Searching for a lost identity is hard enough. But searching for a lost identity while trying to survive in a profession devoid of mercy?
Well, then you’re the A’s.
On Wednesday, in yet another gut-wrenching loss in a critical game, the A’s found remnants of the team that used to be the best in baseball weeks ago before suffering a crisis of identity. They fought back with renewed spirit from a 5-0 deficit to the Los Angeles Angels, the team that ripped the American League West crown from Oakland in a late-summer rout.
The A’s scored four runs on clutch hits in the seventh inning after going 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. They were painfully close to pulling even with an Angels team that must seem omnipotent to the struggling A’s after their painful last two months. But …
The A’s had gifted the Angels two unearned runs in a sloppy start to their final regular-season home game. If the A’s had played clean baseball, they might have won by a score of 4-3. But ...
“There are no moral victories at this point,” dejected A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We played pretty poorly early on, but we found some fight. …We fought as hard as we could fight.”
They paid for every error – both physical and mental – in the 5-4 loss. The game seemingly featured every flaw and fractured twist of luck that has plagued the A’s since late July – when they lost themselves.
Wednesday was Oakland’s sixth loss in the past nine games. They’re 8-14 in September, meaning they will finish the season with losing records in two straight months after winning records in every baseball-playing month for two years.
All that was missing Wednesday was another sewage spill at the rusted old ballpark formerly known as the Oakland Coliseum. Instead, it was the play on the field that reeked.
There was the third-inning ground ball that got past the normally reliable Josh Donaldson at third base – the one that wasn’t called an error but was a play that should have been made – and cost the A’s two runs.
Donaldson later had an error on an errant throw. So did catcher Derek Norris. And Josh Reddick, the gold glove outfielder, clanked a fly ball.
Starter Jon Lester wasn’t at his best, but those mistakes cost him the game.
“We didn’t do Lester any favors,” Melvin said.
In his postgame talk, Melvin, as level-headed a manager as there is, opened a window into the mindset of his lost team.
“We have to make it first,” said Melvin, when asked about the A’s flagging playoff push. “After all the negativity (of recent weeks), we’ve been trying to find who we are again.”
With four games left against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Melvin is reaching for a lifeline he believes is out there somewhere.
“All that will change if we make the (playoffs) – I believe,” Melvin said.
He thinks if the A’s can survive this terrible end to their season, they can jettison all the bad feelings and compete with a clean slate. It’s as optimistic as a man in his position should be. There is no pity in baseball.
You play a season and you wear it – either proudly or bitterly or somewhere in between. The danger of this season is that infamy lingers, and 2014 will be remembered for an epic collapse unless Melvin is right, unless the A’s can survive and start anew in the playoffs.
Melvin’s belief is quite something considering the A’s have been knocked out of the first round of the playoffs two years in a row and six of the past seven times they’ve reached the postseason. But this is all the A’s have left to believe in.
“Earlier in the season, it wasn’t a problem for us, but now everyone is pressing a little bit,” Melvin said. “We want to go where we had planned to go.”
The A’s are the ultimate stats-based team, but how do the current numbers make any sense? This runs deeper toward the mental and the spiritual, as Melvin clearly believes.
As we left the ballpark, no one knew if it was the last time until next week and a wild-card showdown the A’s would be fortunate to host or whether it was the last time until April.
The A’s have everything in their clubhouse to compete against any team in baseball, but they seem to have forgotten how they once did it.
They have four games to find themselves or forever regret what they squandered.