A's won't let slump redirect their focus — or their fun
Aug 20, 2014 at 5:45p ET
OAKLAND, Calif. — The season-high losing streak was over. The A's were back at 23 games over .500. Coco Crisp, who'd been batting .130 in the month of August, delivered the three-run, bases-clearing double that was more than enough offense to lift Oakland over the New York Mets, 6-2.
But the pervasive calm in the locker room afterward Tuesday night was less about steely professionalism than the clear understanding that another five-game schneid like the one that had just been snapped might doom a promising season that has sights on something bigger than August.
"To an extent, there's a sense of urgency you have to have every game," manager Bob Melvin said. "It shouldn't be because you lost a few games in a row. Certainly Coco's hit was huge. Felt like 10 runs at the time."
Melvin has seen what the power outage and subsequent losing has done to his players.
"A lot of times, you can see how they are in the dugout," he said. "There are some guys here who've gone through some significant droughts, and it doesn't feel good."
But a timely clutch hit by Crisp and six solid innings from 30-year-old lefty Scott Kazmir, who has been to the abyss and back, only to now notch his career-high 14th win, put these A's back in the right mindset.
They're still scuffling to a certain extent — Oakland started the year 57-33 and is 17-18 since July 9 — but if they are to regain control of the American League West and the AL as a whole, the time is now.
Competitive balance seems to have reached all-time ludicrous levels. Of the 32 teams, 24 are still less than 10 games out of a playoff spot. The good news for the A's is they're still underplaying their Pythagoras win/loss by six games, and they have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the American League West.
But as Coco Crisp goes, so will the A's. The longtime leadoff man recorded his 22nd career triple, tying Sal Bando for eighth on the team's all-time list, before Josh Reddick carelessly whispered a two-run homer to right to put Tuesday's game clear out of reach of the light-hitting Mets.
"We come in, we joke around, even through this tough stretch," Crisp said. "The team's mentality or morale hasn't changed — it just sucks that you're losing. So we just come back in here, try to have fun, enjoy being in the big leagues, and go out there and try to win a ballgame. Today, we got back on the right track."
That's what you see so clearly up close with this particular A's team, that the fun, the shenanigans, the child-like joy is never truly far away, even during the bad times. Melvin, with his "folksy uncle" demeanor, seems physically incapable of drama and goes a long way in fostering this clubhouse culture, but it is also very organic. It is simply who they are.
After Sean Doolittle set down the Mets by striking out the side in the ninth, he admitted that the bullpen guys do what they can during the slow moments to keep spirits high, especially when the offense is scuffling.
"We try different things to start rallies down there and guys go through their normal stretching routine and their normal preparation stuff, hoping that the phone's going to ring and their name's going to get called to go in the game," he said, "but we're trying all different kinds of ... uh ... voodoo and rally-starters down there to get some runs. We weren't yet at that point. Fortunately, we didn't have to use any of our magic tonight. (Crisp) did it himself."
When asked what such voodoo might entail, Doolittle almost gave up the goods: "Um, we like to ... sometimes ... actually, I don't want to say it. In case that might jinx it." In lieu of a Rally Possum, such 'pen-induced magic will suffice.
No disrespect to these clubs, but during a year in which Kansas City and Baltimore are both division leaders this late in the schedule, the A's know that this season, much more so than either of the last two, may be their best chance at winning a wide-open American League.
And once they get to the World Series, in which they would have home-field advantage, anything goes.
Today, the A's changed their Twitter avatar to that of a sparkly, rainbow-backed unicorn. It's for an upcoming promotion, but in a year that has, thus far, defied so many conventions, maybe that's the kind of magic Doolittle and the A's are looking to embrace.