OAKLAND – Of all the River Cats players who have driven here from Raley Field to make a big impact in an A's uniform recently, Daric Barton has to be the most unlikely.
Barton, a 28-year-old castoff who once had been touted as the A's top prospect and one of the most heralded young hitters in baseball, is finally influencing A's wins years after being written off by nearly everyone.
There was Barton again Wednesday, crushing Yu Darvish's breaking ball over the center-field wall to break open a tight battle between the A's and Texas Rangers for first place in the American League West.
The A's won 11-4 and are tied for first place with Texas thanks partly to a hot streak that began around the time Barton made his unlikely return to the A's roster Aug. 26.
After Wednesday's win, the A's are 8-1 in games in which Barton has played, and he's 8 for 25 in that span, a .320 batting average. He reached base three times Wednesday.
His two-run homer off Darvish chased the Japanese ace and doomed the Rangers. It turned a 3-2 game into a 5-2 A's lead that grew by four more runs before the sixth inning was over.
Anyone who says they predicted Barton's success is lying.
Barton is here only because A's outfielder Josh Reddick went down with an injury that was supposed to hurt the A's but hasn't. Barton didn't figure in the A's plans, but now he does.
If he had stayed in Sacramento, the River Cats might have made the Pacific Coast League playoffs because Barton was hitting .360 in August when the A's called him up. Now the A's may make the playoffs – with Barton right in the middle of it.
Baseball never ceases to surprise.
Barton's ascendancy from Triple A in West Sacramento to the big time with the A's was supposed to happen in 2007, when Oakland first summoned him to make the drive down I-80. Then it was supposed to be 2008, 2009, 2010. By 2011, he was old news. By 2012, he was an afterthought.
In the spring of this year, the A's cut him, and the 29 other big-league teams took a pass, too, on a guy who had been one of Baseball America's top prospects for several years.
Barton led the A.L. in walks in 2010 with 110, and his on-base percentage (.393) was higher than that of true stars such as Matt Kemp and Robinson Cano.
But who cared? In a way, Barton symbolized the dismal years the A's had from 2007 to 2011 – four losing seasons and a .500 campaign, during which the A's looked good on paper but not in practice.
When the A's returned to the playoffs last year, Barton was a spectator.
His stellar hitting in Sacramento this season was scarcely noticed because the A's had moved on and were winning without him.
Then Reddick tweaked his wrist. Barton made an instant impact as the A's took three of four games from the Tigers in Detroit.
Barton has been everything he never was before – aggressive, incisive and opportunistic. He stopped trying to be a top player and just started playing.
"The biggest thing I've changed is my attitude and my approach," Barton said Wednesday. "Not just in baseball but in life.
"I'm not worried anymore about what can happen or what happened in the past."
A's manager Bob Melvin said Barton turned heads in Sacramento this year when he was asked to play third base and was willing to do whatever was asked of him.
"He certainly has a much bigger appreciation for what he is doing now and for the opportunity he has gotten," Melvin said. "He showed a lot of focus in Sacramento for a guy that could have gotten down because he had played in the big leagues. He played his way into this opportunity."
Finally healthy physically after years of shoulder troubles and emotionally from reconnecting with his boyhood love of the game, Barton has found success by being a day-by-day kind of thinker.
"I'm here again," Barton said. " A lot of people don't think I belong here, but it is what is. I'm going to try to help the team win, and that's that."
Despite his recent success, I was the only media person interviewing Barton as established A's stars were surrounded by cameras and tape recorders.
Would Barton even make the A's roster if the A's reached the playoffs? He's not even going to consider the question.
"I look forward to tomorrow and am going to celebrate today," he said. "Whatever happens at the end of this month happens. It was exciting to be here last year (when the A's clinched a playoff spot). I can only imagine what it would be like if I were involved."