The opening day odds for the 2012 Oakland A's reaching the World Series were, according to at least one bookmaker, 200 to 1. They were expected to languish beneath the A.L. West, an irrelevant speck in the distance behind the Rangers and Angels.
And yet they return home Friday after winning three of four in Anaheim, 21 of their past 27 overall, and assured of their first winning season since 2006.
They return to the Coliseum as the most astounding story in baseball and among the most surprising in sports.
If these Oakland A's are not already the most improbable contender in Bay Area sports history, there is no doubt they would be the unlikeliest playoff squad this region has ever witnessed, regardless of sport.
The sight of Oakland in the 2012 MLB postseason surely would be more surprising than what was accomplished by the 2011 49ers or the '07 Warriors. It would exceed the deeds of the '81 champion Niners or the wild card Raiders who won it all in 1980 or the NBA champion Warriors of 1975.
Those teams had honors candidates or bedrock units or talent infusions or coaches/players destined for the Hall of Fame. They also had veterans carrying resumes that demanded respect.
The A's are getting it done with youngsters on the cheap, greatly assisted by a series of contingencies accompanied by serendipity.
Second baseman Jemile Weeks was identified in March as a franchise cornerstone. When he was demoted in
When one day later their most accomplished starting pitcher, Bartolo Colon, was lost to a season-ending suspension, the A's responded by improving their win percentage.
When Kurt Suzuki, the veteran catcher credited with influencing a pitching staff loaded with youngsters, was traded in August, the A's actually cranked up their second-half surge.
So splendidly have things come together we've forgotten the slugger hired to legitimize the lineup (Manny Ramirez, released in June) and the veteran lefty reliever who could close in a pinch (Brian Fuentes, dumped in July).
Such absurd stuff defies not only logic but also any rational analysis of the roster, any sober anticipation based on experience and any reasonable expectation based on payroll.
These A's were built to fail now in hopes they might succeed in 2014.
But manager Bob Melvin and the men in the clubhouse have summarily disregarded those preconceptions, no matter how fair they might have been. This team simply played to win and now expects to win. The pitching is good, the chemistry is better, the second-half power surge utterly shocking.
Thus the A's have become a revelation that transcends baseball and sports. They are a threat to update the "Rocky" story line about perseverance, overcoming odds and obstacles.
Oakland leads the A.L. wild card race and is stalking the division-leading Rangers because it has done a fabulous job utilizing its rebuilt farm system and Melvin has masterfully blended precocious kids with such veterans as Coco Crisp and Brandon Inge.
More than 40 percent of the team's 167 homers have come off the bats of those who have spent part, if not most, of the season in the minors. More than 30 percent of the runs have come from the same bunch, as have more than one of every four pitching victories.
The sheer numbers suggest general manager Billy Beane has done a better job of constructing an organization than simply building a team. And I say that as a compliment.
Oakland has no genuine MVP candidate, no valid Cy Young award candidate, no lights-out closer. It has no .300 hitter, no player with a $10 million salary and no one evidently headed for the Hall of Fame.
What these A's have is a deep staff of excellent pitchers, a knack for hitting the ball 400 feet at an opportune time and a spirit as resilient as elastic and as solid as Titanium.
The A's are putting together a season to be savored, vastly more compelling than the 2002 club that rode its talent and Beane's swagger to a best-selling book and a movie.
The A's this weekend play three crucial games against Baltimore. A sellout, goosed by postgame fireworks, is likely for Friday. The club is projecting considerably smaller crowds Saturday and Sunday.
I know the cause. Many fans already have divorced themselves from owners John Fisher and Lew Wolff. There is negligence and the cruelty that comes with their emotional philandering.
But these players are innocent parties to the conflict, and they are putting on a show the likes of which may never be duplicated.