By Ross Newhan
Who needs Brad Pitt or any other actor playing his part? Billy Beane doesn't want to miss a second of the surprising drama that his largely no-name Oakland A's are producing.
As the A's general manager said on the MLB web site, "no matter how many years you've been doing this, the little kid in you still comes out."
In this season when two wild card teams in each league will qualify for the playoffs--or at least a play-in game--the A's (a distant 74-88 last year) are shadowing the Angels in the American League West, the equivalent of the equally surprising Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates, who are also making a wild card and more bid in their respective leagues.
The A's opened a series in Toronto Tuesday night with a 14-2 July record, 8-1, since the All-Star break, and coming off a four game sweep of the New York Yankees.
Talk about not wanting to miss a second.
The A's are 20-10 in games decided in the seventh inning or later and lead the majors with 11 walk off victories produced by 10 different players.
At 51-44 as they played the Blue Jays, the A's were tied with the Angels (who lead the AL wild card race) in the loss column, were two back in wins and were tied with Baltimore for the second wild card spot.
Can they maintain this recent magic, the improbable sweep of the Yankees and their torrid July, with a roster that is last in the American League in runs but first in earned-run average?
With his terrific track record and dead honest approach, Beane thought he could contend with Texas and the Angels again in 2014 and that his team needed to be stripped away after last season.
The stripping included the trading of three All-Star pitchers--Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey and Gio Gonzalez. He took some hits in the Bay Area media, received a truckload of prospects in return and figured the A's could even have an impact this season when he saw the young arms in spring training.
Suddenly, many of the young pitchers--Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook and A.J. Griffin among them--are not such no-names. Milone, Parker and Griffin are 18-10 and all under 25.
Another comparative youngster,, Josh Reddick, 25, has 21 home runs. Yet another, Sean Doolittle, a first base prospect until last August, has a 1.86 ERA and become the set up man for Cook, who has 10 saves.
The A's have the second lowest payroll in the majors and no certainty they will ever have an ATM in the form of a San Jose ballpark, but Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, their one big investment at four years and $36 million, has paid off with 13 homers and 45 runs batted in.
When the Angels signed Albert Pujols for $240 million and C..J. Wilson for $77.5 million it made it easer for Beane to believe he was doing the right thing by totally rebuilding with young players.
Of course, you also have to be flexible. You can't fill a 25-man roster strictly with kids, so the 39 year old Bartolo Colon has thrown 118 innings with an ERA under 4.00 and been a tutor for his young colleagues, and in the opener of the Toronto series the A's started 29 year old Travis Blackley, a recent waiver claim from the Giants, whose nomadic career has included appearances in Korea and the Mexican leagues.
The A's surprising play may force Beane to give up one of his building blocks before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. He knows the script seldom follows form, and to this point he's produced an unexpected hit. It won't win him an Oscar nomination, but Executive of the Year is another matter.