Baseball season came to a bittersweet end last Thursday evening, as the A's bowed-out of MLB's post-season tournament three-games-to-two to the Tigers. Thus ended, for now, the remarkable saga of a ragtag aggregation of scrap-heap pickups and kids who didn't know any better, uniting into the truest of teams, in a sport characterized by individual duels 'twixt a guy with a dancing sphere and other guys who are supposed to whack it 'where-they-ain't,' with a cylinder. It was thrilling to behold, and is more heartening than the team's uber-passionate, ironically stats-driven GM would allow himself to concede.
In the end, the A's were undone by fatigue more than any external opponent even the redoubtable pitcher Justin Verlander, who authored two of Detroit's wins. After a fourth-game win pulled out of the ninth-inning netherlands, the team seemed oddly flat in the finale. Young slugger Josh Reddick, for instance, couldn't muster much of his patented fury when the ball refused his bidding, rookie Derek Norris forgot how to throw, block pitches and hit after batting .440 down the season's stretch, and first baseman Brandon Moss swung mightily, but contacted only an occasional drizzle in the East Bay evening.
Conventional Wisdom (read: east coast sports authorities) had this team finishing last, then regressing to the mean, and finally fading in a brutal September schedule of mostly away games against the league's established powerhouse clubs. There was logic to those conclusions, and it beat staying up late. Instead, however, the A's began to stir from the script in late May, then succeed in June and dominate the league during July and August - sweeping the Yankees and Red Sawx here -- even running the latter out-of-town with a 20-run outburst. September only confirmed their mettle, as they played the league's powers to a draw, and snatched the Division championship on the last day. They rose to each occasion, and celebrated every success.
But even celebrations burn energy. After one more improbable outburst on Wednesday evening, it turns out that the A's were done; tank empty, running on fumes, they lost 6-0. However, the season ended not with a whimper, but a standing-ovation as the sell-out crowd rained down its appreciation on their boys, even as the media attempted to interview the victors on the field. It was a spontaneous, and heart-felt, tribute that the players returned with an on-field gathering of hugs and tipped hats. Although the league's play-offs format put the A's at a significant disadvantage, I was gratified for the chance to drag my own hoarse, dog-tired self into one last cheer to punctuate the best A's season in my memory. Sometimes, winning the last game is beside the point.
Much of the credit for the A's' metamorphosis goes to GM Billy Beane, who assembled the crew according to a statistical alchemy that turns a leaden payroll golden. But this Season of Mojo had more to it than the numbers can explain. Gamely quantitative to the end, Billy said in an interview that winning breeds chemistry. As much as I respect the discipline of sabermetrics, baseball -- and the human experience -- sometimes demonstrates a metaphysical element that transcends rational characterization. Mojo is neither a one-shot deal, nor a one-way street. This was an iterative, self-reinforcing phenomenon that led these young men to perform together away past all reasonable expectations. It was a monument and a reminder of what people are capable-of when they truly devote themselves to a cause whatever it is.
Such an affirmation of the human spirit leaves you hungry for more. Spring Training starts February 23rd.
And speaking of statistics, in advance of tomorrow's second presidential debate, let's take a look at how the bidding has changed in the last two weeks. Again, my source is 538.com, Nate Silver's poll of polls your mileage may vary.
To review, each candidate has secure hold of many electoral college votes, Mr. Obama's count being 230; Mr. Romney's 207. Mr. Silver contemplates a 63% chance of an Obama win overall (down from a high of over 80%), and a popular vote margin of 50-49%, also narrowing from 52-47%. The battleground states, where ultimate victory hangs in the balance, remain as follows, with current projections:
Florida (29 votes): 66% chance of a Romney win (formerly 79% Obama)
Ohio (18): 67% chance of Obama win (formerly 63%)
North Carolina (15): 86% chance of a Romney win (formerly 67%)
Virginia (13): 52% chance of a Romney win (formerly 73% Obama)
Wisconsin (10): 77% chance of an Obama win (formerly 87%)
Iowa (6): 58% chance of an Obama win (formerly 74%)
Nevada (6): 61% chance of an Obama win (formerly 82%)
New Hampshire (4): 68% chance of an Obama win (formerly 77%).
If current projections hold, then Obama wins 274-264. That's mighty close, and those probabilities are tippable, either way, although the momentum is clearly with the GOP attenuated somewhat after the VEEPs went at it last week. It's now a horse race.