Postseason losses feel like curse for Oakland A's

October 10, 2013 

ALDS Tigers Athletics Baseball

Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) adjusts his cap after loading the bases in the fourth inning of Game 5 of an American League baseball division series against the Detroit Tigers in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/ Ben Margot)

BEN MARGOT — AP

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textRon Agostini
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports
    Bio: Ron Agostini has served as a sports reporter and columnist for The Bee for more than 35 years. His stories and columns have won state-wide, regional and national awards and he's a board director and past president of the California Golf Writers and Broadcasters Association. He's a graduate of Fresno State.
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— By now, the crowd at the Coliseum knows the season-ending drill.

Why watch the Detroit Tigers do a celebration football drill near the mound? They're just another Oakland Athletics nemesis, another team partying hearty on the A's turf.

"Let's Go Oakland!" the crowd chanted moments after the 2013 season ended. The public address announcer intoned, "Let's have another cheer for your Oakland Athletics!"

The crowd complied. And then except for a diehard few, it departed, again much too early for what the A's envisioned.

"We expected to go a little farther than this, this year, but at the end of the day we did have a great season," manager Bob Melvin summarized. "A little more disappointing this year than it was last year."

Let's extend Melvin's point. The A's fans will follow along. They've got the scars to show for it.

Six times the A's have reached Game 5 of the American League Division Series since 2000. Six times the A's have packed their equipment for the winter, this time by 3-0 to the Detroit Tigers.

Five of those losses have taken place here, where an uncomfortable been-here-done-that feel grows.

The Yankees (twice), the Red Sox, the Twins and the Tigers (twice) have taken their turns breaking Oakland's collective hearts. The A's have reached potential series-clinching games 12 times (twice in this series) and lost all but one.

At which point does Oakland morph from lovable low-budget underdog to an American League power that can't stay afloat in the October cauldron?

I think the A's crossed that line Thursday night in front of another towel-waving crowd which was slumped into its seats time and again by Justin Verlander. As fun as the A's are, they lack star power. They're fun, they're good and they're done. Again.

Add Verlander and Miguel Cabrera to Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and the rest of the pricey culprits who've crashed the A's in their own ballyard.

Cabrera, the slugging third baseman whose aching legs make running from Point A to Point B a major challenge, had only one hit in this series. Of course, it was a game-breaking 2-run homer off the promising 23-year-old Sonny Gray.

The A's, determined to send each pitch to the upper reaches of Mt. Davis, didn't even bother to test the lumbering Cabrera with a bunt or two. The idea had merit, given the fact they didn't put a runner on base until the sixth. The A's don't believe in base-to-base stuff.

They might rethink this. Low-scoring postseason games require a more disciplined approach. The record proves their methods take them only so far.

In "Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game," a line from that 10-year-old movie still resonates. Brad Pitt, portraying General Manager Billy Beane, admitted his much-analyzed system "doesn't work in the playoffs. My job is to get us in the playoffs." He attributed the results of the postseason to "luck," though he preceded "luck" with a well-used curse.

Beane was right until he reached the luck part. There's nothing lucky about Verlander's degree of ownage of the A's. A brain surgeon couldn't cut deeper into the A's heads.

Verlander has thrown 30 straight scoreless innings against Oakland in the playoffs. In his four starts, he's struck out 11, 11, 11 and, on Thursday night, 10. His latest performance was a virtual copy of his Game 5 364 days ago. Second verse, same as the first.

He plays the A's like a street gambler hustles unwitting customers in a shell game. There's the 97-mph fastball when Brandon Moss is waiting for the 80-mph change. There's the change when Steven Vogt sits on the gas. Everyone is flailing while Verlander brushes dirt off the pitcher's plate with his right leg like he's swatting a bothersome fly. Had the A's been guessing in that shell game, they would have lost their home, the mortage and their pension.

"I think it's very hostile and it's a lot of fun, really, to be on the mound," Verlander said. "At one point, they were chanting, 'Let's go Oakland,' and in my head every time that they said, 'Oakland,' I said, 'Tigers.' "

The final score of 3-0 felt more like 13-0. Only after Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit was summoned in the ninth did the A's manage an extra-base hit, a double by Jed Lowrie.

Seth Smith was asked to do the next-to-impossible, a tying three-run homer with his team down to its final out. The baseball gods don't distribute many of those miracles. Smith flew out to right.

I imagine this off-season won't be stocked with the same feel-goodness for Oakland. The question lingers: Can the A's, working off the same financially restrained template, break this trend?

Because the trend is starting to feel like a curse.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports.

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