HOUSTON – There are no security guards needed in their hotel lobby, no velvet ropes to keep fans away, not even a hotel clerk to shoo away autograph seekers.
The Athletics might be one of baseball’s finest teams, and the greatest underdog story in the game, but they remain as anonymous as the industrial supply convention, where they can walk the downtown streets with no one having any idea of their identity.
“We kind of like that,” says Oakland third baseman Matt Chapman, who likely would be in the MVP discussions if only anyone was aware of him. “We’re not the Yankees. We’re not the Red Sox. We’re not the Astros.
“We’re the A’s. We play on the West Coast. We aren’t the biggest market. We go to places you think you might get recognized, but you don’t.
“We don’t have a Manny Machado or anything like that. Nobody expected us to do anything. So right now we’re just shocking people, which is kind of fun.”
Why, even their greatest slugger, Khris Davis, who led Major League Baseball with 40 homers going into Tuesday, joining Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx as the only player in franchise history with three consecutive 40-homer seasons, doesn’t even have a social media account.
“Once in awhile, we may (see) an occasional autograph collector come around our hotel,” Davis says, “but that’s about it. We don’t have to worry about the paparazzi or anything like that. We’re not the Yankees. It’s just us.”
The A’s might be anonymous to the casual fan, but no longer can they be ignored, not when they have the fifth-best record in baseball and are scaring the living daylights out of the defending World Series champion Astros.
The A’s, who had won 19 of their last 20 series before losing two of three games to the Astros, were just 21/2 games behind Houston in the American League West Division going into Tuesday.
“We know how great they are. I could see it coming,” Astros World Series MVP George Springer said. “They remind me a lot of us in 2015 when we took the turn. I think it’s awesome what they’re doing. They’re going to be a great team for a long time as long as those guys stick together and stay healthy.
“It sure is going to make for an interesting September.”
The odds will tell you the A’s, who opened the season with a major league-low $62 million payroll, won’t be able to overcome the Astros and win the AL West, relegating them to a wild-card game against the Yankees. They just lost their ace, Sean Manea, who threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox, probably for the season. Their hottest pitcher, Brett Anderson, became the ninth starting pitcher to be placed on the DL. And their rotation lasted just 101/3 innings in their three-game series against the Astros.
Yet they have the finest bullpen in the land, so incredibly deep that they have four potential closers who can shut down the game after the fifth inning. Nobody might have a better defensive, power-hitting corner infield than Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson, who have combined for 46 homers and 120 RBI while playing Gold Glove defense. And the greatest defensive center fielder in the game might be Ramon Laureano, who has been in the big leagues for three weeks.
“I had no idea how talented this team was when I got over here,” said catcher Jonathan Lucroy, frozen out in last year’s free agent class before signing in spring training.
“There are so many good players here, but the guy who blows me away is Chapman. This kid is doing stuff that I’ve never seen anybody do. I never saw Brooks Robinson play, but this guy’s defense is better than (Rockies five-time Gold Glove winner) Nolan Arenado. The plays he makes are unbelievable.
“If this kid was in New York, or really anywhere else, he’d be a global star.”
And if the A’s were anywhere else, with only 1,500 full-season ticketholders playing in dilapidated Oakland Coliseum, they would be household names outside the 510 area code.
Well, their coming-out party should be in October, when the A’s are in the playoffs and the tarp comes off the upper deck. Who knows, wouldn’t it be ironic to see the Yankees in town for a sudden-death wild-card game, with the A’s having the opportunity to gain sweet revenge for all of their playoff failures and epic moments (the Derek Jeter play and Jeremy Giambi non-slide included).
“We got nothing to lose, there’s no pressure on us,” says starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, who’s playing for his 13th team. “We’re the underdogs. We can go in there and take stuff. We can go in there and be bullies.
“We’re not guarding the flag. We’re trying to take the flag.”
And, yes, Jackson has a word of warning for whatever visiting team might be at the Coliseum in October.
Be afraid. Very afraid.
“You’re going to feel it,” Jackson says. “There’s going to be some tension, some hostility. Maybe not to the same extent as a Raiders crowd, but you’re going to feel some of that same hostility. It’s there for sure.”
Welcome to Oakland.
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