Thoughts About the Fairly Recent Past

Photo credit: @athletics_fanly

By Lewis Rubman

OAKLAND — When I learned that Justin Verlander and Brett Anderson would start tonight’s contest between the A’s and the visiting Astros, I began to remember the AL Division Series of 2013.

That had been a banner season for Oakland. They not only won the western division title, finishing five and a half games ahead of the second place Rangers, but, at .593 they fell only six tenths of a percentage point behind the Red Sox’ .599 for the best record in the whole league. (Coincidentally, those were the winning percentages of the two top NL teams as well). Perhaps more impressive, given the A’s recently penchant for slow starts,  was that they posted a winning record every month. Indeed, there wasn’t one in which they had a losing record at home and only one in which opponents had been able to break even with them on the road.

2013 was not, however, a good baseball year for Anderson. It began auspiciously enough when Bob Melvin gave him the honor of starting the opening game. Anderson pitched well, giving up but two runs (both earned) in seven innings in a 2-0 loss to King Félix and his Mariners, but things went downhill for the promising lefty after that. Two weeks later, he suffered what was diagnosed as a sprained ankle, but turned out to be a stress fracture that necessitated a long stay on what was then called the disabled list. Anderson ended the season at 4-2, 2.57 ERA, respectable enough but not what he had every reason to expect going into April. In December, the A’s traded him to Colorado for Drew Pomeranz and a minor leaguer.

Meanwhile, Verlander combined with Max Scherzer to lead the Tigers to a 99-63 record, just good enough to edge out the Indians by one game for the central division crown. Scherzer, at 21-3, 2.90, with 240 strikeouts, was the team’s ace, but Verlander’s adequate 13-12, 3.46, accompanied by 217 Ks, was nothing to be sneezed at.

Anderson made one brief appearance in the ALDS, pitching a third of an inning in relief and giving up the final run in an 8-6 Tiger victory in Detroit.

Verlander, on the other hand, had a spectacular series against Oakland. In game two, at the Coliseum,  he hurled seven scoreless innings, allowing only four hits while striking out 11, yielding but one base on balls. The A’s won that game on a walk-off single by Stephen Vogt that scored Yoenis Céspedes. Sonny Gray got the win, and Grant Balfour the save. (What nostalgia that combination of names invokes! And it was only a half a dozen years ago!)

Verlander’s next appearance was, like his previous one, at the Coliseum. This time, he won the deciding fifth game, holding Oakland to two hits over eight innings, fanning 10 and walking just one.

What I remember best about that tight series was that, after it was over, the home town fans gave the A’s such a thunderous ovation that they took a victory lap, and the Tigers paused in their celebration long enough to give their erstwhile opponents a chance to savor this acknowledgement of a hard fought and oh so close to a successful campaign.

How did these two veterans of the 2013 playoffs fare tonight? You’ll have to read Charlie O’s story to find out. But I’ll give you one hint. Another participant in that series, Josh Reddick, played a significant part in the outcome.

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