TORONTO -- It was just a year ago when Bartolo Colon was slapped with a 50-game suspension after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone, ending his season with the A's. Since he only had a one-year contract, the ballclub could have simply waved goodbye, saved a few bucks and never dealt with him again.
Most people presumed Colon's relationship with the A's was over. Except a few months later, they chose to re-sign him.
"And he got a pay raise," said reliever Jerry Blevins, who acts as the team's player representative, referring to the $1 million increase in Colon's salary, bumped to $3 million. "We were all kind of shocked."
"Everyone was surprised," A.J. Griffin said. "But now, well, we see why they did it."
Colon suffered his worst start of the season on Wednesday in Cincinnati, giving up five runs in just 2 2/3 innings, his velocity noticeably down, his breaking ball not breaking.
But up to that point, Colon had tallied 15 consecutive starts of at least six innings with no more than three earned runs allowed. He's 14-4, his 150 1/3 innings are a team high and his 2.75 ERA is tied for fifth in the American League. The right-hander's also fresh off an All-Star nod -- at age 40.
Perhaps it's easy to forgive him, then, for disappearing last Aug. 22 and not being around to change the A's playoff fortunes, a five-game AL Division Series loss to the Tigers.
In hindsight, in the midst of a remarkable season, one seemingly not artificially enhanced, it's easy, right?
Yes, the A's say. But forgiving him, they maintain, was about so much more than waiting to see if he could still perform while clean.
"He messed up and paid his 50 games," said closer Grant Balfour "I must admit, it would've been nice to have him down the stretch last year and in the playoffs. It's a little disappointing. He could've been there if he hadn't done it. That's just the reality of it. But I know he's a good guy, I know he's not a bad person. There's no mean bone in his body."
"I was extremely disappointed, as a fan and as a player," said Blevins. "We're trying to get PEDs out of the game. It's hard to say, but they'll probably never be out of the game, because there are always people who want that extra edge, and there are too many incentives for them not to do it.
"But for Bartolo, it was a big hit for our team, both on and off the field, and knowing him as a person and how good of a guy he is, it was a bit of a shock. Talking to him and knowing how much he was hurt by it and embarrassed, that helped this year, knowing those feelings."
Consider the A's relieved, then, to know Colon is here for the stretch run this time. Having already served his suspension last year, the right-hander was in the clear when Biogenesis punishments were handed down this week. Just as his manager thought would be the case.
"I'm glad I was right," Bob Melvin said. "That was just my feeling. That would've been quite the loss for us, and that's not something we were looking forward to. I think everyone had the same feeling that, based on it being the same place, talking about the same things, he had already done his time for that."
This time, the A's really are stuck with him. But that's a good thing.
Following Thursday's off-day, the reeling A's, who have lost six of seven, and the surging Rangers, who in that time have erased a six-game deficit, will enter Friday play tied for first place in the AL West.
"He's been the guy that's led the way for us, so to lose him would have been huge," Balfour said. "We've got some guys that can obviously step in, but what he's doing this year, the numbers he's put up, it's hard to replicate. When you're in a race like this, you need that. He's a special guy to have."
"Having Bartolo around for this, it's extremely helpful for us, especially as a staff, because he's such a reliable pitcher," Blevins said. "You know what you're going to get. You know you have a good chance to win the game when he's pitching. He just solidifies everything.
"It helps as a team knowing that, at least once out of every fifth day, you're going to get something consistent. We've been pretty inconsistent as far as offensively, the bullpen, starters up and down, and Bartolo's been that solid guy the whole year. Even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he's still giving us a chance to win. That's a huge push for us, especially his veteran presence and how he controls himself and stays relaxed and has fun every day, I think it helps take the pressure off the young guys."
Colon, though a jokester by nature, is reserved in the clubhouse, perhaps more so than any other player, and not just because of a language barrier. That's why Balfour refers to him as the "quiet assassin."
Only when the pitcher is roaming the clubhouse with a foam roller in hand -- his teammates estimate that's 75 percent of the time -- should noise be expected.
"He bangs that thing down. That's his go-to move, his signature thing, when everyone's quiet he just slams it down and it kind of gets everyone going," said Balfour. "It's almost his way of saying, 'Wake up. Let's go.'"
Balfour peeks over at Colon and smiles.
"Or," Balfour said, "he's just messing with us."