OAKLAND – The team has engineered a stark turnaround from last year, going from having one of the American League's worst records to – at least through the first half – one of its best. A prolific offense has been key, and they've shown a flair for the dramatic with eight walk-off wins.
Their disabled list at times has looked more like a laundry list, testing the organizational depth. "We've got half of (Triple-A) Pawtucket here," Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon, "and we've still been able to do the job day in and day out."
Was it just the setting – the visiting dugout at O.co Coliseum – that made it sound a little like last year's A's? The Red Sox, last-place finishers in the A.L. East last season, arrived in Oakland this week with the best record in baseball and three more wins than the A.L. West-leading A's, whom they beat 4-2 in the first game of a three-game series Friday night.
While the Red Sox were mired in a 93-loss season last year, the A's were streaking to their first playoff berth since 2006 with baseball's best record after the All-Star break, and a well-documented 14 walk-off wins.
One cog of that team and its oft-credited clubhouse chemistry, outfielder Jonny Gomes, is now a part of the Red Sox clubhouse – and said before Friday's game any similarities between the two are all coincidence.
"Not at all," Gomes said when asked if the teams are comparable. "Not at all, to tell you the truth. This clubhouse is full of veterans. Not that that makes it better, but there aren't as many things that have to be taught and policed in this clubhouse.
"As far as staying loose and having fun, I think that just comes with being in first place. You take any division in baseball, if you're in first place, it's a good clubhouse."
Of course, last year's A's spent one day in first place – the last of the season, when they wrested the division crown from the Texas Rangers. It capped a 51-25 run in the second half, and the common question prior to this season was whether the A's could carry that success over into 2013.
"People asked me that in spring – 'What do you think is going to happen?' " Gomes said. "I said, 'well, the two people that got the biggest individual accolades last year were Bob Melvin (A.L. Manager of the Year) and (general manager) Billy Beane (named Executive of the Year by the Sporting News), and both those guys were back.'
"I think those were the two biggest pieces they needed back, and they got them, so it's probably not a coincidence why they are where they are."
Melvin offered the same non-surprise about Boston's first-half success: "When you look at the numbers," he said, "you can see why they are where they are."
The Red Sox lead the majors in runs, on-base plus slugging and total bases, and are one of seven A.L. teams with a staff ERA under 4.00 – the A's second in the league with a 3.73 mark.
Gomes, who hit 18 home runs for the A's in 2012 before signing a reported two-year, $10 million deal with Boston in November, has contributed to the Red Sox's late-game drama with two walk-off homers. He said the city and team have "taken me in with open arms."
Not in the lineup Friday, Gomes watched as the Red Sox broke open a 2-2 game in the eighth against the A's bullpen after Oakland starter Jarrod Parker left having retired the last 16 batters he faced.
Jose Iglesias singled leading off the eighth against Sean Doolittle, who two batters later hit Shane Victorino to put runners on first and third with two outs. Ryan Cook came in to face Dustin Pedroia, who lined a two-run single to left.
Pedroia made the defensive play of the game in the fifth, diving to his right to snag Josh Donaldson's one-hopper and start a 4-6-3 double play. It saved a run and potential big inning, as the A's had runners on the corners with one out in what was a 2-1 game.