Waiting to exhale: Coco Crisp's daring catch gives A's room to breathe

Tim Brown

OAKLAND, Calif. – There is that sound that comes before the result is revealed, when an entire stadium of people – yellow, green and invested people – dare not breathe.

It is the sound of a season being prolonged, or at least the hope for it. To scream, to shout, to stomp, you never know, maybe that is the burst of energy that frees the baseball from Coco Crisp's glove. And nobody at O.co Coliseum on Tuesday night could have lived with that.

So they stared, and they began to believe, and Crisp held up that glove and then that sound was gone.

Amid the roar, even Prince Fielder had to grin.

Over just more than 2½ hours, the Oakland A's of 2012 played their finest ballgame. Brett Anderson threw six shutout innings on 19 days rest. Three relievers followed, pitching through Miguel Cabrera once and Fielder twice. Yoenis Cespedes singled home a run and Seth Smith homered.

Coco Crisp's leaping catch at the wall gave the A's all the momentum they needed. (AP)

A misstep from elimination, a dark thought from going home, a hanging curve ball from packing the bat bags for the last time, the A's were taut and headstrong and precise. They beat the Detroit Tigers 2-0, in the last American League Division Series game they were guaranteed, and they did it for all those reasons, but as much as anything because that ball stayed in Coco Crisp's glove.

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It was just the second inning. The A's had scored once in the first. The ballpark was filled to the tarps. Anderson had thrown aggressively in the previous inning, and so appeared recovered from his oblique injury that cost him the final two weeks of the season and the first two games of this series.

Fielder, who had one hit in the series, so what baseball folks would consider "due," took a fastball for strike one, a fastball for ball one, and fouled away a slider. Catcher Derek Norris thought another slider, this one away from Fielder and low. The pitch was slightly higher than that, and Fielder hit it on a line toward the darkness of right-center field.

He'd hit 30 sort of like it this season, 260 in his career. Fielder gauged the contact, the flight, the wall. And he went into a semi-sure trot, something between tie game and maybe not.

"I knew it was hit good," Norris said, recalling that the ball got small fast. "I didn't know it was hit that good."

His eye left the ball and found Crisp, who'd turned to his left and was on a dead run toward the fence.

"Oh no," Norris thought.

Anderson turned. He thought the worst. He dropped his head.

Right fielder Josh Reddick believed there was a chance. See, there's a reason A's coach Tye Waller hands out all that information before games, so the outfielders position themselves to the strengths of the batters, and to the strategy and stuff of the pitcher. In a big outfield, Crisp would play Prince Fielder deep and to pull. He'd slid that way four pitches before, as Fielder trudged to the plate.

Here's the thing about Crisp. Two days before, he'd committed an error in Detroit, and he'd felt responsible for the loss and therefore for the A's unforgiving place in the series. He'd come home and tried to shove those thoughts from his head, but returned to the ballpark Monday to take extra fly balls.

"It can weigh on you," he said. "It definitely weighed on me. … I can't take away what happened in that game. It's unfortunate."

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Atonement would come with three wins, nothing less.

Prince Fielder could only smile after watching Crisp rob him of a possible home run. (AP)

He had 14 strides to that wall, 16 if the last few were choppy, allowing him to ease his momentum, gather himself for a leap and thrust his left arm above his head. The glove and the ball reached the top of the fence at the same instant. The sound arrived then, too, like a gasp, like an effort to create a vacuum for this moment, so that there was only their outfielder and that ball that was trying to escape and kill their season.

"I saw him go up," Reddick said. "He can jump pretty good."

The green and yellow and invested people in right field knew it first. Norris heard them first.

"No way," he whispered.

Just past first base, Fielder slowed his trot. Crisp tumbled to the warning track. Fielder sped up. Crisp held his glove aloft. The rest of the stadium joined the right-field celebration. Fielder stopped, turned and, in spite of himself, grinned.

"I thought I had a hit," he said.

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A hit, a tie game, a different game.

"He's an amazing hitter," Crisp said. "He hit the [stuff] out of that ball."

Crisp leapt to his feet, skipped for a moment toward the infield. Reddick slapped his rear end.

"It kick-starts you," Anderson said, "to make pitches and get through innings."

Five innings later, Cespedes would take a sure double from Fielder in the left-center field gap. He'd been robbed half-way to a cycle.

"I was trying to go under coverage," Fielder said. "I couldn't go over it."

The play that changed everything, however, had come in the second inning. This generation of A's, it does not come back from oh-two, it blows two-oh. That happened in 2001 and again in 2003. And yet nine years later they took one step toward Game 4, inched a little toward Justin Verlander in Game 5, and that's the best that Tuesday night would grant them.

"Well," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, "they pitched and played a perfect game. … They played a perfect game and I think Coco's catch really got them into it."

Crisp had singled and scored the first run, the only one they'd need. And he'd taken away the only real shot the Tigers would have. It is fleeting. They'll play again Wednesday night. Crisp smiled broadly.

"To make a play like that," he said, "it definitely resets you."

In a place that couldn't be louder, that couldn't be more joyful, the catch was the difference. It was OK to breathe again.

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