OAKLAND, Calif. – Hope is like a Swiss Army knife: portable and most useful in the direst of predicaments.
Such as the one the Oakland Athletics find themselves in two games into the American League Championship Series.
Now trailing 2-0 after an 8-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night, the A's pack what's left of their pride and the notion that they can still win this best-of-seven series and trudge off to Michigan buoyed by the expectation that Rich Harden and Dan Haren can save them in Games 3 and 4.
The outlook in the Oakland clubhouse is not particularly rosy. Neither is it hopeless, though quiet desperation is starting to creep in. But surely after back-to-back defeats, there would be some lessons learned, some nuggets gleaned, right?
"0-2 is tougher than 0-1," Jay Payton said.
So what do you need to do specifically to improve?
"Score more than them."
And what do you take away from these two losses?
"We just got our [butts] kicked," Eric Chavez said.
This is what passes for introspection in the freewheeling and fun-loving A's clubhouse, where the brainless see-ball, hit-ball approach is their biggest strength and will, perhaps, be their fatal weakness.
The A's – like most teams stuck in a 2-0 hole – are more comfortable dealing in big-picture generalities: We just take it one game at a time. It's not over until it's over. This game is in the past. Blah, blah, blah. To this point, they've been outhit, outpitched, outrun, outfielded, outmanaged and outsmarted by the Tigers. To get specific would mean facing the demoralizing facts, which include:
- Barry Zito's Game 1 pitching line: 3 2/3 innings pitched, seven hits, five earned runs and three walks.
- Esteban Loaiza's Game 2 pitching line: six innings pitched, nine hits and seven earned runs.
- Harden, the scheduled Game 3 starter, missed 3½ months of the season with a sprained right elbow. His last outing, Oct. 1 against the Los Angeles Angels, was ugly (3 2/3 innings, six earned, six walks), and the club is still not sure what to expect from him in the playoffs. By his Friday start – Friday the 13th, no less – he'll have had 11 days off, not including an appearance Monday in an instructional league game in Arizona. The instructional league will never be confused with playoff baseball.
- Nor did Harden face veteran left-hander Kenny Rogers in Arizona, as he will at Comerica Park. Arguably the Tigers' No. 1 starter, Rogers won 17 games and was the AL's starting pitcher in the All-Star game.
- Oakland batters have left 17 runners on base.
- Filling in for injured double-play combination Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis, D'Angelo Jimenez and Marco Scutaro are 2-for-15, with Jimenez contributing two errors.
- And perhaps most damning, no team that has lost the first two games of the ALCS at home has rallied to win the series.
So if you're the A's, where do you go from here? To whom do you turn?
"We need a pitcher to step up for us," Chavez said. "We have Rich and Haren, and if those two pitch well, we could be right back in this thing."
This is true. Plus, there were bright spots Wednesday, namely Milton Bradley's 4-for-5 night with two mammoth home runs and four RBIs. But the A's realize that they're going to have to match the Tigers' intensity level if they wish to make it back to Oakland.
"If we want to keep playing, we've got to be hungry," Loaiza said. "Pitchers have to concentrate [on] every pitch, batters focus on every at-bat."
They can count on the Tigers to do the same.
"They just keep coming at you," Chavez said. "Same thing with their lineup. It just keeps coming at you.
"We're not going to lie down, that's for sure. It's pretty obvious what we face, but we're not going to lie down."
All around Chavez, clubhouse workers scurried about, packing up the team's equipment for the red-eye to Detroit. However, the A's will be traveling lighter, with home-field advantage left behind, pride stuffed in the overhead compartment, hope stored under the seats in front of them and seat belts fastened securely.
The forecast calls for turbulence ahead.