In honor of me turning 30, I’m compiling 30 different top-30 lists on a wide variety of topics ranging from trivial interests of mine to meaningful life moments. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for these lists. They were composed by a panel of one—me.
One hour into the month of October, the Oakland Athletics’ heavily anticipated playoff run was over. It ended abruptly in the bottom of the 12th inning in Kansas City against a pesky, never-say-die, smallball playing Royals team that seemed to relish the bright lights of playoff baseball perhaps only a bit less so than their fans did, a fan base that had waited 29 years for playoff baseball to return.
The A’s dramatic fall-from-ahead (three times!) loss added another depressing chapter in the ongoing saga that is being a fan of the Billy Beane-era in Oakland. Moneyball the movie was great, but the real world A’s have proven to write a script too tragic for Hollywood. Their regular season success has been overshadowed by postseason futility. Since 2000, Oakland has now lost seven consecutive winner-take-all games, and has won just one postseason series (a 3-0 sweep of Minnesota in the 2006 ALDS) in eight appearances.
This year was supposed to be different. Oakland was a Major League best 67-42 on Aug. 1 when general manager Beane, who was well aware of the playoff struggles of years past, decided to shake things up and go all-in for a World Series run by dealing slugger Yoenis Cespedes for ace pitcher Jon Lester of the Boston Red Sox. Lester debuted Aug. 2, ironically against the Royals, in a game Oakland won 8-3. However, Oakland’s fortunes quickly took a turn for the worse. They watched a 4-game lead in the AL West over the Angels evaporate, finishing the season with the worst record in AL in the month of September and only clinching the second wild card spot on the final day of the season.
Lester was given the ball on the mound in an attempt to validate why they brought him in. He entered the game with a career 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances, good for top-5 all-time. So when Brandon Moss went deep with a 2-run home run in the top of the first inning, many thought Oakland already had given Lester enough support for them to survive in advance. Instead, the wild card game played out, wildly, like a microcosm of the A’s season. The A’s got off to a fast start only to squander it away in heartbreaking, devastating, typical Oakland fashion.
Lester surrendered a run in the bottom of the first and another 2 in the third, allowing the Royals to play with a lead until the sixth. Oakland’s offense awoke from a month-long drought for a 5-run sixth inning, giving Lester a 7-3 lead. Just when it seemed like Lester was finding his form, the Royals got to him in the 8th, forcing manager Bob Melvin to replace him after recording just one out in the inning. Luke Gregorson came in from the bullpen and struck out the final two batters, but not before the Royals had plated 3 to bring them within a run at 7-6.
Oakland failed to tack on an insurance run in the top of the 9th, and it proved costly as the Royals tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, stole third, and then scored on a Nori Aoki sac fly. The Royals were terrors on the basepaths all night, seemingly bunting runners into scoring position every inning and stealing bases at will.
The A’s had one last gasp in the 12th. Pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo came through with an RBI single to score a run and give Oakland the lead for the third occasion of the evening. But KC battled back yet again in the bottom half. First, an Eric Hosmer triple off the wall. Then, Christian Colon hit an unplayable chopper down the third base line to score the tying run. With two outs, Colon then stole second, the Royals’ 7th stolen base of the night. Salvador Perez stepped to the plate against Jason Hammel. Perez was 0-5 on the night, but he delivered with a rope down the third base line, just under the mitt of Josh Donaldson. And just like that, the game, the A’s season, and (most likely) the Jon Lester era in Oakland were done.
Unfortunately, this is not my first rendezvous with sports heartbreak. The feeling has been all-too familiar in my 30 years of life. In fact, I first wrote about the topic of “the devastation game” back in 2008 following Game 4 of the NBA Finals between my Lakers and the rival Celtics. To see where the A’s collapse ranks on my all-time list, read on.
Continue reading 30 at 30 List #8: The Most Devastating Losses of My Life as a Sports Fan