OAKLAND, Calif. – Funny beings, these Oakland A’s.
Awash in the unwashed, mature beyond their service time, dangerously skilled and appropriately rakish, they are the playoff team that hasn’t won a road game.
They are the team that has played to Bud Selig’s two-three master plan. They are the team that caught Justin Verlander at a bad time – that is, on the day he pitches. As a result, they are the team with one foot out of October.
And so, in perhaps one last stand for the team that vanquished the Texas Rangers in the regular season and rolled into the playoffs on a contact high, they must make more contact and win three in a row at home against the Detroit Tigers.
Back in the comfort of their beloved Thunder-nest, they’ll hand the ball to Brett Anderson, the lefty just recovered from Tommy John surgery and perhaps still recovering from an oblique strain. They’ll have at the Tigers, and the odds against them, and the suggestion their time is near after one of the more glorious summers in their history.
It’s a terribly long shot. It’s the only one they have.
On Monday afternoon they watched baseball in St. Louis on TV. They saw Dusty Baker at a press conference in Cincinnati. He wore a red plaid vest and it was noted he looked like he’d just come in off a duck blind. They answered more questions about the infamous Al Alburquerque/baseball tryst, and mustering more offense against a guy – Anibal Sanchez – whose ERA since late August is 2.15 (and, by the way, who once no-hit the Arizona Diamondbacks when A’s manager Bob Melvin managed there).
Just a week ago, when they required three wins in three games against the Rangers, the A’s won three games, and right here at this ballpark. The circumstances change. The price for failure steepens. And the Tigers, playing crisply and confidently, are not the Rangers.
Yet, the A’s seemed OK with all that. They have to be, of course, because they’ve played themselves into it, and the only likely way out is to hit better than .203, and to strike out fewer than 11 ½ times a game, and for Anderson to be better than Sanchez.
They seem to believe they just played six months of these games and that a few more can’t do any harm. It is a notion formed perhaps from the house money spread across the vastness of O.co Coliseum, or from the fact their birth certificates are not yet yellowed and crackly, or from the belief that this is still just as much about them surviving as it is about the Tigers advancing.
Whatever it is, they continue to wear it like a red plaid vest.
“I think you can argue we had a daunting task leaving spring training,” is how Jonny Gomes explained it.
They win and tomorrow comes. They don’t and, well, what the hell?
“I think it’s the same grease we’ve been using all year,” Gomes said. “Just a different pan.”
He said he could count four or five so-called “season-ending losses” already this season, when the A’s were left for dead and buried. Kurt Suzuki was traded, Bartolo Colon was caught, Brandon Inge was injured, Brandon McCarthy was wheeled away (and on Monday was sitting at his usual locker). These were all kill shots to their season, and now it’s almost mid-October and we’re still talking about the A’s like they mean something.
If Alburquerque wants to kiss the baseball, to waken the hardball deities in their press boxes in the sky, then, Gomes said, bring the karma. They’re down, 0-2. So, all hands (of god) on deck.
“Obviously he doesn’t believe in baseball gods,” Gomes said. “But I do.
“They’re on our side. So far. They’re really testing us, to tell you the truth.”
Grant Balfour, the closer who huffs and shouts and glares on the mound, shrugged and said, “Hey, if that’s what he did, that’s what he did. And if they lost three games here it’s going to come back and bite him. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”
When the topic was broached in the Tigers’ clubhouse, the Tigers said Alburquerque’s public display of affection rose to no greater degree of classlessness than Balfour’s public displays of histrionics. Indeed, they shouted the comparison to reporters who closed in around Alburquerque, using the very sort of language Balfour appears to rant in mid ninth-inning.
“I don’t feel like I’m doing something bad,” Alburquerque said softly and charmingly. “I respect [Yoenis] Cespedes. I didn’t do it out of being disrespectful. I was just excited to get the out.”
That, presumably, will be that, too. Because the Tigers have a series to put away. And the A’s – and all they are – might be just unwashed enough, just skilled enough, and just greased up enough to stop them.
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