Odd, and unfulfilling, season ends for A’s

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KANSAS CITY – The A’s got unexpected production Tuesday night from an area of the team (the offense) that’s often struggled.

They struggled in an area (pitching) that you’d assume they’d take care of business.

The end result was a dramatic, gut-wrenching 9-8 loss to the Royals in the American League Wild Card game that ended the A’s season.

[INSTANT REPLAY: A’s season ends with collapse in Kansas City]

Somehow, it all seemed to tie this strange 2014 season together in one fitting package, though the end result wasn’t what anyone in green and gold wanted.

“I think it’s circulating that it’s kind of a microcosm of our season, and I think that’s a fair assessment,” shortstop Jed Lowrie said.

The game was unfolding in fairy-tale fashion for Oakland. Brandon Moss bashed two home runs and drove in five runs. His heroics seemed to rub off on his teammates, as Coco Crisp and Derek Norris each chipped in RBI singles during a five-run sixth that opened up a 7-3 lead for the A’s.

Kansas City right-hander James Shields was out of the game. The raucous Kauffman Stadium crowd was unleashing its venom on Royals manager Ned Yost, who picked a curious time to pull his ace pitcher.

The A’s were in the driver’s seat, seemingly primed for an impressive victory that suggested they might have an extended postseason run in them.

But it didn’t happen, as the wheels began to come off for starter Jon Lester in the bottom of the eighth. He left with the score 7-4. Two more runs came in with Luke Gregerson on the mound. Then the Royals tied it off Doolittle in the ninth.

Doolittle and Otero each stranded runners at third in the 10th and 11th, respectively. But after Alberto Callaspo’s RBI single put the A’s up 8-7, Kansas City struck back.

Eric Hosmer’s triple was the result of center fielder Sam Fuld and left fielder Jonny Gomes colliding in mid-air as each jumped for the ball at the wall (Gomes was only in because Coco Crisp suffered a late-game hamstring injury). Hosmer scored the tying run when Christian Colon chopped an infield single that Donaldson couldn’t make a charging play on. Then, after Colon stole second (one of a whopping seven stolen bases the Royals notched), Salvador Perez ended it with a walkoff single down the left field line off Jason Hammel.

After the game, Doolittle spoke quietly, pausing for long periods to gather himself between answers as the emotions of the 4-hour, 45-minute game set in.

“To have the situation we had, a four-run lead, Lester pitching …” Doolittle said, “our guys swinging the bats the way they were. There’s a lot of pride down there in that bullpen, and I think throughout the course of the season it’s been one of the strengths of the team. And to let it slip away the way that we did and lose it the way that we did is incredibly frustrating.”

Prosperity just wasn’t a good thing for the 2014 A’s. They coasted with the major leagues’ best record for a large chunk of the season, then couldn’t hit the breaks when things started going bad. On Tuesday, they couldn’t find a way to make their four-run lead stand with their ace on the mound in Lester, and a strong bullpen seemingly equipped to finish the job.

“You come out here and score eight runs, you feel like you’re gonna win this ballgame,” right fielder Josh Reddick said. “You’ve got one of the best guys in baseball on the mound, you come out and score seven in first (six innings), you know you’re winning that game. It’s just one of those situations where this game is unpredictable.”

Understandably, Moss couldn’t draw any immediate satisfaction from his monster night. He set a franchise record for most RBI in a postseason game and became the first Athletic to hit multiple homers in a playoff game since Milton Bradley swatted two in 2006 against Detroit.

“This is the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” Moss said. “Personality-wise and talent-wise. The end result is disappointing because when you have talent like that, you know there’s a lot you can do with it and with talent comes expectations. We had expectations for ourselves, and obviously we didn’t meet them.”

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”