ALDS 2012: Do the A's Have Enough Magic Left to Finish Tigers off in Game 5?
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Honestly, what is there left to say about the Oakland A's? The words "awesome," "amazing" and "ridiculous" only have so many synonyms.
Get your thesaurus out, because the A's did it again on Wednesday night. They were down 3-1 against the Detroit Tigers in Game 4 of the American League Division Series heading into the ninth inning, putting them three measly outs away from elimination. Their awesome/amazing/ridiculous season was hanging by a thread.
They came back and won.
Of course they came back and won. It's what the A's do.
Josh Reddick got things started with a leadoff single off Tigers closer Jose Valverde. Josh Donaldson then sent a double high off the left-center field wall. Seth Smith brought Reddick and Donaldson home with a two-RBI double into the right-center field gap that tied the score.
And then, after two outs had been recorded, elder statesman Coco Crisp punched a single through the right side of the infield that scored Smith from second base.
Bing. Bang. Boom. The result: A 4-3 win for the A's that had the 36,000 people packed into O.co Coliseum testing the limits of human eardrums.
Was there ever any doubt that the A's would win?
Shoot, not even A's manager Bob Melvin thinks so.
"You know what? We've done it too many times down this road to feel like we weren't going to win," said the A's ever-stoic manager after the game. "And then we get the first guy on and we feel like, 'Here we go again.' That's a contagious feeling in out dugout."
Oakland's latest epic comeback took shape in a hurry in the ninth inning, but in reality it started much earlier in the game when both clubs' starters were still in the game.
Between A's rookie A.J. Griffin and the Tigers' fireballing right-hander Max Scherzer, there was no question that Scherzer had the upper hand through the first few innings of the contest. He was mowing 'em down, collecting five strikeouts through the first four innings while throwing only 46 pitches.
Griffin, meanwhile, labored. The Tigers had a 2-0 lead one batter into the fourth inning courtesy of a long home run by Prince Fielder, and Griffin had to do his utmost to keep the Tigers from scoring again right up until he was lifted one batter into the top of the sixth after having thrown 85 pitches.
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But something funny happened to Scherzer with two outs in the fifth inning: He started to struggle. A walk and a hit precluded a rough sixth inning that got the A's back in the game. An error by Fielder put Crisp on first base, Scherzer advanced him to third with a wild pitch, and Stephen Drew brought Crisp home with a ringing double to deep center that he (foolishly) tried to stretch into a triple.
That was it for Scherzer. Jim Leyland came and got his starter, who battled shoulder and ankle woes in recent days, before he had a chance to face Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
"It looked like he was pretty much spent," said the Tigers manager of Scherzer, adding: "I think he wanted to face Cespedes, but at this point I could see that [his] velocity was dropping. I didn't want him to make a mistake and have Cespedes hurt us."
From then on, Leyland proceeded to empty his bullpen. Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit were all used between the fifth and eighth innings, combining to throw an even 50 pitches.
The A's didn't score any runs off this foursome of relievers, but they had their chances. You could sense that there was some frustration building with each missed chance, particularly in a busy eighth inning, but you could also feel that the A's were working their way toward something.
Then came Valverde in the ninth, and then came three runs. Just like the A's drew it up.
Wait...Was that how they drew it up?
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"I think so," said Crisp after the game. He then turned to Smith, who was sitting next to him at the postgame press conference, and said, "What do you think? Definitely?"
"Definitely," replied Smith. "We nailed it."
There were laughs all around, but then Crisp got a little more serious and uttered probably the truest words that were spoken all night:
"We have to keep everybody on edge to pull off something magical."
Amen. And at this point, it's worth asking just who the heck is supposed to stop these A's, what with all their sorcery and their wizardry. It's going to take a very special team. Or at the very least, one very special individual.
You know, somebody like Justin Verlander, who will be on the bump for the Tigers in Game 5 on Thursday night.
He might be able to put a stop to these A's. Again.
Verlander let the A's flash a little bit of magic in Game 1 when he allowed a leadoff home run to Crisp, but a flash was all there was. The Crisp home run was the only damage done against Verlander, as he ended up pitching seven innings and striking out 11. Behind him, the Tigers won Game 1 by the final of 3-1.
The last thing the A's need at this point is an extra-motivated Verlander on the mound on Thursday night. And therein lies the rub. Did the A's give Verlander a little extra motivation by walking off against Valverde on Wednesday night?
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Verlander's response: Nah, not really.
"No," he said, chuckling slightly, when asked if he was more fired up for his Game 5 start than he otherwise would have been. "You try to take it one day at a time. Obviously that was a tough one. But it's not the first time this year we lost like that...We've been resilient all year, and tomorrow is a new day."
Yeah, he doesn't need any extra swagger. He's Justin Verlander, for cryin' out loud.
Countering Verlander on Thursday night will be Jarrod Parker. He's the best of Oakland's troupe of rookie hurlers, but he's a rookie hurler all the same. He'll have no sort of edge against Verlander, the reigning MVP and Cy Young Award winner. It's a matchup that heavily favors the Tigers.
This is a reality that could, in theory, herald the arrival of the long-suspended doom of Oakland's awesome/amazing/ridiculous 2012 season. After all they've been through, the A's could end up going down with a mere whimper at the whim of Verlander's freakish right arm.
Plus, there's another question that must be asked.
Just how much magic can this A's team possibly have left at this point? At what point are the baseball gods going to abandon them in favor of some other team?
To keep the baseball gods on their side, what the A's must do is...well, not change a thing, really. Why would they?
"You know, the results for our season have been fantastic and got us to this point. I don't think we should change anything," Crisp said. "Just keep it loose, have a lot of fun and give it a hundred percent. Whatever the results are going to be, win or loss...I think we can live with ourselves because we do give it a hundred percent."
A phrase like "Whatever the result may be" would make a good motto for this A's team, if for no other reason than it's a hell of a lot more PC than the shorter version. That, of course, would be the one that features a certain four-letter word followed by the word "it."
The A's will bring the same attitude into Game 5 that they brought into Game 4. And Game 3 before that, and Games 2 and 1 before that and all 162 games before those two. They have an approach that works for them, and they're very good at maintaining it.
Who ya got in Game 5?
Verlander will try to put a stop to it all when he takes the mound on Thursday night. For their part, you can rest assured that Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are going to do their level best to get their ace some breathing room. If they get a little help from Austin Jackson and the rest of the offense, that would be dandy.
The Tigers will take as many runs and as many innings from Verlander as they can get. Ideally, they'll find themselves in a situation where they won't have to put the game at risk by handing the ball back to Valverde.
Should the Tigers win?
Yeah, they should. Their offense will have its work cut out for it against Parker, but Verlander probably won't need a ton of offense. He didn't let the Tigers down in Game 1, so it's safe to assume he won't let them down in Game 5.
But will the Tigers win?
At this point, things have gotten so weird to the point where I feel confident enough to say this:
Only if the A's let them.
Note: Quotes obtained firsthand. Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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