Make no mistake, Oakland's 2012 far from fluke
ST. PETERSBURG -- Any notion the Oakland A's unexpected 2012 was a mirage by a group of overachievers who shocked the baseball world probably should be put to rest.
That is the only conclusion we can make during the early days of 2013's shakedown cruise, Friday night's 8-3 conquest by the Tampa Bay Rays not withstanding.
This has to be the newest edition of general manager Billy Beane's Moneyball.
The A's jetted into St. Petersburg on Friday with the American League's best record, the beginning of a six-game road trip that ends in Boston.
Even with the jarring loss, it's obvious 2012 shouldn't be regarded as an aberration.
The A's faced the Rays having won 12 of their last 14 games, leading the Major Leagues in runs, doubles, walks and extra-base hits.
"We're doing a lot of little things well, and that's what it takes to win over the course of the year," said shortstop Jed Lowrie, who had three singles and a double to raise his average to .413.
"We're getting contributions up and down the lineup, and that's why we've been consistent so far."
That was before left-hander Brett Anderson, the A's No. 1 starter, left after the first inning with a sprained ankle after giving up four runs, turning the night into a mini-disaster.
Friday night obviously wasn't the best of times to talk about how good the A's are this spring, but the Rays were poised for a breakout win after a just-completed 2-7 road trip that left them in the AL's East basement.
It should also be mentioned that half of Oakland's 12 wins have come against the lowly Houston Astros, the AL newcomer which could easily lose 100 games this season.
On the flip side, however, the A's have piled up their wins with cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes on the shelf with a strained muscle in his left hand.
Before Friday night's first pitch, Oakland's Bob Melvin, 2012's AL Manager of the Year, reiterated how the fast start was important for his young team.
"You try to take the confidence you had last year with you into Spring Training and once the season starts," he said. "But it's a whole different season, and I think the confidence you build right away with winning some games is just as important as trying to dispel something that we don't see."
The last remark referred to the belief by some that last season wasn't something the A's can build on, that it could have been a fluke.
By the same token, Melvin agreed, it's crucial his players don't forget the effort it took to come out of nowhere and win the AL West title.
"And it certainly helps to get off to the good start," he said.
The A's jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning against Rays starter Alex Cobb, but Anderson struggled with his control and repeatedly fell behind in the count. He trailed, 4-2, when he twisted his ankle getting the final out in the bottom of the first.
"Obviously, to start a road trip, you want your No. 1 guy to go out there and log some innings," a subdued Anderson said after the game. "It's disheartening for the team to go out there, throw one inning, and put your bullpen in jeopardy for the rest of the series, or the rest of the road trip. Not a great day overall."
Even though Cobb allowed 10 hits during his 7 1/3 innings, the A's managed just three runs off him.
The Rays, who've been struggling offensively this young season, took advantage of the Oakland bullpen for the easy win.
The A's loaded the bases with nobody out in the ninth inning against relief ace Fernando Rodney. But Rodney escaped unscathed when, after fanning John Jaso, Seth Smith bounced into a game-ending double play.
To Melvin, that inning was indicative of what his team is all about, despite the outcome.
"You always want to keep grinding and get their closer in the game, which we did," the manager said. "We had him on the ropes, but he threw some pitches and got out of it. Who we are and who we try to be is not go down quietly."
The Rays lost, 10-6, to the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday night, when Matt Wieters blasted a grand slam in the 10th inning off reliever Brandon Gomes.
"We had a good look about us tonight, and it's nice after that game yesterday, which was a very tough loss," said Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. "We've had several tough losses, so I really appreciate the effort among the boys."
But to Maddon, the A's are for real.
"They have a nice thing going on," he said. "They're proving last year wasn't an aberration, and I didn't think it was. We saw them a lot toward the end and they definitely had a different look about them, not unlike Baltimore. It's good for baseball and obviously for those cities. Both Oakland and Baltimore have great tradition in the game, and now they're resurfacing."
Even with the one-sided loss, the makeup of the A's and the manner in which they go about their business is impressive.
Bottom line: Say what you want about them, but they certainly aren't one-season wonders.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.