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A's season defined by overcoming the odds

From walk-offs to playoffs to coping with hardship, club made lasting impression
OAKLAND -- Not even Hollywood could have scripted this one, though it would have liked to.

The A's 2012 storybook campaign was a thing of beauty, trumping even the scenes Brad Pitt stole in "Moneyball," which admirably brought the 2002 version of the club to the big screen.

Pitt's character, A's general manager Billy Beane, really outdid himself this time, creating a low-budget roster for manager Bob Melvin that endured its usual share of turnover and injury yet still managed to tally 94 wins in the process and an American League West title.

The season was sprinkled with a handful of memorable moments along the way, and though it's difficult to pick out the best, has done its best to try.

Here are the top five A's storylines from 2012:

5. The Cuban Missile lands

Full of surprises all year long, the A's revealed their first one in February, unexpectedly snatching away prized Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from big-spending clubs and signing him to a four-year, $36 million deal. In return, they got an early investment, ultimately witnessing a remarkable rookie campaign from the 26-year-old, who hit .292 with 23 home runs and 82 RBIs in 129 games, all the while adjusting to a new country. Cespedes not only provided consistency in the middle of the lineup as a true power threat that had been missing in Oakland for several years, but he shifted from center field to left field with ease, making a handful of spectacular plays.

4. 15 pies for 15 walk-offs

The A's showed a liking for the dramatic in 2012, joyously enjoying an AL-leading 14 walk-off victories during the regular season -- one short of the Oakland record of 15 set in 2004 -- before tacking on another in Game 4 of the AL Division Series. The A's celebrated each one in fine fashion, marking each with a pie -- always courtesy of Josh Reddick -- reserved for the day's hero. There were 11 different heroes counted by season's end, a nod to the team effort employed all year.

3. Doolittle pitches way to big leagues

Not so long ago, assuming first-base duties as a top Minor League prospect, 2007 first-round Draft pick Sean Doolittle was awarded his ticket to The Show as a pitcher, after a myriad of injuries put to rest the former endeavor just last August. The converted first baseman proved to be a natural on the mound, and his 96 mph fastball paved the way for his first career save by way of a memorable three-strikeout inning against the Yankees -- merely five weeks after his callup -- following a two-month surge through three levels of the A's Minor League system. This feel-good story, one of the best in baseball this year, came to be known as the A's best lefty setup option in the bullpen, a role he'll resume in the coming season.

2. A's rally around McCarthy, Neshek

For all the good that came out of Oakland this year, it was also there where baseball's most terrifying moment of the season unfolded. In an early-September start, right-hander Brandon McCarthy took a line drive to his head, and before day's end he was undergoing emergency brain surgery as a result of a skull fracture and brain contusion. It began a series of events that shook the A's community and offered a reminder that the game itself is minuscule in comparison to the well being of those that play it. But in the days that followed, fans, players and front-office members rallied around McCarthy and offered the pitcher and his family an outpouring of support, as he recovered while watching his teammates -- inspired to win for No. 32 -- continue their tear through the league in the final month of the regular season.

Their hearts already heavy, the A's fraternity got word of more unfathomable news on Oct. 4: reliever Pat Neshek's 1-day-old son, Gehrig John, had suddenly and with no explanation, passed. A heartbroken Neshek and his wife, Stephanee, decided quickly after they needed to be in Detroit, where the A's were set to take on the Tigers in Game 1 of the ALDS. Neshek not only showed up and put on a brave face but took it with him to the mound when called upon in that game for two-thirds of an inning of relief work -- a courageous scene that only further captured the heart of this team.

1. From rebuilding to contending

Having traded away a trio of All-Star pitchers in a winter that signaled rebuilding times, the A's entered the season riding expectations of a 100-loss season. Yet this expertly constructed and brilliantly managed club, built mainly of rookies and castoffs, shocked all and won 94 -- 20 more than the year before. The A's claimed the AL West division title on the final day of the season over the Rangers, whom they trailed by as many as 13 and by five with nine to play. They did it with the AL's lowest payroll and in baseball's toughest division, making this wacky and wonderful story all the more improbable and forever memorable. Making its first playoff appearance in six years, Oakland took Detroit to Game 5 of the ALDS before watching its magical season come to an end with a loss to the Justin Verlander-led Tigers.

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB.

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