SEATTLE -- The A's improbable season will extend to October.
By virtue of a Rays loss on Monday, the A's automatically punched a ticket to the postseason just minutes after first pitch in Seattle. Then they went bonkers and hit four homers to beat the Mariners, 7-3, and put an exclamation point on an extraordinary day, capping it with a champagne-soaked celebration.
They fumbled around empty beer bottles, in search of the next amid a jubilant scene that spelled out months-long perseverance.
"We've still got unfinished business, but man we earned this," outfielder Stephen Piscotty said. "Just like our manager, our fearless leader, said, we deserve this. Just kind of the hunger for the game and wanting to win. It's not found everywhere. This team just wants it. I feel like we want it more than other folks. We're gonna give it our best this postseason."
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The sneaky A's look set for a date with the Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game on Oct. 3 but must make up ground if they want to host the affair at the Coliseum. New York holds a 1 1/2-game lead on the A's with five to play.
"There's still a little time left to digest this and move forward, but these guys have high aspirations and hope this isn't the only celebration that we have," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Even if it doesn't happen where we play at home, these guys haven't been afraid to play on the road."
Melvin's A's last made a postseason appearance in 2014, when their season abruptly ended in heartbreak in a theatrical Wild Card tilt with the Royals. The road back has surely been rocky, making the return that much sweeter for these A's, who have sealed four playoff berths in the last seven years and nine in the last 19 under executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and his crew.
"We had three tough years, and we've been through that before," A's general manager David Forst said. "But when you go through three tough years like that and people kind of count you out, and understandably so in a lot of cases, I'm proud that people throughout the organization stuck with it, that ownership trusted what we were doing, and that Bob gets the credit he does for turning this group into a postseason team."
They were hardly expected to be here; after they stumbled to three consecutive last-place finishes and entered the season with baseball's smallest payroll, they anticipated gradual improvement. On June 15, they were 11 1/2 games out of first place, their record a meager 34-36 and their postseason chances severely slim. Then they won their next five games. And 14 of 17. Then it was 40 of 54, a Cinderella tale in the making.
The front office did its part by augmenting a weakened pitching staff midseason, swinging deals for starter Mike Fiers and relievers Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney and Shawn Kelley.
"Probably happened a little quicker than most people thought, but we've got some big-time players in that room," Melvin said. "This group is the best group I've had in all my years in managing. It's about just playing for the guy next to them, and that was kind of a theme we talked about, play for the guy next to you. It's more powerful than playing for yourself. That's what these guys do better than anybody."
Following their 95th victory on Monday, which featured a go-ahead, two-run homer from Matt Chapman in the seventh inning, they improved to an MLB-best 61-26 since June 15. AL MVP candidate Khris Davis collected his Major League-leading 46th homer and 120th RBI in the game, and Jed Lowrie and Jonathan Lucroy also homered.
"I'm watching my dreams come true right now," said Davis, who has amassed 131 homers in three seasons with Oakland, more than any other MLB player in that span. "I'm just appreciative of the moment right now. It's amazing just to share it with my teammates and give them hugs and tell everybody that I'm proud of them and I'm proud to be with them."
The A's are baseball's best story, readying to take on the game's grandest stage well ahead of even their own schedule despite much adversity. Their rotation has been decimated by injuries, yet they've managed to stay afloat with a makeshift staff while employing a potent offense and a formidable bullpen, along with a steady defense in a wondrous season.
"You can't fake talent over the course of 162 games, and we have that," Lowrie said, "and we pull for each other."
"They've been writing the story all year," Forst said. "There's 25-plus incredible stories out there of guys who contributed who weren't expected to, of guys who came back from injuries, guys who just got here a month ago and played a part. Anytime things come together like this, it's really special. I'm thrilled for Bob and his staff. It's a really special day."
Lefty Brett Anderson (4-5, 3.96 ERA) will be on the mound for Tuesday's 7:10 p.m. PT tilt with right-hander Mike Leake (10-10, 4.10) and the Mariners at Safeco Field. Anderson has a 1.29 ERA in two starts against Seattle this season.