|Coco Crisp atones for his error in Game 2 with a great catch to save a run in Game 3. (US Presswire)|
OAKLAND -- It's been a year-long struggle for these Oakland Athletics to introduce themselves to the masses.
Take their video room this spring. A young blond kid was there one day not long after the A's signed a big-name slugger, and Manny Ramirez breezed in and asked the kid to fetch him some video.
Seven months later, Manny is long gone but the kid remains. And in case anybody was still unaware of exactly who he is, Brett Anderson introduced himself to October with a gritty, gutty and unforgettable 2-0 season-saver against the Tigers.
On a raucous, green-and-gold evening, Anderson, who missed most of the year following Tommy John ligament transfer surgery on his elbow, returned from a three-week hiatus caused by a strained oblique to ensure that it will be a long, long time before anyone around here mixes him up in a case of mistaken identity.
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"I never really asked him how he was feeling," catcher Derek Norris said. "I knew he'd step up and rise to the occasion.
"He's got ice in his veins."
Anderson was sensational early, starting with an eight-pitch first-inning, and good enough late. He threw 80 pitches over six innings, changed speeds, managed his still-tender oblique, pulled the string on his breaking ball and tugged at the tail of the Tigers all night long
In trimming Detroit's AL Division Series lead to 2-1 in this best-of-5 series, the Athletics did what they do: They survived another day, and they left plenty of jaws open in the process.
This was Oakland being Oakland.
Take the slider Anderson hung to Prince Fielder to start the second. Talk about a cookie. Prince bit, and hard. And the ball sailed into outer space, and center fielder Coco Crisp raced back to the fence, leaped ... and hauled it in.
It was a sensational catch, robbing Fielder of what would have been a game-tying homer (Oakland led 1-0 at the time) and playing on one of the strong themes the A's have authored all season long: redemption.
It was Crisp, a highly skilled center fielder, who dropped that routine fly ball in Detroit on Sunday that helped kick away that game and put the Athletics in the 0-2 hole out of which they now must climb.
We're talking about a 13-year veteran, a Coco with near-Gold Glove skills and the man who manned center field for the 2007 World Series champion Red Sox.
So? Over the past 48 hours, you bet he felt absolutely rotten about the misplay in Detroit.
"A lot," Crisp said. "It was tough. I was thinking about it today. Confidence is a big part of this game, and it's a big part of situations outside of sports, too. I was disappointed. You feel you've let everybody down, including yourself.
"You try to man up."
He was thankful for Monday's off day and the change of scenery.
"You have to mentally get past that, especially in a big playoff game," he said. "You don't want to disappoint not only your teammates, but your family and friends. It can weigh on you.
"I was grateful for the off day, the chance to take some fly balls and get my confidence back."
That process, it should be noted, started several minutes before he practically went up to the moon to haul Fielder's drive back. It started when he led off the bottom of the first with a base knock against Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez, stole second and scored on Yoenis Cespedes' base hit up the middle.
What that did was give Oakland a 1-0 lead and jack up an already roaring crowd of 37,090 almost as high as Crisp was about to leap. And truth be told, it surely put even more bounce in Crisp's step as he and his mates worked to erase the memory of an uncharacteristically sloppy Game 2.
Once he preserved the 1-0 lead by robbing Detroit's Prince at the center-field fence, any hint of what happened Sunday was long gone.
"Outside of what happened in Detroit, looking at the big picture, it was an absolutely unbelievable catch," A's outfielder Jonny Gomes said.
"That's the center fielder we had that won us the AL West division title. And that's the world championship center fielder from the 2007 Boston Red Sox."
Fueling the A's further as they extended their season was the man who was the source of such amusement this spring. Following his encounter with Manny, which was a side-splitting hoot to everybody in the clubhouse (and rightfully so), they also made sure to leave a baseball card of Anderson in Ramirez's locker to remind him that Anderson's duties extended beyond video. He was to be pitching every fifth day, eventually.
It took until Aug. 21 before Anderson finally was through the Tommy John rehab and able to rejoin the rotation. He was nails over six starts, but suffered the oblique strain in Detroit (of all places) on Sept. 19.
Sidelined again ... until Game 3 on Tuesday.
"He busted his tail to come back tonight," Gomes said. "When he went down with that injury, you could argue that he should just shut it down and come back next spring. When he got hurt, we hadn't even locked up a playoff spot yet.
"Man, this said miles about him, his work ethic, coming back."
At 24, Anderson is considered a veteran on this team of neophytes. The A's list 12 rookies on their playoff roster. Anderson's 68 career starts multiply, like dog years, in comparison.
The A's weren't sure what they were going to get out of him. Neither were the Tigers.
"Bob Melvin is pretty smart," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "If he had not felt totally comfortable with him, he would not have pitched him in this game. I expected him to be good. He's a very good pitcher. I thought he had an excellent curveball.
"They don't do foolish things here."
He was sharp early, particularly with his slider (83 mph) and curve (76, 77). His fastball (91, 92) isn't overpowering, but he spots it well. Both of the hits he allowed came in the second. From the third through the sixth, he retired 11 of 13 hitters, walking two.
When he fanned Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to end the sixth, he briskly jogged off the field, jubilant. The A's led 2-0.
"Give him a lot of credit," Tigers second baseman Omar Infante said. "He had a good curveball, good fastball. He was very good today."
Anderson said he felt a little "grindy" but was able to muscle through.
"It was more annoying" than painful, Anderson said of his oblique. "I could feel it. But it's not like it was throbbing or excruciating. I just had to put it in the back of my head."
Aside from a couple of recent bullpen sessions, Anderson spent most of the past three weeks icing, stretching, applying heat and taking electrical stimulation and ultrasound.
"We've got all kinds of machines," he said. "I'm pretty sure we used all of 'em."
These A's have all kinds of scripts, and tricks, too. And they've used all of them.
One week after sweeping the Rangers to steal the division crown on the season's final day, they now must sweep the Tigers to advance to the AL Championship Series.
Behind a seven-game home winning streak and a Houdini-like knack for great escapes, there is no doubt in any of their minds that they can pull off another magic trick.
"None whatsoever," outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We've won six straight this year, eight straight ... we've won quite a few straight."
Or, as Gomes calmly said, "Panic isn't in our vocabulary."