A's show poise despite high stakes
OAKLAND -- Coco Crisp knew things were going to be OK when he walked into the clubhouse Tuesday afternoon and saw the usual stuff. Card games. Music. Food cooking on the Foreman Grill. There was laughter, too, lots of it, from one end of the clubhouse to the other. If others were worried about these Oakland Athletics, that was their problem."We came in loose," the A's center fielder said. "Nothing different." Well, now. These A's had a wonderful run to the playoffs, winning 94 games, including their last six with an American League West championship at stake. They distinguished themselves by playing hard and having fun. That's the beautify of having 12 rookies. Still, this was different. On Tuesday, the A's put their season on the line in Game 3 of a best-of-five AL Division Series against the Detroit Tigers. The A's were fresh off a pair of losses at Comerica Park. If we were ever going to see them sweat, this would be it.
"We have as much confidence as anybody," rookie catcher Derek Norris said. "We've got three games at home, and we've got our crowd."Yes, there was that. There was a rocking sellout crowd of 37,090 at the Oakland Coliseum. The fans were roaring before the first pitch and never let up. "As electric as it was last week against the Rangers, it was probably even better tonight," rookie reliever Sean Doolittle said. "They were into it, chanting before the first pitch of the game. It's really awesome to be in an environment like that." So with all that going on, with a season in which the A's have accomplished so much on the line, here's what the A's did. They played a nearly perfect game, and you can look it up. From start to finish. Top to bottom. The A's defeated the Tigers, 2-0, to close the series to 2-1. It was the kind of game a manager would like to clip and save. First, there was airtight starting pitcher. Brett Anderson, pitching for the first time since suffering a pulled oblique muscle against the Tigers 20 days prior, allowed two hits in six innings. He had that big, knee-buckling curveball going, and even through he admitted his side hurt constantly, he gave the A's just what they needed. He was followed by three relievers who all threw 95 mph and finished the shutout. Defense anyone? This might have been the best part of the evening. First, Crisp leaped against the wall in right-center to make a breathtaking grab of a Prince Fielder fly in the second inning. In the seventh, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes made a diving stab of a Fielder liner. In between, shortstop Stephen Drew ranged up the middle to rob Fielder of a hit. Drew made plays all over the field and reminded us how much he improved the A's when general manager Billy Beane acquired him on Aug. 20. To review: great pitching, great defense and just enough offense to put a ribbon on the night. "This is what we've been doing all year," Doolittle said. "That's been a formula we've had a ton of success with." As rookie reliever Ryan Cook said, "It's how you win postseason baseball games -- pitching and defense and timely hitting." The A's know the math. They'll play another elimination game on Wednesday, and if they win it, will have a deciding Game 5 on Thursday. That club in the other dugout is experienced and got through a difficult season. The A's believe they've grown up some, too, especially in playing their best during a tight playoff race. They didn't get over .500 for good until their 87th game of the season. From there, they had baseball's best record at 50-25. "It just means we won tonight," Crisp said. "We have to come back out the next game and take it like we did today. It's a cliche, but that's the way we have to play. We've done a good job approaching it that way the entire year."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.