By Morris Phillips
The hottest 92-game stretch in the history of Oakland A’s baseball concluded on Sunday, and it did finish anywhere near the manner in which it started.
Taylor Ward’s two-run homer off Chris Hatcher capped the Angels’ ninth inning rally sending Oakland to a 5-4 season-ending loss. The rare bullpen failure left the A’s with a rather ordinary 8-8 record over the final 16 games of the season.
But prior to the average conclusion to the season, the A’s won 55 of 76, leapfrogging everyone in the AL West and the wild card races except the Yankees and the Astros. From mid-June when the A’s were 34-36 and languishing in fourth place, they developed an identity as a hard-hitting club with a penchant for taking over games in the late innings. Once they established the identity, they never lost it, even after the final pitch of the season wasn’t anything near what they would have expected.
Afterwards, both clubhouses rejoiced–for far different reasons–something that never happens when one club walks off on the other.
“Shoot, we’re thrilled with where we are at this point, and now the fun starts,” manager Bob Melvin said in acknowledging that his club is turning it’s attention to Wednesday’s wild card matchup with the Yankees. “It’s not like the season hasn’t been fun, but the postseason is a different level, so everybody is excited about getting out there.”
In the Angels’ clubhouse, the mood was light as well, as their club had a win to celebrate, and a celebrated career to acknowledge. After the game, manager Mike Scoiscia confirmed that he would be stepping down, ending one of the longest managerial stints in the history of the game.
“He’s the only manager I played for, so it’s tough seeing him go,” Angels slugger Mike Trout said of Scioscia. “But like he said, it’s time for a change. It was fun playing for him. The passion he had for the game, to win. He always put the players in a great position to succeed. I can’t thank him enough.”
“To be honest, I had very little to do with today’s game,” an emotional Scioscia said. “I’ll point to Alfredo to JP, and Dino brought it home the last three innings. They did all the work. But it’s fun. You know what’s fun? To see Taylor Ward go through the growing pains and doing something. To see this team down by a couple and three hits later, we’re in here with music blaring. It’s just a great team win.”
Stories circulated at mid-season that Scoiscia’s 19th year at the helm would be his last, but he refused to acknowledge any of it. But with the season on its last day, Scioscia informally stepped aside, allowing his bench coaches–one by one–to manage Sunday’s contest. Despite the fact that the Angels have had no postseason success since 2009, and just concluded a second, consecutive 80-82 campaign, Scioscia goes down as the only manager in the club’s existence to win a World Series (2002), and a guy who made aggressive baserunning and instinctive management of his pitching staff his calling cards. Even the notorious Rally Monkey of Angels Stadium would have to concede to Scoscia’s mark on the organization.
An emotional press conference was Scoiscia’s opportunity to express his gratitude, and even at age 59, leave the door open to managing again in the future.
“I love managing. But in this game you never know if, where or when an opportunity comes. And I’m fine with that. If something comes and I get another chance, great. If not, believe me, I’m going to take the great experience I had here.”