OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Bartolo Colon never expected to be pitching at age 40, not in the playoffs, and especially not as the Game 1 starter.
And not this well a year after being suspended 50 games for a positive testosterone test.
The veteran right-hander will get the ball for the Oakland Athletics in the opener of their AL division series against Detroit on Friday night, his first postseason appearance in eight years.
“It means so much to me. I’m 40 years old and never thought I’d be here,” Colon said in Spanish. “It is more special, a lot. The first reason is because of the Oakland organization, and I thank them for bringing me here to pitch another time.”
A year after Colon missed the playoffs for the A’s while serving the suspension, he won 18 games and is getting another chance on baseball’s big stage — in his first playoff appearance since 2005 with the Angels.
“The things he’s done this year, we want him to have another four, five starts this year,” catcher Derek Norris said. “Everything he gets, he has deserved. A lot of us may have been a little upset about the suspension, but he came in to spring training and he worked hard. It was noted that it was done with, we wanted to move on. He came in, worked his butt off, had one of his best years since his Cy Young year with L.A. and I don’t even think any one of us in here even thinks about that stuff anymore. He’s proven to us that he made a mistake, he was sorry and he apologized, and he came back and he earned back his respect throughout baseball and through all of us.”
Manager Bob Melvin made the announcement before a workout Tuesday at the Coliseum, where the grounds crew worked to prepare the field two days after the NFL’s Oakland Raiders played a home game.
“Ah, it’s an easy one, he’s been our ace all season,” Melvin said of Colon. “We have that veteran presence that’s going to lead us off we didn’t have last year.”
It sure has been $3 million well spent by general manager Billy Beane, who gave Colon another chance in 2013.
Eight months ago, Colon apologized to his teammates at the start of spring training, put his head down and went back to work.
“He felt like he needed to do that, and he got it out of the way early and has been an integral part since,” Melvin said. “It really has felt like since he’s been here that he hasn’t missed a beat and he’s been here the whole time. Very disappointing for him to miss the end of last year for the reasons that have been documented, but he’s done everything that he can to be the teammate that he is again. It feels like he was never gone.”
Colon went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA in 30 starts and 190 1-3 innings. He became an All-Star in his best season since his 21-8 Cy Young Award season of ’05. He might have a couple more wins had he not spent a stint on the disabled list with a strained groin.
“You could tell how it affected him last year and how he missed out on a chance to be a part of what we did down the stretch,” reliever Sean Doolittle said. “To have a veteran presence like that in your rotation, a rotation full of young guys, taking the ball every fifth day and you know he’s going to go into the sixth or seventh inning, whenever he pitches, under whatever circumstances, it’s almost like you know what you’re going to get out of him. He’s been a really good stabilizer for us all year long.”
The Game 2 starter for the AL West champions is rookie Sonny Gray, who will pitch in a ballpark he knows well with the home crowd behind him Saturday night.
A.J. Griffin, a 14-game winner, is out with elbow tendinitis that has become worse as he has tried to pitch with the problem. He could be added to the roster for the next round if the A’s advance. Jarrod Parker will pitch Game 3 in Detroit and Dan Straily goes in a potential Game 4.
“They made the decision,” Griffin said. “It’s a bummer. Hopefully I can bounce back from this in the next week or so and be ready for the next round.”
Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes said his troublesome right shoulder has improved “not a lot but some,” and he joked he will play the outfield “even if I have to throw left-handed.” Cespedes didn’t play the final two games of the season at Seattle, and could be used as designated hitter if the shoulder isn’t ready.
“We just want to make sure he’s healthy,” Melvin said. “At the very least, he’ll be DH-ing.”
For Colon, this year will be far from his last as long as he can keep pitching. Then, he will return to New Jersey full-time with his wife and four children.
“As long as I can and my body lets me,” he said. “One year at a time.”
Colon notes he has “no idea what I’d be doing” if he weren’t on a pitching mound. And, he doesn’t have to be. All of that will come later.
“Right now I’m not thinking about it,” Colon said. “This is my job.”