The A’s Coco Crisp (far right) is surrounded by teammates after his game-winning hit against Detroit on Wednesday in Oakland. It was the A’s 15th game-winning hit this season. (Associated Press)
OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics are simply having too much fun to lose now.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth, with just three outs separating them from the long wait for spring training, the A’s did exactly what they’ve been doing throughout this remarkable season, winning in a walk-off, for the 15th time, overcoming a 3-1 ninth-inning deficit to beat the Detroit Tigers 4-3. With the win, the American League Division Series is tied at 2-2. The deciding game will be played tonight in Oakland.
“We have to keep everybody on edge to pull off something magical,” Coco Crisp, who earned a pie in the face for driving in that fourth run, nonchalantly explained later.
Manager Bob Melvin has been adamant about the team’s philosophy of only worrying about the game in front of them. When asked Tuesday about the prospect of facing the league’s reigning Most Valuable Player and Cy Young award winner, Justin Verlander, in the deciding game today, he refused to consider the question, as it was irrelevant to the task at hand, winning Wednesday’s game.
It just didn’t look like it was going to be the A’s night. Starter A.J. Griffin hung tough but was no match for Tigers stud Max Scherzer, who struck out eight batters and yielded only three hits in his 5 1/3 innings. He retired the A’s on nine pitches in the third and five in the fourth.
Detroit kicked off the scoring in the third when catcher Alex Avila doubled down the right-field line, went to third on Omar Infante’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Austin Jackson’s single to left.
Prince Fielder, robbed twice Tuesday by spectacular catches by Coco Crisp, who reached over the center field wall to steal back a home run, and by a diving Yoenis Cespedes on a ball falling into the left-center gap a few innings later, put one so far out of reach off Griffin in the fourth that right fielder Josh Reddick just turned to watch it sail by on its way into the stands.
The A’s rallied in the sixth, when Crisp reached on a two-base Fielder error after a 10-pitch at-bat and scored when Stephen Drew drove one to the wall in right-center. But Drew got greedy and was out by a country mile at third on a relay from Austin Jackson to Omar Infante to Tigers triple-crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who applied the tag.
The Tigers added what they thought would be an insurance run in the eighth off Sean Doolittle, who’d turned in an awesome inning of mid-90s heat the night before and, despite John Belushi’s “Animal House” exhortations of “It ain’t over till we say it’s over” booming from the scoreboard before the bottom of the ninth, it really seemed the A’s storybook ride had come to an end.
In the Tigers clubhouse, the lockers were being covered over with plastic in anticipation of the champagne- and beer-drenching due to commence any minute.
But in the A’s dugout, excitable closer Grant Balfour didn’t buy it.
“We’ve got to picture ourselves running out on the field, ‘cause that’s what we do, A’s fashion!” he told his teammates. “We’ve walked off so many times, why can’t we do it again?”
The 36,385 paying customers went nuts as Reddick, who led the team in home runs and RBI this season but has been mired in a 19-for-124 slump, led off the ninth with a single to right.
Shouts of “Let’s go, Oakland!” boomed across the stadium, bouncing off the Mount Davis wall high above the outfield as Josh Donaldson drove a Jose Valverde pitch into the gap in left-center, sending Reddick to third.
“He (Valverde) blew me away with three fastballs (in Detroit),” Donaldson said. “I wasn’t gonna let him do it again.”
“My ears were hurting a little bit,” Seth Smith said of the situation he faced then, with two runners in scoring position and none out. He took a fastball off the plate, missed another one, then drove a third into right-center for a two-run two-bagger. Having played in Colorado, he said, he was thinking two “out of the box.”
George Kottaras pinch hit for Derek Norris and fouled out to Cabrera and Cliff Pennington admired a third strike. Up comes Crisp.
“You know what?” Melvin asked. “I look at his match-ups every day and I see the pitching that he hits. He hits closers and he hits good pitching. He always puts a great at-bat. We don’t need a homer right there, all we need is a hit. I don’t think there’s anybody we feel better about.”
“These walk-offs have been our MO all year,” Crisp said.
“These guys did it!” Balfour exclaimed later. By the time of Crisp’s heroics he’d been banished from the dugout to his rightful place in the bullpen. “They freakin’ went out and did it. How unbelievable is that?”
“No disrespect to anyone, but I said we’re gonna rock these guys’ world tonight. If you really want something bad enough, it just goes to show … Three outs away, I know it’s a tough situation, but I want it so bad, everyone in here wants it so bad. We expect to come through, no matter who it is.”
And so it goes. Game time tonight is 6 p.m.
For the complete article see the 10-11-2012 issue.
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