Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: A's amazing tale comes without Hollywood

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

OAKLAND – Billy Beane probably better start worrying about that "Moneyball" sequel. What his A's accomplished these past few months, weeks, days, hours?

A sweep of the Texas Rangers. A second-half comeback from the depths of a 13-game deficit. A playoff berth for the first time since 2006. A closing sequence that electrified dowdy old Coliseum, shocked the baseball world, and reintroduced the A's to a national, no-longer-oblivious audience.

But scratch that. Forget about Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill and the Hollywood hoopla. These A's don't need a script. The season-ending roster barely resembles the list turned into Major League Baseball on Opening Day, yet here they are, forever evolving, and their 2012 narrative offering something compelling for everyone.

Manager Bob Melvin is a Bay Area native and Berkeley guy who grew up bleeding green and gold. The third baseman is a converted catcher. The middle reliever is a sore-kneed former first baseman. The team's five-tool talent is only a rookie. And most of the players and some of the coaches are recent minor leaguers, former River Cats who waited a long, long, long time to do something this crazy, unexpected, and certifiably extraordinary.

"We won all those championships with the River Cats," said an emotional bullpen coach and Folsom resident Rick Rodriguez, in his second season in Oakland, "and to go from there to here is incredible. (Josh) Donaldson. (Cliff) Pennington. Tyson Ross. Derek Norris … I could go on and on, but to come up here and keep producing those guys, and to have this result, is great for us, for the city of Sacramento."

But about that bullpen. And about those relievers. The A's won 94 games and overcame an assortment of noticeable weaknesses (anemic batting average, abundance of errors, league-leading strikeouts, injuries) for a number of reasons. They include home runs, a knack for walk-off hits and Beane's enduring ability to replace injured quality starters with healthy quality starters, along with a bullpen that has been nothing short of suffocating.

On Wednesday, after starter A.J. Griffin allowed five runs, Evan Scribner, Jerry Blevins, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle shut down the powerful Rangers for 5 1/3 innings before Melvin turned the game and the season over to Grant Balfour in the ninth.

If there is a player whose improbable journey epitomizes these A's, that would be the closer. Nothing comes easy for the engaging, animated Balfour, a 34-year-old Australian who has spent much of his baseball career bouncing around places like Sarasota, Huntsville, Nashville, Durham.

Until midseason, he wasn't even the closer. Until these past several weeks, in fact, he was probably best known for plucking a drowning R.A. Dickey, the National League Cy Young Award candidate, out of the Missouri River when they were teammates in the minor leagues.

"I paddle a little more and reach and finally I feel Grant's hand, feel it clasping mine, good and strong," Dickey writes in a terrific memoir. "He hauls me in toward the bank as if he were a tugboat."

Balfour, who has converted 24 of 26 save opportunities, didn't get a save Wednesday. Heck, he wasn't even supposed to pitch; Melvin relented only because the Aussie was so insistent.

"I wanted it bad," a champagne-drenched Balfour said. "I said, 'No way. You are not keeping me out of this game.' Just go out there and get it done. That's what I kept telling myself. 'What are you going to be afraid of? What do you have to lose?' "

With the sellout crowd on its feet, anticipating the near-impossible, Balfour went to work. He retired Adrian Beltre on a fly to Josh Reddick in right, then struck out Nelson Cruz, the noise increasing with each swing.

Finally, after slapping his thigh, after muttering something to himself, he induced Michael Young into a high, harmless drive to center that Coco Crisp grabbed and caressed, triggering the celebration.

And it's not over yet, which perhaps is most amazing. It's not over yet.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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