Wow, that was intense. The A's came into Detroit having lost four of their last five games, with a tenuous grasp on the second wild card and, with some help from the White Sox, still within striking distance of the division. On one hand the Tigers, with the best starting staff and best lineup in baseball, is probably not the team you want to try to rest the fortunes of your season on. On the other hand, beating a team like the Tigers feels that much better. This win certainly felt like a season-saving victory, remaining schedule be damned.
On the toughest road trip yet, Coco Crisp is shining brighter than he has all season long. Coming into the game, he was 6 for 12 with two home runs on the trip. His hot streak continued as he immediately smacked a double off the second pitch that Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez threw. That double set the tone for the lineup which, thanks in large part to Daric Barton (seriously) remembered how to hit with runners in scoring position for at least one night.
Following a Jed Lowrie groundout, Josh Donaldson followed with a chopper up the middle to plate Crisp. Brandon Moss then pulled a line drive to right field, moving Donaldson to third base. Yoenis Cespedes stepped to the plate and hit an oh-so-familiar tailor-made double play ball, except that his pure speed beat out the throw to first, scoring Donaldson. If you're counting at home, that's two at bats with runners in scoring position, and two runs. Those two runs had to have relaxed the team at least a little bit after the incredible RISP frustration in the Baltimore and Seattle series. Seth Smith, who had batted .500 against Sanchez for his career, lined a screaming rocket right at Anibal Sanchez, who somehow made an amazing catch to end the inning. Still, he was at 29 pitches and the A's made him work for every out.
The drama, however, was just starting.
The powerful Tigers lineup was looking to feast on AJ Griffin, the world leader in home runs given up. But AJ threw us all a change, striking out the side in the first (Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder). In the second inning, however, AJ had trouble with the bottom of the lineup. Andy Dirks singled with one out, and Omar Infante came up. Griffin threw an 88 MPH fastball on the inner half of the plate, above the knees, on an 0-2 pitch. Tie game.
In the third inning, Crisp continued to carry the team, hitting a no-doubt solo homer to put the A's back on top, 3-2. At this point he was 8-14 on the trip. En Fuego. That was Coco's 100th homer of his solid career.
The A's added on in the 4th, thanks to some wildness by Anibal Sanchez, who walked Seth Smith and Alberto Callaspo, bringing Daric Barton to the plate. Yes indeed, the mercurial, much-maligned, twice DFA'd, Daric Barton, who was called up to replace Josh Reddick (out with a wrist injury), came up with two on and one out. Cue the called strike 3 jokes. But this was not the old Daric Barton, no sir. This Barton calmly (some might say "Zen"-like) stroked a single up the middle to drive in Seth Smith. Steven Vogt and Crisp struck out to end the rally, but once again, the A's had a hit with RISP. Progress!
Meanwhile, Griffin continued to allow baserunners but did enough to keep the A's in the game. In the 5th inning, the most predictable home run ever happened, as Miguel Cabrera hit a no doubt shot off AJ Griffin. I think we all knew it was coming, and it stung a little less. In fact, the A's fan base dare I say breathed a sigh of relief knowing that it happened and AJ would not pitch to him again. The game was still tied, Cabrera's homer at least came relatively early, and Anibal Sanchez was at 112 pitches and out of the game at that moment.
The Tigers, like most teams, have to turn to some subpar pitchers if the starter only gives them five innings. And so it was tonight as the A's feasted on Jose Alvarez. Nate Freiman pinch hit for DH Seth Smith to lead off the inning. Having big Nate lead off set the stage for gif history. He promptly singled up the middle. Alberto Callaspo followed with another single up the middle, setting the stage for...Daric Barton. Barton came through again with the third straight single up the middle, plating Freiman after a comedic hustle around third and a hilarious slide, tumble and fall across home plate. See Alan Torres' post on the front page for some fun with Freiman slides.
After a terrible bunt by Vogt that was nearly a double play, Crisp saved the team again plating Callaspo for another run. 6-4 A's and Alvarez was hitting the showers. Al "Ball Kisser" Alburquerque came in and got a double play on the first pitch to Jed Lowrie to end the inning. Lowrie made great contact but hit a rocket "at 'em" ball.
Griffin was left in to start the bottom of the sixth, but was pulled after allowing a leadoff single to Victor Martinez, that was oh so close to leaving the yard entirely. After dodging that bullet Bob Melvin wisely went to Dan Otero who got three outs on four pitches.
The next inning the A's added another run thanks to some walks by Alburquerque and yet another clutch hit from Callaspo. Unfortunately the hyped re-match between Cespedes and Alburquerque turned out to be a dud, just like the original. Nonetheless, 7-4 A's going into the seventh inning stretch.
The bottom of this inning was a nail-biting nightmare for A's fans. It started off just fine, with two outs. But Otero uncharacteristically walked Austin Jackson on a full count. Torii Hunter followed with a no-man's-land bloop single, and then Miguel Cabrera represented the tying run coming to the plate. In the most no brainer decision ever, Cabrera was intentionally walked to load the bases. In stepped Sean Doolittle to face Prince Fielder. Given Doolittle's recent performance, this was a bit of a head scratcher. But this is pennant race baseball and relievers have to have short memories. Regardless, Doolittle got the out. Fielder absolutely crushed his fastball though. In a bit of sheer luck, it was to the deepest part of the park (which is 420 feet to straightaway center field). Crisp made the play and the inning was mercifully over.
The A's added another run in the eighth inning off of Jeremy Bonderman, thanks to hits by Vogt and Lowrie. Lowrie's hit was his 36th double of the season, tying the Oakland A's all time record for switch-hitters. And a curious thing happened in that inning. Brandon Moss was intentionally walked as Bonderman elected to face Cespedes. This would not have happened in August of last year. Opposing pitchers know how to get Cespedes out. Now would be a good time to find last year's stroke...any day...please?
In the bottom of the eighth, Doolittle allowed a leadoff homer to Victor Martinez, and a lined shot off the bat of Matt Tuiasosopo that Crisp made an amazing diving somersault catch on. Coco had himself a night! Ryan Cook came in to save the day, but instead allowed two singles and a walk to load the bases. In a dramatic finish, he struck out Torii Hunter on a wicked slider to end the inning. Although allowing the baserunners had the effect of forcing Cabrera to lead off the next inning. That was set up perfectly.
Grant Balfour came into "close" the game, but he cracked the door back open for the Tigers. Cabrera was retired, but then the Tigers rallied. I'll spare you the play by play. Suffice it to say Balfour allowed a bunch of hits, Vogt could not catch his slider for the life of him and allowed two to get away from him, twice allowing runners to advance, the Tigers got one run in and had a runner on third. Everything was set up to be a heartbreaker, but Balfour induced a harmless groundout off the bat of Omar Infante to end the game.
For the Tigers, this was a ho-hum regular season loss, no worry. For the A's, make no mistake, this was playoff baseball. A's fans, are you ready for three more?