OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Athletics' tough and important 10-game trip took a positive turn Thursday after a much-needed 12-4 win over the Tigers in Detroit that averted a three-game sweep.
Seth Smith homered, doubled and drove in four runs yesterday.
The trip did not get off to a good start for Oakland. Lefthander Brett Anderson went down Wednesday with a right oblique strain in the third inning of a 6-2 defeat. Manager Bob Melvin said Anderson will miss the rest of the regular season and that he doesn't know if he would be available for the playoffs -- if the A's get there.
That added to the recent woes of the starting rotation. Brandon McCarthy suffered a fractured skull when he was hit by a line drive Sept. 5. Now Anderson.
But the A's and Orioles, another unforeseen success, are still the leaders in the wild- card race with records of 85-64. Both have small payrolls and great hopes.
The odds in March on the A's reaching the World Series were as high as 200-1. They had traded their only three All-Stars, all pitchers -- Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey -- over the winter. "Hard to let guys like that go," Melvin said.
But the guys they got in return, supposedly players who would not help Oakland until 2013 or 2014 -- if they weren't traded -- and the young players already on the roster developed quickly.
Tommy Milone came from Washington with several others in exchange for Gonzalez. He's 13-10, the winningest rookie pitcher for the A's in the 45 seasons they have been in Oakland.
A 26-year-old Cuban, Yoenis Cespedes, signed in February for $36 million for four years, seemingly an outrageous sum for a team with the second-lowest payroll in the majors. It appears to have been money well spent, because Cespedes is batting .293 and is second to Angels phenom Mike Trout among AL rookies in runs (59), hits (122), doubles (22), homers (19) and RBIs (73).
"I think everybody's outdone what the baseball world's expectations would be," said Melvin, who took control of the A's in June 2011 and is having a ball.
Melvin, 50, grew up across the Bay in Menlo Park and played at Cal in Berkeley, a few miles north of the O.Co Coliseum. He went to games and rock concerts at the stadium. He played for the Giants, among other teams, and managed for Seattle and Arizona.
He says this is special.
"The pride factor of being at home, managing a team you grew up watching," Melvin said, "I don't think you can put a price on that. On top of that, the younger players have made it exciting."
Among them is lefthanded reliever Sean Doolittle, almost 26, who although a pitching star at the University of Virginia was a first-round pick in 2007 by Oakland as a first baseman. After he suffered a knee injury, the A's switched him back to pitcher, where his professional debut came only last fall in the Instructional League.
On July 21 Doolittle (1-0, 3.35 ERA) came in to pitch the ninth against the Yankees. He gave up a hit to Alex Rodriguez, then struck out Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Andruw Jones to save a 2-1 win in Oakland.
"How would you expect a guy like Doolittle to come up and do what he's done?" Melvin asked rhetorically.
Pitching has been the key for Oakland, even with the loss of Bartolo Colon, suspended for 50 games in late August for testing positive for testosterone. The A's ERA is 3.50, second to Tampa in the AL. That's a good thing because the A's batting average is .236. Only Seattle is worse.
The A's were 26-35 after games of June 10. Then they had the best July in the majors, 19-5.
"We do have good pitching," Melvin said, "whether starters or the bullpen, and that's been the most consistent part of our team over the course of the season."