OAKLAND -- Forget about the size of their payroll or their efforts to get the commissioner to let them build a new stadium sometime before their players are all old and gray, or the hard economic realities of sharing the Bay Area baseball market. As pressing as all of that is, those are all business issues for the A's, and the A's are not a business right now. The A's are a party.
They are the best kind of baseball party, the impromptu kind, the kind that evolves naturally, organically, and turns what was once a cold, mostly empty and lifeless stadium into the hottest, most energized baseball atmosphere you could ever hope to find. When the A's dropped the first two games of their AL Division Series to the Tigers in Detroit, it started to feel like closing time, as though someone had begun flicking the lights on and off to let everyone it was time to go home. But the party got its second wind when it returned to O.co Coliseum on Tuesday night, with the A's avoiding elimination with a 2-0 victory that left them down 2-1 in the best-of-five series.
As you probably know by now, crazy things happen when the A's party starts to rage, and Tuesday night was no different. A young starting pitcher, Brett Anderson, who hadn't been on the mound in 20 days, shut down the Tigers' offense. Outfielders Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes made YouTube-worthy catches to bedevil poor Tigers slugger Prince Fielder, who must have felt like he was being punk'd. Set-up man Sean Doolittle, who was a minor-league first baseman with bad knees a little more than a year ago, came in and blew the Tigers away in the eighth inning, striking out the side with nothing but four-seam fastballs. A designated hitter, Seth Smith, who has been a bench player most of his career, gave the A's an insurance run with a fifth-inning homer. "Nothing unusual," said Crisp. "We've been doing things like that for a while now. You must be new around here."
After the two frustrating losses in Detroit, Oakland got its groove back in a hurry. Anderson, a lefty pitching for the first time since an oblique injury ended his regular season, struck out Austin Jackson and Omar Infante to start the game, and the sellout crowd grew loud. Cespedes gave the A's a 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the bottom of the first and the crowd grew louder. Then Crisp committed grand theft in center field, leaping above the wall to deny Fielder of a homer, and the crowd was deafening. "It's frustrating," Fielder said. "But that's a good team we're playing. They're going to make those plays. That's why they're here."
No one, of course, expected the A's to be here when the season started, just as no one knew quite what to expect out of Anderson on Tuesday in such crucial spot. With no playoff experience, and only six starts under his belt after missing 14 months due to Tommy John elbow surgery, he proceeded to shake off the pressure and the balky oblique to pitch six nearly flawless innings, allowing only two hits and two walks. "It's not 100 percent by any means," he said of his injury. "But you're not thinking about your oblique when you're facing a Triple Crown winner (Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera) or Prince Fielder."
Anderson, 24, is in some ways an island of calm in Oakland's wonderful chaos. He doesn't rant or rave or fist pump the way some of his teammates do. His efforts to convince manager Bob Melvin to let him stay in the game after throwing 80 pitches in his six innings weren't successful, unlike wild-eyed closer Grant Balfour, who persuaded Melvin to let him pitch the final inning of Oakland's division-clinching win over Texas even though the A's had an eight-run lead. "I'm sure he used a few more expletives than I did," Anderson said.
But Anderson fits right in on this quirky team. He has a long list of ever-changing superstitions that have included drinking water from the same part of the same cup in the dugout between innings, making sure the label on his lip balm is facing out when he leaves the clubhouse before a start, and flipping the ball in his left hand several times before he steps on the rubber to make a pitch. "It's pretty much OCD at this point," he says. "When one thing stops working I switch to something else." Anderson also has a self-deprecating sense of humor. When Manny Ramirez (remember him?) mistook him for a staff member back in spring training, Anderson let his followers know about it on his Twitter account, @BrettAnderson49: "Manny just asked if I was the video coordinator ... our relationship can only go up from here."
Things are looking up for the A's as well. At least the outlook is better than it was when they were down 2-0. "We needed a three-game sweep and we have the first one," said catcher Derek Norris. "With the crowd we have out there, we can just keep feeding off their energy. We had to sweep Texas here (to win the AL West) last week and we did it. We have as much confidence as we've ever had."
The A's, who have won seven straight at home, are feeling good, and why shouldn't they? They make everyone who watches them, with the exception of the Tigers and their fans, feel good as well. That's what an unexpectedly great party can do. If you're arriving late to it, don't worry. This one feels like it might go pretty late.