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October 1, 2014

Playoff Prospectus

AL Wild Card Game Recap

by Jeff Long

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I tried to think of some clever way to start this recap; something about Ned Yost, Billy Beane, or Moneyball. Nope. None of that would do justice to a game that was, at its heart, baseball in its purest form.

Going into this game there were two main narratives:

· The A’s can’t hit and haven’t hit since July because they traded away Yoenis Cespedes

· The Royals will ride their elite pitching, especially in the bullpen, to a low-scoring win

Both of these narratives would surface throughout the game, and both would summarily be proven wrong. In the first inning, the A’s started things off with a line drive base hit on a 3-2 count from Coco Crisp. Shields would bounce back and get the next two outs, but then Brandon Moss, who had all but disappeared in the second half, crushed a two-run home run to put the A’s up 2-0 in the top of the first. Moss would follow that up with second home run later in the sixth, part of a five-run inning for the A’s. For a team that had forgotten how to hit without their Cuban cleanup hitter, the A’s sure put up a lot of runs in dramatic fashion last night.

Before that second home run, though, the Royals had appeared set to ride their ace and elite bullpen to another closer victory, the offense having been provided by strung-together rallies in the first and third. The plan went awry, or at least askew, or at least ajar, and perhaps akimbo, as we were all atwitter, looking askance at Ned Yost, whose win probability was quickly aslant. With more innings (four) remaining than relievers he trusted (three), he replaced Shields (who had let two men on to lead off the sixth) with a rookie starter who had thrown 70-plus pitches on Sunday. Power in, power out--and Moss had the aforementioned second home run of the night. Alas, the offense would not immediately abate, and the Royals were doomed.

They didn't seem to deserve better. In the first, with runners at the corners and trailing by just one, this thing happened:

The reaction was quick and priceless:

But enough went their way--through good fortune, their own execution, or the A's own mistakes--that they stayed within striking distance. In the third, Sam Fuld was doubled off of second base when Brandon Moss lined out to Eric Hosmer who was playing surprisingly deep at first base.

And in the bottom half of the inning the Royals would sacrifice bunt their way into an RBI double, Yost clearly seen making profane gestures at sabermetric fans everywhere.

And the Royals though weren’t done. In the eighth inning they would steal approximately 16 bases and score three runs. They had the American League's fastest man, Terrance Gore, on third base with one out--so close you sensed he could take home on a changeup. But a pair of strikeouts ended the threat short, and the drama was saved for the bottom of the ninth.

It shall forever be known as YostBall. A leadoff single, followed by a predictable sacrifice bunt, put a runner in scoring position with one down. Jarrod Dyson stole third--the sixth of the ninth, the most in a postseason game since 1999--and a sacrifice fly tied it up.

Extra innings brought more absurdity. The Royals turned to Brandon Finnegan--"well, hey, would you look at that, I've got more relievers," Yost must have said as he unfolded his lineup card--and baseball fans everywhere were likely confused because…

Yup. Finnegan, fresh off shutting down an Ivy League school with a keg for an unofficial mascot, sat down the A’s with a pop-out, a groundout, and a strikeout.

Extra innings would include one two three more sacrifice bunts, as the Royals' bunters in this game would match the Athletics in April and May combined. But while Twitter raged, Oakland seemed to get the upper hand with a sacrifice of their own, spinning a leadoff walk in the 12th into a go-ahead run thanks to Jed Lowrie's lay-down. The Royals would counter with an equally unlikely outcome: the old Eric Hosmer Triple Followed By A Baltimore Chop play. Touché, Ned Yost, touché. It’s obvious that Czar Selig decided that the one thing this game didn’t have was outfielders colliding in front of the game logo, and so he used his special witch magic to make the Hosmer triple come to fruition:

So: 385 pitches, five sacrifice bunts, seven stolen bases, and 17 runs later, this game was nothing like what was expected going into it. The Royals bullpen gave up four runs over seven innings--it wasn't, as the narrative said, over as soon as Yost went to his firemen. The A's scored eight runs coming off a two-month wanderlust in a game where the game would ostensibly be over when Yost pulled Shields. The A’s scored eight runs coming off a two month offensive death spiral--it wasn't, as the narrative said, impossible to score without Cespedes in the lineup. The narratives that we all knew so well coming into the game meant nothing, because they weren't about baseball, and because baseball isn't about narratives. The easiest way to tell the story of this game is to simply watch this:

Jeff Long is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here

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