A’s Lose Series But Gain Respect

Oakland rookie Jarrod Parker lost two tough battles to Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander. AP photo

One day earlier, the Detroit Tigers’ were on the verge of giving away the American League Championship series to the Oakland A’s when closer Jose Valverde – he of the 3.78 ERA – collapsed. Enter Justin Verlander. Last season’s Cy Young winner and MVP did what has become routine, striking out 11 in a complete game, four-hit shutout of Oakland last Thursday. The evening belonged to the Tigers and baseball’s best pitcher, but it was the A’s that made a statement.

Though no one gave them a shot to make the playoffs, the A’s are legit and quite likely to represent the American League in the 2013 World Series. Maybe 2014 should the sophomore jinx become a problem.

What made the A’s improbable run so much fun to watch was the very thing that will make them a contender for the remainder of the decade – they have a roster loaded with youth and talent. In fact, the biggest challenge for next season and beyond comes from its well-heeled competitors rather than injuries and changes within the American League West.

Oakland’s future is centered around a pitching staff that went five deep with rookies this year and was at times dominant against Detroit, even against the Tigers’ ace. Lost among Verlander’s dominance in game five was the effort of Oakland rookie Jarrod Parker, who not only was not intimidated facing Verlander and Triple Crown winner Migel Cabrera, but thrived.

Parker struck out six through six and issued just one walk. He did give up two runs with the help of two wild pitches in the third, but those were more on catcher Derek Norris, who seems to enjoy the challenge of backhanding balls in the dirt. Norris’ weak tosses to second on three steal attempts, one by 215 pound shortstop Jhonny Peralta, also didn’t help the cause. Strange as it might sound, until the seventh, it was a pitching dual with Parker having his way with the meat of Detroit’s batting order.

Oakland set a record by using three rookie starters and six rookie pitchers overall in the playoffs. They tied the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks for the high- water rookie mark, a team that was also managed by Bob Melvin.

That’s no mere coincidence. Melvin is an out- standing manager who has a knack for keeping young teams focused – as evident by the Major League-leading 14 walk-off winners by the A’s this year.

Perhaps more than any- thing, the A’s are the epitome of a Billy Bean team. They are bits and pieces, castoffs, unproven youth assembled by a deft talent evaluator who knows how to win with a limited budget, even if it means parting with star players like Andrew Bailey.

Bailey, an All-Star reliever, was traded to Boston in a deal that brought little- used outfielder Josh Reddick and minor league third baseman Miles Head and pitcher Raul Alcantara. The 25-year-old Reddick led the A’s with 32 home runs, 85 runs and 85 RBI. Head hit .333 with 23 home runs and 84 RBI in 124 games between Class A and AA this year, while the 19- year-old Alcantara was 6- 11 with a 5.07 ERA in A ball. The signing of veteran third baseman Brandon Inge at midseason was a good move that provided good-guy leadership to go along with 11 home runs and 52 RBI in 74 games. His versatility was another positive. In his 12-year MLB career, Inge has played every position but first, short and pitcher.

The A’s long-term American League dominance is going to be tested by division rivals Los Angeles and Texas, and East Coast spendthrifts New York and Boston. Still, the pieces are in place to make a long run of playoff appearances. Whether they can stave off the advances of richer suitors remains to be seen. smurray@midweek.com Twitter @SteveMurray84