For a decade, October has meant Oakland A’s misery. Even when the team was at the center of a Brad Pitt star vehicle, it didn’t earn a World Series berth. Moneyball the movie couldn’t fulfill any wishes for the Oakland fandom, and so far, Moneyball the strategy hasn’t been able to, either. Whatever longtime GM Billy Beane’s contributions to the sport, the A’s had flamed out of the ALDS in 2012 and 2013 and the wild card in 2014, 2018, and 2019. Oakland has specialized in a certain kind of heartbreak for even longer: The team hadn’t won a winner-take-all playoff game since 1973.
Now, finally, the A’s have done it, sealing a 6-4 wild-card victory over the White Sox on Thursday to advance at last past the first round of the postseason.
To do this, Oakland had to dispatch a young and thrilling Chicago squad. A topsy-turvy Game 3 saw plenty of heroics from the South Siders, from a 487-foot rocket off the bat of Luis Robert that was the longest seen in the Statcast era at the Oakland Coliseum, to a dramatic steal by Yoán Moncada that allowed the White Sox briefly to regain the lead in the fifth inning.
The White Sox ran into pitching trouble early on, pulling starter Dane Dunning after just two outs in the first inning. In his place came rookie phenom Garrett Crochet, who manager Rick Renteria doubtless hoped would go deep in the game. Instead, Crotchet, whose velocity had dipped ever so slightly from his usual 100 mph, left in the second inning under the dreaded storm cloud of left forearm tightness. In his place came a succession of other pitchers, including Carlos Rodón, who issued an intentional walk to Chad Pinder before being succeeded by Matt Foster. What came next is what baseball nightmares are made of: With the bases loaded, Foster walked Mark Canha and then Matt Olson, first allowing the trailing A’s to tie and then giving Oakland its first lead of the night.
Not that the White Sox were alone in pitching woes: A’s starter Mike Fiers was yanked after allowing five hits and a walk on his first 11 batters, and the final outs of the game came courtesy of a gassed Liam Hendriks, called in to close out the ninth for Oakland just a day after throwing 49 pitches in Game 2. Together, the teams combined to trot out 17 pitchers, the most ever in a nine-inning postseason game; nine of them were White Sox, a tie for the most pitchers played by a team in nine innings in postseason history.
The White Sox’s loss was, in a way, the revenge of Jeff Samardzija. In 2014, the Sox shipped a group of players including Marcus Semien and Chris Bassitt to Oakland in return for Samardzija in an attempt to go for it. (Spoiler: “It” did not happen.) On Thursday, Semien and Bassitt were responsible for much of what doomed the White Sox. A’s reliever Frankie Montas, too, was previously dealt away by the Sox; on Thursday, he was one of the few relievers on either team to seem steady—and, with the White Sox’s Evan Marshall, one of just two pitchers in the game to make it a full two innings.
In the ALDS, the A’s will face a defiant Astros team, who seem to have saved up all the pugnaciousness intended for a normal season in front of booing fans. With Oakland, they will face Fiers, who formerly played in Houston and in November was a whistleblower in the Astros cheating scandal that saw the team sanctioned and resulted in the firing of manager A.J. Hinch. Fiers isn’t the only one with bad blood where the Astros are concerned: This summer, A’s outfielder Ramón Laureano clashed with Houston coach Alex Cintron. Afterward, in lieu of regret, he delivered the quote of the year: “I regret charging him because he’s a loser.”
That series is unlikely to be a bore. And win or lose, Oakland has finally snapped its grim streak of playoff luck.