OAKLAND -- Built for the future, the A's have spent the summer turning the clock forward with enough force to swagger into the Coliseum Wednesday needing one win to earn a crown.
A victory over Texas and the A's will capture an A.L. West title that was supposed to be 20 games beyond their reach.
Oakland's 3-1 win over the Rangers Tuesday night tied the teams atop the division. Winner takes all in the regular-season finale.
Such high-stakes baseball in October for these A's simply defies logic, which makes it a wonderfully rational example of the uniqueness of baseball.
This kind of magic doesn't happen in the NFL or the NHL, where salary caps are in place and reliance on rookies is a recipe for disaster.
Can't happen in the NBA, where there also is a salary cap and where a rebuilding year can last a decade -- or two.
Yet in baseball, which has no salary cap, a team can penny-pinch in public and remain competitively prosperous. Where else among major American team sports can a float so far on a raft of rookies?
Where else but baseball, which has the most exclusive postseason of all, can a team written off by its management, as the A's were in March, still wind up in the playoffs?
"This really can only happen in baseball," said DH Jonny Gomes, whose sixth-inning homer, his 18th, accounted for the final run. "There's a lot of time. That's why we play 162 games."
The A's are, once again, proof
It often matters, but not always. That's the flaw in the narrative we've been force-fed by MLB commissioner Bud Selig and by Oakland's fact-blind ownership duo of John Fisher and Lew Wolff.
If players perform, payroll can be irrelevant. The A's have overachieved by pitching better than anyone might have imagined and mashing more home runs than anyone could have fantasized. They also have done a superb job of ignoring the woe-is-us vibe after an offseason of roster-shaving, disengaged ownership and widespread projections of doom.
Expectations for Oakland's bunch were justifiably lowered after a fire-sale winter during which general manager Billy Beane peddled off his last three All-Star game representatives for a bag full of prospects and unproven veterans. The 2012 A's were unheralded from the moment they arrived for spring training in Arizona. They were 13 games back on the morning of July 1, right about where anyone with a clue might have anticipated.
Yet they have spent the past three months bonding to form the most enchanting season in the rich history of Bay Area sports.
Beane has not been available, but Wolff has expressed his surprise and assistant GM David Forst conceded this season's success is the "most unexpected" in his 13 years with the franchise.
"Who would have felt we'd be here?" closer Grant Balfour asked. "We did. Nobody else."
This is better than the Warriors' remarkable "We Believe" season, if only because too few A's fans believed deeply enough to generate such a sweeping movement.
It's more surprising than the 2010 Giants winning their first World Series in San Francisco, if only because they were the class of their division, stayed healthy and pitched exquisitely.
Though the 2010 Giants also made plenty of magic, it was of a different kind, one seemingly powered by the forces of such an unkind postseason history in San Francisco. The Giants were due.
These A's are here only because manager Bob Melvin and the men in the clubhouse made themselves arrive. They are MLB's postseason party crashers. They know they don't belong, but they don't care.
"We're playing with house money," Gomes said, reminding everyone they have four rookie starting pitchers and a lineup that has an ongoing record for most strikeouts (now at 1,381).
Beane began rebuilding in hopes of having something mature by 2014 or 2015, about the time the team would move into a new ballpark in San Jose. That yard may never be constructed.
Meanwhile, the A's are 93-68, among baseball's best teams.
They've been here before, winning despite financial disadvantage. They did it at the turn of the millennium with terrific pitching and burgeoning young talent.
That, however, came gradually -- 74 wins to 87 to 91 to 102 to 103 in 2002 -- and was built on a solid core of players.
This season was built baseball's version of quicksand. This team was supposed to struggle and sink.
Only in baseball can such magic materialize from such a raw foundation. It doesn't happen often, but this is one of those times.
Enjoy the ride, folks. When baseball fans say theirs is the best game of all, this is what they're talking about.