 2012 Oakland Athletics may have ended on Thursday night, but it might just be getting started. The team only has four free agents -- McCarthy, Colon, Inge, and Jonny Gomes. Stephen Drew has a mutual option for 2013 and could elect to test out free agency. General Manager Billy Beane is known to wheel and deal but he hinted strongly that will not be the case with the core of this team. A bulk of the players are cost controlled and on the rise. We've seen our last 2012 A's Bernie Lean, heard the last eighth inning rendition of 'Call Me Maybe,' and tasted the last sweet victory of a walk-off pie. Now we can only imagine what next year's season will bring. The A's may have lost in the ALDS, but they deserved the applause. This season is over, but it won't be soon forgotten by the fans or the players that took part in it. I know I will never forget it.

A's position outlook: Will three catchers make Opening Day roster?

A's position outlook: Will three catchers make Opening Day roster?

The A’s have options at the catcher position, and with those options come decisions to make.

Figure that manager Bob Melvin and the rest of Oakland’s front office will use the length of spring training to evaluate their catching corps, and the decisions that eventually come down will impact the rest of the roster.

Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley could form a natural left-right platoon, as they did to begin last season. But Phegley is coming off right knee surgery that ended his 2016 season in July and proved more problematic than anticipated as he recovered. His status can’t be adequately judged until camp begins and he’s behind the plate testing his mobility.

Adding intrigue to the catching puzzle was last season’s emergence of Bruce Maxwell, who hit .283 after making his major league debut in July and shows defensive upside.

Might the A’s keep three catchers to begin the season? Melvin acknowledged that possibility when asked about it during the winter meetings. Vogt has played first base and the outfield in the past, so he provides a little flexibility. But keeping him, Phegley and Maxwell would short the A’s roster elsewhere.

There are decisions to make, but a full Cactus League exhibition season should influence how things shake out at catcher.

STARRING CAST: Maxwell’s emergence, and the fact he hits left-handed, made the 32-year-old Vogt a potential trade piece this winter. But the veteran is still an Athletic and has been an All-Star in back-to-back seasons, though his 2016 stats didn’t jump off the page. He hit .251 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI, delivering a much better first half than second half offensively. But Vogt’s biggest value comes with his clubhouse leadership and ability to connect with his pitchers. He’s the unofficial team spokesman, always willing to stand in front of the cameras after a tough loss. His steadying presence is even more important on a team that annually undergoes such heavy roster turnover.

CAMP COMPETITION: Phegley, 28, missed time in May with a strained right knee, then underwent surgery in July to remove a cyst from the knee. That seemed a rather minor procedure, but Phegley was hospitalized in August after developing a case of synovitis, or inflammation in the knee joints. A’s general manager David Forst said recently that Phegley’s offseason rehab has gone well, but Phegley will remain a question mark until he shows he’s full strength throughout camp.

Maxwell, 26, hadn’t played above Double-A before last season. But he impressed at Triple-A Nashville both with his bat and overall defensive skills. After a slow start in the majors, Maxwell hit .367 over his final 20 games. He began showing flashes of the potential the A’s saw when they made him a second-round pick in 2012 out of tiny Birmingham Southern College.

“Bruce is a guy that maybe in the season you didn't expect to see (before) September, and he’s a guy that came in and made an impact defensively and offensively,” Melvin said during the winter meetings. “It's exciting to have a young catcher like that, especially that hits from the left side of the plate to give Stephen some days off. Stephen is a versatile guy where you can DH him some too, maybe even play him at first base on a day that Yonder (Alonso) gets a day off.”

Could the A’s simply go with Vogt and Maxwell at catcher, though both hit left-handed? Again, Phegley’s health could factor prominently.

PAY ATTENTION TO: A catcher the A’s drafted in the third round last summer, Sean Murphy. He’s a non-roster invitee to big league camp. Murphy, who attended Wright State, is said to be a gifted catcher defensively, with mlb.com’s Jim Callis saying last June that Murphy had the strongest arm of any catcher in the 2016 draft.

Royals ace Yordano Ventura dies in car crash at 25 years old

Royals ace Yordano Ventura dies in car crash at 25 years old

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, whose electric arm and confident demeanor helped lead his long-suffering team to the 2015 World Series title, died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic early Sunday. He was 25.

With the fitting nickname of "Ace," Ventura burst onto the baseball scene with a 100 mph fastball and an explosive attitude to match. He was a fierce competitor always willing to challenge hitters inside, then deal with the ramifications when they decided to charge the mound.

Not surprisingly, he quickly became a fan favorite as Kansas City embraced baseball once again.

"Our prayers right now are with Yordano's family as we mourn this young man's passing," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. "He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano."

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.

Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.

"We are deeply saddened to learn of the tragic passing of Andy Marte and Yordano Ventura," players union executive Tony Clark said. "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."

Ventura is the second young pitching star to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was among three men killed in a boating accident in late September, when the 24-year-old pitcher's boat crashed into a jetty off Miami Beach in the early morning hours.

Ventura went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the long-downtrodden Royals reach the World Series for the first time since 1985. He proceeded to dominate San Francisco in both of his starts, though the Royals would ultimately lose in seven games.

In an eerie coincidence, Ventura paid tribute to his friend and countryman, Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, with a handwritten message on his cap during Game 6. Taveras also was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic, and his funeral occurred just hours before Ventura stepped on the mound.

The following year, now firmly entrenched in the rotation, Ventura helped lead Kansas City back to the World Series, pitching well in two starts against Toronto in the AL championship Series. The Royals went on to beat the New York Mets in five games to win their second championship.

Not surprisingly, the Royals moved quickly to sign their burgeoning young ace to a five-year contract through the 2019 season that included two more options that could have kept him in Kansas City.

He wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura represented a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when Ventura heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy located on his picturesque island home.

Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.

But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential in his rapid rise. He made his big league debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.

He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as first baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League — rare heights the organization had not experienced in decades.

Hosmer took to Twitter upon hearing the news of Ventura's death, saying: "I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say. I love you ACE."

Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: "I love you Ace. I don't know what to say other than I'm going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE."