Intellectually, artistically, and objectively, I know that Saturday night's game was a thing of beauty; a performance to hang on your mantle, a game to point to as you're proving that baseball is an elegant sport. Today's game was none of that. If Game 2 belonged in a museum, Game 3 was fought out in the streets, on the asphalt; dirty, rough, gritty, but somehow just as beautiful, as the A's took an early lead, watched it vanish before their eyes, and instead of showing signs of defeat, immediately took the same lead back, as if it just didn't matter. And that calm, that zen that the offense showed today was in sharp juxtaposition to the storyline of a closer looking for redemption, as Grant Balfour took the mound in eerily the same position he was in about six weeks ago; the A's with a 6-3 lead against the Tigers, looking for a save. Balfour blew the save then to thwart the A's chance at a four-game sweep, in an unimportant August game, but despite almost coming to blows with Victor Martinez in the middle of an at-bat today, Balfour slammed the door, exorcised demons along with it, and closed out the game that puts the A's up 2-1 in the series, looking for a return to the ALCS for only the second time in twenty years.
Today's game was no pitchers' duel. The A's offense, who had hit Sanchez hard from the very beginning of the game, finally completed the knockout blow in the fifth inning on their third home run. Meanwhile, although Jarrod Parker allowed the Tigers to score in just one inning; it was a three-spot, and he only finished five innings of his own. But the A's bullpen of Dan "Playoff Clutch Two-Inning Pitcher" Otero, Sean Doolittle, and Grant Balfour more than picked up the slack, and they would make the A's fifth inning comeback stand up for the rest of the game. In a twist of irony, the A's scored all of their runs on Detroit's starter, and none on the bullpen. Jose Alvarez pitched three scoreless innings after relieving Sanchez, and Jose Veras finished the game. The A's would put up only two hits on Detroit's bullpen, but the damage? That door was closed far too late.
One of the most interesting side stories of this postseason is the offense vs. defense argument for both teams, but especially the Tigers. Obviously, you play Miguel Cabrera, injury and all, for his bat, but it's going to cost you at third base. Likewise, after being shut down for 17 innings coming into the game, Detroit was desperate enough to start Jhonny Peralta for his bat. The A's arguably made the same change in Games 2 and 3; Seth Smith took the place of Daric Barton, due to his bat, moving Brandon Moss to first base. All of the players involved would be tested in today's game; and offense would ultimately win; the A's scored two runs directly off Detroit's second-tier defense; one from Cabrera and one from Peralta, and two more runs on a home run off the bat of Seth Smith, who wasn't playing in Game 1. Meanwhile, the Tigers didn't get the production from Cabrera today, but they did get a two-run single off the bat of Peralta.
But let's start at the beginning, shall we? The A's came out of the gate swinging against Sanchez, and save for the ninth inning of Saturday night's game, the first inning was the best inning they had so far in the series, and they didn't even score a run. Coco Crisp got the game started with a lead-off double, but Josh Donaldson couldn't advance him, and Coco took third on a deep fly ball by Jed Lowrie with two outs. Brandon Moss walked to put two runners on base--unheard of in the first two games of the series--but Yoenis Cespedes struck out to end the inning.
Seth Smith singled to lead off the second inning and Josh Reddick nearly hit the ball out, but came up about two feet short. There were several people in the thread who commented that it seemed like foreshadowing; that Reddick was right on Sanchez, and would hit the next one. Smith was left stranded at first, but the A's were already making Detroit's defense work.
The A's would finally break through in the third inning with a little help from Miguel Cabrera. Coco singled to lead off the inning and promptly stole second base. Josh Donaldson walked to put runners at first and second with no one out, but the inside pitch was granted to Sanchez, striking out both Lowrie and Moss. Undaunted, Cespedes would hit the ball to third base, where it careened off Cabrera and into the field, allowing Coco to score from second to give the A's the 1-0 lead.
Josh Reddick had enough of being robbed, and opened the fourth inning with the exact swing of his previous at-bat, sending the ball over the fence, and doubling the A's lead. This brought up the catcher, Stephen Vogt, who tripled. Yes, he did! Sogard couldn't get him in, but Coco, of course, could, sending a fly ball out to Peralta, whose pedestrian throw didn't come close to Vogt. Staked to a 3-0 lead through the first three and a half innings, A's fans were starting to feel pretty good; Parker allowed only a single through the first three innings, and there was no reason to think this wouldn't continue.
And just like that, just when we thought we might get through a game without our A's ulcer activated, we didn't. Torii Hunter singled to lead off the fourth, and after Cabrera flew out, Prince Fielder singled to put runners at first and third with one out, bringing up Victor Martinez. He smashed the ball through first base and into right field for a RBI double, putting the Tigers on the board, and runners at second and third. Peralta followed with a RBI single that plated both runners, and tied the game at 3. Just like that. Parker did finish the inning; the next two hitters made the mistake of hitting to Josh Donaldson, who retired both on nice plays; he had a day over at third base with more to come.
With the game now tied 3-3, the A's, who watched their hard-fought lead disappear on two pitches, did what any magical team would do in this situation. They got it right back. After Lowrie struck out to start the fifth inning (he has not yet hit in the series), Brandon Moss hit a home run to give the A's the 4-3 lead. Knowing that A's fans wouldn't make it another five innings with a one-run lead, Cespedes singled, and not to be left out of the fun, Seth Smith hit a two-run home run to give the A's the 6-3 lead.
Parker--on what we can only imagine was a very short leash, maybe one of those cute monkey backpack ones--started the fifth with an out and then walked a batter. Josh Donaldson would turn a spiffy double-play on a smoked ball, and just like that, five innings were in the books. Not willing to push Parker's day any further, Melvin called for Dan Otero for the sixth inning, and the heart of Detroit's lineup. After a one-out single by Fielder, Otero got his own GIDP, turned at first by Moss, and picked up on a nifty short-hop by Lowrie for the double-play at second, killing yet another rally for the Tigers. Otero would give up another single in the seventh, but stranded that runner as well.
The A's called on Sean Doolittle for the eighth, and despite a one-out walk, retired the heart of the Tigers' lineup. The A's made one last bid for an insurance run in their ninth, as a lead-off double by Coco and an infield single by Donaldson put two more runners on for the A's, but Lowrie and Moss both struck out, and Cespedes grounded out to end the inning. This would set up the save situation for Grant Balfour as the A's tried to hang on.
Victor Martinez was the first to face Balfour, and clearly, has never seen him pitch before. Here's the tweet of the day:
A's win Game Three. Game Four tomorrow on HBO. #language— The Phantom (@PhantomDGS) October 7, 2013
That about sums up all of Balfour's saves, but apparently, Martinez took umbrage at Balfour's swears, and a yelling match ensued. Both bullpens emptied, but with the stakes as high as they get, neither team was willing to do anything that they might regret, and it all settled down. Martinez would line out to Josh Reddick, Peralta would strike out, and after a two-out walk, Infante flew out to end the game.
Down and dirty it was, but when all was said and done, it was every bit as much of a win as Game 2, and the Oakland Athletics have rebounded from their 0-1 start to take a 2-1 game lead over the Detroit Tigers. They A's will play tomorrow and with a victory, they will clinch a spot in the ALCS. Needless to say, tomorrow's game becomes the must-win, and Dan Straily needs to be up for the challenge. The A's need to keep the pressure on, and end the series now. With all due apology to anyone holding Game 5 tickets, none of you want a game five. Let's do this in four. Barring any last-minute moves, the A's offense will face Doug Fister, the fourth in an impressive line of Detroit starters. The game tomorrow will either be at 2:00PM, Pacific time (with a Tampa Bay win) or 4:00PM, Pacific time (with a Boston win). We will be right here for all of your action.
Everybody with me: LET'S GO OAK-LAND!