OAKLAND The A's proved Sunday that they can't win every day even if sometimes it seems they can.
A 9-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, one of several teams fighting Oakland for a playoff spot, was a rare bad day for outstanding A's pitching.
As usual, Oakland scored mostly via the long ball two-run homers by Josh Reddick in the first inning and Stephen Drew in the eighth.
Reddick also had an RBI single in the ninth.
But starter Dan Straily, who until very recently was mowing down hitters as a River Cats ace, had uncommon control problems for someone standing on Oakland's mound.
Straily walked five Orioles before getting an early hook.
Amazingly, that broke a 44-game streak in which A's starters had walked three batters or fewer.
That not only is a record for the 44 years the A's have played in Oakland, you had to go back to 1921 to find an A's staff more frugal than this one.
Kids have accomplished what A's legends couldn't. Oakland has four rookies in its starting rotation. Brett Anderson, at 24, is the old man.
At 23, Straily could be forgiven for his Sunday stinker considering it was only his fifth big-league start and his first big-league loss.
Besides, baseball's law of averages said the A's were due to lay an egg after winning eight of nine, 17 of 21 and 23 of 29.
Such unexpected winning hasn't done much to attract attention nationally let alone in Northern California.
Despite Sunday's loss, Oakland took the season series from Baltimore. That means if they tie for a wild-card spot, the A's will host a one-game playoff in October.
The A's did lose a game on the first-place Texas Rangers and now trail them by three games in the American League West.
And if I had told you before the season that would be the case on Sept. 17, you probably would have laughed.
Most of the players in the A's dugout on Sunday have played at Raley Field for the River Cats in the last two years. It proves that in baseball, nothing is written until it's written.
You can write off a team in April, as you might have the A's on a rainy night when about 200 people showed up here for a loss against the Kansas City Royals, but then the next day comes.
The A's aren't supposed to be vying for a playoff spot, let alone the A.L. West crown, given the disparity in competition.
On Opening Day, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had a payroll of $154 million, while the Texas Rangers were at $120 million.
The little A's were last in the American League at $55 million.
When I peered into the A's clubhouse in spring training last March, I wondered: Who are these guys? They ranked last in the American League in runs before the All-Star break. The A's have been shut out 16 times, the most in the majors. Yet they rank third in the A.L. in runs since the All-Star break.
This is thanks to Reddick, the Boston Red Sox castoff, and Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban defector who barely speaks English, and recent River Cats such as Brandon Moss.
Entering Sunday's game, A's pitching had allowed two runs or fewer in seven of nine games and was at or near the top in most meaningful pitching categories.
The children are leading the team and playing hard for manager Bob Melvin, who is as steady and solid as they come in this business.
Even now, despite having the best record in the majors since June 2, each A's bump in the road raises the perception that the party is over here.
With Oakland still holding the top wild-card spot in the American League, the A's season now hinges on a brutal trip beginning this week with three games in Detroit, three games in New York against the Yankees and four games in Texas.
Then they finish at home with three games against the improved Seattle Mariners and three against Texas.
Can the kids keep playing over their heads and prove to the larger baseball world that they can do what no one expected and make a playoff run?
Despite the stakes, an announced crowd of only 20,539 attended Sunday's game. It's as if the A's have to keep winning for more people to stop thinking they are a sustained mirage.
It would be beautiful if they did.