When the weekend came to a close, the Detroit Tigers clearly had the Oakland A's number in the playoffs.
All told between the 2006 ALCS and this year's ALDS, the Tigers had beaten the A's six straight times in postseason play. On Tuesday night in Oakland, they were poised to finish off a second straight playoff sweep of the A's.
Note the past tense.
Detroit's October ownage of the A's came to an end on Tuesday night at O.co Coliseum in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. The A's got off the schneid with a 2-0 victory that was powered by the left arm of Brett Anderson and garnished by multiple robberies of Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder.
It all went down in front of a Coliseum crowd that was more supercharged than usual, which is saying something at this stage of the game. The fans spoke for the A's, and the message was clear:
Granted, the A's haven't won anything yet. The Tigers still have the edge in the series, 2-1, and they can still wrap it up with a win over the A's on Wednesday night with Max Scherzer on the mound. If he fails, Justin Verlander surely won't fail in Game 5 on Thursday night.
...So why does it feel like the A's are suddenly in complete control of this series? Why does it feel like they have the Tigers right where they want them?
It obviously has something to do with the fact that the A's stole the momentum from the Tigers with their 2-0 victory, but there's more to it than that. More important than the momentum the A's grabbed on Tuesday night is the fact that, with a little help from the Coliseum crowd, they found their swagger again.
It went missing in Detroit, where the A's dropped the first two games of this series due to a combination of too many mistakes on their part and very good pitching on the part of the Tigers. The A's ceased to look like the A's. They looked more like, well, the 2011 A's.
You probably don't remember them, and that's OK. They weren't really worth remembering, if we're being honest.
The swagger of the 2012 club came back in a hurry in Game 2. Anderson pitched a perfect first inning with two punchouts, and he needed only eight pitches to do it. The A's then took a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by Yoenis Cespedes before a single out was even recorded.
The first out of the second inning, meanwhile, came courtesy of a leaping grab at the wall in right-center field by Coco Crisp, who robbed Fielder of what could have been a game-tying home run. The home crowd very much appreciated Crisp's efforts.
So did his manager.
"It set a nice tone," said A's manager Bob Melvin of Crisp's catch, the cap of a bat-out-of-hell start for the A's.
Melvin added: "We felt good about getting the fans involved right away too, because here recently they've been the 10th man definitely for us, and we can feel them. So it was nice to get a little momentum early in the game and carry it through."
Crisp's catch wasn't the only robbery committed by the A's on Tuesday night. Cespedes made a terrific catch of his own in left-center field in the top of the seventh inning when Ryan Cook was on the mound, diving to the ground to snag a line drive in the gap that would have been an extra-base hit.
The man who would have had that extra-base hit? None other than Fielder, of course.
For the A's, the great catches highlighted what was a defensively-sound performance, a welcome departure from the defensive miscues that cost the A's in Game 2 of the series on Sunday. Anderson, who ended up pitching six shutout innings, said after the game that he had a good time pitching in front of Oakland's defense on Tuesday night.
"[Crisp] was tremendous. The guys up the middle were tremendous. Cespedes made a play there...It was fun to pitch in front of them," said the 24-year-old lefty.
Though the A's didn't score again after Seth Smith's solo home run in the bottom of the fifth inning, it felt like they had the game well in hand straight through to the end.
It helped that Cook, Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour slammed the door shut by throwing one dominant inning apiece, yet another welcome departure from a trend that undid the A's in Game 2. Balfour wrapped things up by getting Fielder—of course it would be Fielder—to ground into a game-ending double play.
That cued the Coliseum crowd, which numbered over 37,000 people, to let off one final roar. And why not? They just watched the club's first playoff win in six years, and many of them knew they'd be back on Wednesday night.
It will be up to Scherzer to get the fans to use their indoor voices on Wednesday night, but even he knows that he has his work cut out for them. He admitted after the game that the home crowd made an impression on him.
"That was probably the most rowdy atmosphere I’ve ever seen here, or pretty much any ballpark I’ve ever been in," said Scherzer after the game. "From the first inning to the ninth inning, they were cheering for every pitch, every out. You have to give them a lot of kudos for the atmosphere they’re able to provide."
Scherzer said the shoulder troubles that hindered him at the end of the season have cleared up, so the A's can expect to see his best stuff on Wednesday night.
And after a frustrating night at the ballpark on Tuesday night, that's something the Tigers can very much look forward to. Scherzer is one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball when he's on, and he's not that far removed from a dominant stretch that saw him go 6-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched in seven starts between early August and early September.
The Tigers will feel comfortable with Scherzer leading them on Wednesday night, but you can rest assured that the A's have their full attention. After playing sloppy, uninspired baseball for two days in Detroit, the A's went back to playing the flashy brand of baseball that won them a division that they probably had no business winning.
The A's have undergone this transformation before. They didn't look so hot during a 10-game road trip in the thick of September, one that included a series defeat in Detroit against the Tigers. When the A's returned home for a season-ending six-game home stand, they were four games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West.
They then won six straight games, wrapping things up with a sweep of the Rangers that was capped by a Wednesday matinee that drew over 36,000 fans out to the Coliseum.
Anderson said that the atmosphere of Tuesday night's game was very much reminiscent of the atmosphere that pervaded the Rangers series. Needless to say, the buzz made it a little easier for Anderson to enjoy himself in what ended up being his first career postseason victory.
"The fans kept us in it all game, and it was fun to be a part of. Hopefully it could happen these next two games too," said Anderson.
The A's still have plenty of things to worry about as they prepare for Game 4 and, hopefully, Game 5. They need to worry about the fact that they're about to face a very tough pitcher in Scherzer, and after him will come an even tougher pitcher in Verlander if the A's do extend the series. They also need to worry that Fielder is past due for a big hit or two at this point, and that Cabrera hasn't shown off his true thunder yet either.
They also need to bear in mind that they're attempting to do something that's only been done four times before in division series history, and not once since 2003. The odds of them completing their comeback from their 0-2 deficit are still not in their favor.
At the same time, there are things that the A's know that aren't so bad.
They know that the 1995 Seattle Mariners benefited from the 2-3 format the way they're trying to benefit from it, as that team won three straight games against the Yankees in Seattle after falling behind 0-2 in New York.
The A's also know that they're going to be in a place where their pitchers logged a 3.08 ERA during the regular season. And if Game 3 is any indication, Oakland's tradition of getting great pitching at home is alive and well. All A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker have to do in Games 4 and 5 is uphold the status quo.
Oakland won't be running short on any adrenaline in the next two days if they do manage to extend the series to Thursday. The crowd will have their back, and the A's will continue to feed off the crowd the same way they did all season.
The A's haven't won anything yet, but they clearly have it in mind to fight more more than just another day.
So do their fans.
Note: Quotes obtained firsthand. Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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