OAKLAND This was the "Summer of Love, Throw Back the Clock Day" at the famously leaky old ballpark. The Temptations blaring in the background, peace signs in the crowd, those funky green and yellow A's uniforms on the field. And the white shoes. Remember the white shoes?
Back in 1969, Reggie Jackson was just starting to stir the drink. Vida Blue was learning to freeze hitters. The late Catfish Hunter was painting the corners. Charlie Finley was the wacky owner with the wild ideas, though in today's world, he would be indistinguishable from many of his successors in the NFL, NBA and MLB.
The current A's, of course, would love to inherit even a smidge of the charisma enjoyed by those early Oakland teams. Besides their nasty stadium issues and their budget woes, their cross-bay rivals live and breathe in a baseball museum (AT&T Park) and have captured two of the last three World Series titles. The A's are still working at that. At constructing a decent ballpark.
But about that other part? About hearts, minds and titles? They might be closer than folks suspect. More than 32,000 fans ignored the subpar ambience Saturday and conveniently forgot about the recent sewage spill that flooded O.co Coliseum and enjoyed another afternoon of the A's under-the-radar, but increasingly successful, intriguing 2013 season.
Starter Tommy Milone withstood an early home run by Josh Hamilton and produced a solid seven innings. Ryan Cook pitched a scoreless eighth and was followed by All-Star Grant Balfour for a hitless ninth. The A's managed only seven hits, but that was enough. After they chased Angels starter Garrett Richards following the fifth, pinch hitter Derek Norris drove a Scott Downs fastball over the wall in left in the seventh for a two-run homer.
"That's the strength of our team," A's manager Bob Melvin said after the 3-1 victory. "If a (Yoenis) Cespedes isn't hitting well, if a (Josh) Reddick isn't swinging well, then there's a Norris, an (Eric Sogard).
"We have a pretty balanced lineup. We feel we have a chance to score every inning. It really is a group type of offense for us, and in a lot of ways, it's really good. We don't rely on one or two guys all the time."
The idea is to overcome slumps and anemic offensive numbers with exceptional pitching, smooth defense and the occasional long ball. The Billy Beane formula doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon, either. Though oft-injured left-hander Brett Anderson threw 51 pitches during a pregame side session, the A's remain in the market for another starter. The trade deadline is Wednesday.
Meantime, the timely hits just keep coming. Until the seventh inning, the game had been a yawner, the crowd energized only by the musical blasts from the past over the public address system.
Norris changed all that. With the A's trailing 1-0 and Chris Young at first on a fielder's choice, the former River Cats catcher drove the first pitch he saw over the 367-foot sign. Besides accounting for the winning run, the blast was notable for other reasons. It was the first pinch hit and the first pinch-hit home run of his major-league career. It was his fourth home run in 15 games and bolstered an average that has hovered around .300 for July, an improvement over a combined .164 average in May and June. And it furthered his case to become the full-time catcher, his .214 season average notwithstanding.
Melvin isn't there yet. While noting that Norris has the ability to be a day-to-day player, he didn't sound ready to send his left-right platoon system the way of those green and yellow uniforms. That may still happen, though. These A's are full of surprises. First place in the American League West. Largest division lead, five games, since 2006. Interesting. Enjoyable. Entertaining. Humble, sort of.
"They (A's executives) have a knack for finding diamonds in the rough," Norris added. "I don't know if they are planning on doing anything (by the trade deadline), but I'd take this team right now vs. anybody."
Peace, the Temps, white shoes, the A.L. West lead. You gotta love it.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.