Oakland, Calif. — No fair being the A’s, it really isn’t, when their budgets are like a college kid’s refrigerator: stocked with a few basics and not much else.
Bob Melvin is their manager. Billy Beane is their general manager. And they do a splendid job directing young players who, about the time they get really mature and really good, usually end up playing elsewhere.
Melvin, the one-time Tigers catcher and one-time Tigers coach, never will complain. But in his voice during this series you could detect a certain sense that he had seen this flick before, one starring the older and more highly paid celebrities from Detroit.
And a manager, deep down, knew where that was likely to end.
“Our guys are frustrated with the way the game went, and with some of their at-bats, but again, we still have a lot to be proud of,” said Melvin, as he sat, stoic and clear-voiced, at a dais deep within the catecombs-like basement of O.co Coliseum following Thursday’s 3-0, Game 5 playoff loss to the Tigers.
“We expected to go a little farther than this, this year. But at the end of the day, we did have a great season. Maybe a little more disappointing this year certainly than it was last year.”
Last year. Yes, the Tigers put the A’s to bed for the 2012 season with another of these Game 5 series finales, one crafted by Justin Verlander, who now has shut out the A’s in consecutive playoff series finales.
This year’s disappointment stemmed from the simple fact this was a better, more dominating A’s team. Oakland caught and passed Texas in the waning hours of the 2012 schedule. But this year, the A’s won the West, handily.
This year, they had reason to believe the party would get better deeper into the playoff season.
Melvin can’t do anymore with this team. And it would be difficult to imagine that Beane, the Hollywood-grade GM (“Moneyball”) could do much more with the A’s malnourished payroll.
But what quality baseball this team plays. So different from those teams in Detroit he knew when Melvin was on manager Phil Garner’s staff, in Comerica Park’s earliest seasons, when baseball was generally lousy ahead of Dave Dombrowski’s arrival, and before more generous spending from owner Mike Ilitch helped fuel a rebirth.
Melvin is widely acknowledged as a deft manager, one of the game’s best. But it’s difficult to display your talents, or those of your team’s, on baseball’s grand playoff stage when your guys can’t seem to get past the Tigers and the first round.
There was no bitterness, though, Thursday night as he handled questions, including one about the Tigers.
“They’re not even swinging the bats the way they’re capable of doing, and they still beat us three-to-two,” he said, referring to Detroit’s best-of-five survival. “Once they get hot again, like when we saw earlier in the season, they’re as dangerous of an offensive team as there is.
“They have quality starters and a couple of guys who can finish it off in the bullpen. Anytime they take the field, they’re one of the better teams in baseball.”
As for Verlander, who was so good Thursday he was nursing a perfect game into the sixth inning, Melvin had no superlatives.
Nothing expansive beyond what Verlander had already displayed.
“I thought maybe when it started to get darker we would get better swings,” Melvin said, speaking of early innings shadows that had hitters guessing at a pitch’s location. “But he kept throwing fastballs.
“Surprising how many fastball he threw that we swung through, because we’re a very good fastball-hitting team.”
Verlander, though — the vintage Verlander, anyway — has lived on that blistering fastball that ahead of some 2013 bumps so often missed bats.
On Thursday, Melvin and the A’s got the old Verlander. The merciless Verlander.
And with that, the A’s, who could probably do without seeing anything from the Tigers for a good long time, said goodbye to a season they had every right to believe would last longer than five games into October.