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Athletics Find Detours to Keep Crazy Train on Track
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OAKLAND, Calif. — This city has a bad reputation.
It's the ignored child of the Bay Area, not even close to being as glamorous or trendy or cool as the metropolis across the water. This is an industrial place where buildings are dilapidated and where it seems like the No. 1 color is a drab gray.
Even when the city did produce some kind of worldwide phenomenon, MC Hammer, the guy goes bankrupt after making millions and millions and ends up on terrible reality TV.
The baseball team here had the same kind of reputation. It was the equivalent of one of those boarded-up buildings with broken windows and a leaning padlocked gate on the fence surrounding it. The Oakland Athletics were the team figured to be stepped over on the road to some other team's glory.
But you know what? Despite whatever labels or negative connotations you want to put on the city of the team, both are in a euphoric state thanks the A's not having enough brains to know when they've been pronounced dead.
"We're not smart enough to know when it's time to lose a game," A's right fielder Josh Reddick said Wednesday night, minutes after being a key part to one of the franchise's most improbable playoff wins.
Down two runs in the ninth inning, the A's pulled it off. Single. Double. Double. Tie game. Then two outs. Then a single by Coco Crisp and ball game. They live to play another night.
The A's beat the Detroit Tigers to force their third elimination game in as many days, but this time they aren't alone. The Tigers will be right there on the same edge after the A's magic worked again for a 4-3 walk-off victory in Game 4 of the American League Division Series at O.co Coliseum.
No one knows how the A's continue to duck and dodge what is their seemingly obvious fate. In true Mr. Magoo fashion, the A's just don't see the danger signs in front of them. They just march right along through October without a care in their heads.
For the first time in more than a month, the positive vibes in the Coliseum were drowning Wednesday. The sellout crowd was trying its damnedest to stay upbeat, so Ryan Cook gave them a boost. He put away the Tigers in a hurry in the top of the ninth inning, again pumping his fist and screaming at the top of his lungs and bringing the loyalists to life.
As the crowd roared, reliever Grant Balfour delivered a message to his team in the dugout.
"We're going to rock this guy's world tonight!" Balfour yelled as he paced in front of the bench. "We're going to walk it off in A's fashion because that's what we do! Believe it! See yourselves running on that field! Every one of you!"
Reliving the moment, Balfour stopped talking for a few seconds. He stared beyond the few people holding cameras and voice recorders. He was emotional, but he gathered himself again.
"And we did it," Balfour said. "The mind is a powerful thing. If you really want something bad enough and you got every guy in there believing it, it can happen. That was the most emotional game I've ever been in."
Jose Valverde felt the same way. He is the Tigers' closer and the latest victim of whatever makes the A's go. He was responsible for that first-pitch splitter that settled nicely into the bull's-eye of Crisp's strike zone, a ball Crisp pulled through the four-hole and into right field to score Seth Smith.
"That was the toughest outing of my career," Valverde said in a level so low it was a good thing the Tigers clubhouse was dead silent at the time.
Making things worse was the wide-open door of the room where all the plastic covering on the lockers had to be thrown. The Tigers would not be celebrating on this night.
The A's would be, though. They know the work isn't done, but that didn't stop them. It hasn't stopped them before. They popped bottles of Chandon when they clinched a playoff berth. They did the same when they clinched the division days later.
They aren't afraid to celebrate, and it was a party-like atmosphere in their clubhouse Wednesday night, so much so that when the TV cameras and recorders went on for interviews, the music blared and no reporter dared to ask for it to be turned down. No one wanted to disrupt the festivities, and the mood couldn't even be dampened when someone reminded that Tigers ace Justin Verlander awaits in Thursday's fifth game.
"So what?" asked Josh Donaldson, the man who scored tying run in the ninth.
So what? Yep. That sounds about right.
So what if the A's have baseball's second-lowest payroll? So what if they were supposed to bow to the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels this summer? So what they fell behind by two games in this best-of-5 mini-drama?
The A's don't care. All they know, just like everyone else, is all of this is pretty crazy.
"It's a story that has no ending yet," Balfour said. "I'm hoping that the ending comes at the end of October, the period at the end of an unbelievable story."
A story this city and team is proud to be experiencing.