You know what? Game 5's feel a lot better on this side. So much better, in fact; and believe me, I speak from years of experience, that if you are going to lose two out of four games, definitely lose the first two. Especially when you are in the one weird year of playoff baseball where games 3, 4, and 5 are played at home.
In front of the most amazing baseball crowd I have ever seen or heard, the Oakland A's have staged a comeback, and pulled themselves out of a 0-2 hole in the best-of-5 series to force a winner-take-all, loser-go-home, one-game-for-all-the-money contest tomorrow night in Oakland. And they did it on the wings of redemption for Coco Crisp, as he delivered the A's fifteenth--and most important--walk-off hit of the season, extending the A's home winning streak to 8.
This season already takes some of the sting out of all of those years that we watched a 2-0 lead evaporate in games 3, 4 and 5. Now it's our turn to take every bit of the Oakland mojo, momentum, and just plain craziness into Game 5, where the winner immediately advances to the ALCS. Granted, the A's will face Justin Verlander again, but a) he couldn't possibly be harder to hit than Max Scherzer today, b) we're playing a Game 5 after being down 0-2, and c) We're still playing October baseball. It's all good.
I'm not going to lie; things looked bleak for our heroes with the exception of two innings tonight. The Tigers absolutely dominated the A's tonight, led by Max Scherzer and his eight strikeouts (the Tigers would finish with twelve), and the rest of the Tigers' pen, but the A's got to Valverde when it counted. The key to the game for the A's was knocking Scherzer out in the sixth inning.
Meanwhile, A.J. Griffin wobbled a bit, but when all the dust had settled, turned in a fine playoff performance. I will take 5 innings of two-run ball against the Tigers every single day, especially from a rookie pitcher. And you guys know how this day was different? Want to know the sign? I walked out of my house to walk the dog before the game, and ran into a woman who noticed my A's flag, my green shirt, and A's Vegas beads. She said, "Oh, are you an A's fan?" I said, "I am. I'm so excited about the game; will you be watching?" She said, "Well, of course, since my great-nephew is starting for the A's tonight." Me: Speechless. She said, "A.J. Griffin?" If you knew where I lived in proximity to today's game tonight, you'd take it as a sign too. I live 400 miles away from the Bay Area and the A's were winning the game tonight. And congratulations to my lovely neighbor and her really fantastic great-nephew.
The teams traded heart-stopping zeros for the first two innings; the A's struck out 5 times through the first round of the order with only a single by Cespedes to show for it. Griffin looked as if he struck out Avila to start the third, but it was called a ball. I thought the strike zone was fair on both sides, if not a bit high, but wow, is that 'K-zone' graphic out there. It does not resemble the actual strikezone at all. Avila ended up with a leadoff double, and would score on some Tigers' fundamental baseball. The Tigers would add on in the fourth on a no-doubter homerun by Prince Fielder, probably taking his frustration at the A's defense out on the ball. Aside from one misjudged ball tonight, the defense was crisp, sharp and kept the A's in the game, even while the offense struggled. ETA: Josh Donaldson, especially, deserves some credit tonight for his stellar play.
The Tigers' defense was not so much crisp or sharp, and luckily for them (or not really, since they still lost), the A's got most of their outs via the strikeout. But Fielder made a key error as Coco led off the sixth inning, and it put him on second base with no outs. With Drew batting, Scherzer uncorked a wild pitch that sent Coco to third, and Drew absolutely punished a ball, sending it deep into the gap. Coco scored easily, and then the unexplainable happened. With Drew relying solely on third basecoach Mike Gallego, Gallego tried to stretch Drew's double into a triple, and he was thrown out at third. With no one out. As the tying run. Now that is a familiar feeling in the playoffs, and believe me; NO ONE was happier that the A's came back than he. It was an inexcusable, indefensible call, and it just goes to show the difference in the 2000s A's as opposed to this team; that team would have lost on that play. This one counted it as mere footnote on the road to the win.
It got worse before it got better; after the stellar Jerry Blevins (who would pitch two innings) replaced A.J. Griffin, the Tigers would add on another run against Sean Doolittle, who was finally bailed out by Ryan Cook. With the score 3-1, the A's would go to the bottom of the eighth, hoping for a rally.
The first two A's would get out quickly, but Drew singled to bring up Cespedes. The entire crowd wanted a homerun, but Cespy walked, showing some tremendous plate discipline, considering the situation. This brought up Moss, who missed the first, most hittable fastball ever, and eventually struck out to end the inning.
But the A's weren't yet done. After Cook pitched a perfect ninth, keeping the score at 3-1, the A's took their at-bat. The much-maligned Josh Reddick fought in a 1-2 count to hit a leadoff single through the right side to bring the tying run to the plate, and one pitch later, Josh Donaldson immediately made a bid for the tie; he banged the ball off the wall, maybe four feet short of going out. Reddick ended up at third, and what was so important, Donaldson ended up at second. This brought up Seth Smith. WHO DOUBLED IN BOTH RUNS AND PUT HIMSELF INTO SCORING POSTION! That was kind of amazing. After pinch-hitter Kottaras popped up the first pitch (seriously, why even bother; you need exactly one run; there should have been a good bunter at the plate), and Pennington struck out, Coco Crisp came to the plate with only one thought in mind: Redemption. And that he did; his single plated Moss easily after the ball was missed in the outfield, and the A's found themselves the unlikeliest of walk-off winners. There was pie, and it was loud, and everyone was happy, and I'm sure someone had to tell the team they still had to play another game tomorrow.
'Cause it's been the playoffs for like a month now, and every A's game absolutely rocks, and this team is fun, and wow, I can't wait to see them in person tomorrow. This was the best win of the season in a season full of amazing wins, and they get to play again tomorrow. The 2012 Oakland Athletics are a privilege, and no matter what happens tomorrow, I'll never forget this year.
Parker vs. Verlander tomorrow, part 2, Game 5. This is a winner-take-all, loser-go-home, game-for-all-the-marbles for now both teams. If the A's can somehow manage to overturn Verlander, they will be going to the ALCS. Same time tomorrow; AN will be right here.
LET'S GO OAK-LAND!