In 2002, the A’s changed baseball forever when they rattled off 20 consecutive wins and made the playoffs despite an incredibly low payroll. 10 years later, the same team made it back to the playoffs, and that same team still has a low payroll.
But this team may end the season differently from the 2002 team that they resemble so much. And, that’s a good thing for the A’s.
Down to their final three outs with experienced closer Jose Valverde entering the game, the A’s rallied once again. Josh Reddick grounded a two-strike pitch under the glove of the diving Omar Infante for a base hit, and Josh Donaldson crushed a hanger over the plate off the wall in left field for a double. Then, Seth Smith stepped to the plate.
Valverde left a hittable pitch on the outside corner, and it was lined into center field by Smith. He raced into second for a double, while Reddick and Donaldson tied the game with their runs. George Kottaras fouled out and Cliff Pennington struck out, setting the stage for Coco Crisp, who had celebrated walk-offs a lot.
Crisp lined another hittable pitch on the inner half of the plate sharply into right field for a base hit, and Seth Smith charged home from second base. Avisail Garcia, who threw Crisp out at the plate in Game 2, couldn’t field the ball cleanly, although it wasn’t ruled an error. Smith stepped on home plate and set off a huge celebration at the Coliseum. Then, he received pie in his face, which probably never tasted better.
A.J Griffin struggled a bit, although he fought through five innings and allowed two runs. He allowed a bomb to Prince Fielder, and Austin Jackson hit an RBI single. However, the A’s clawed their way back and eventually came on top, forcing a decisive Game 5. If the A’s win, they will play either the Yankees or the Orioles in the ALCS.
In the sixth, Max Scherzer struggled. He allowed Crisp to hit a ball sharply to first base, where Fielder couldn’t field it cleanly. Crisp hustled into second, and Stephen Drew stepped to the plate. He worked the count full, before lining a low pitch into right-center field to easily score Crisp and cut the deficit in half. Drew was thrown out trying to stretch the two-bagger into a triple, but the A’s had their run.
Detroit plated another run in the eighth off of Sean Doolittle, who struggled. However, Ryan Cook got the win and deserved it, getting four clutch outs and allowing closer Grant Balfour to rest. Cook struggled with his command in Game 3, but he was great in Game 4.
Valverde wasn’t, though, and he either put the Tigers’ ALCS celebration on hold or killed it entirely. Jarrod Parker takes the ball for Oakland, but he will oppose Justin Verlander, arguably the league’s best and most durable pitcher. He is fully rested and ready to go, with lots of key playoff experience.
Can the A’s reach into their bag of tricks again? Maybe. However, to win, they will have to be patient and force the Tigers to turn the game over to their erratic bullpen, much like they did tonight. It will be harder with the flame-throwing Verlander, but it’s certainly doable. They have the momentum and the crowd on their side, which will help.
They can enjoy another miracle for now, though. Oakland, a team who was 43-43 at the All-Star break and a team with one of the league’s lowest payrolls, is in Game 5 of the ALDS. Can they stick around? Find out tomorrow night.