By Sam McPherson
Way back in a different Moneyball era, the Oakland Athletics three times took 2-0 American League Division Series leads: 2001, 2003 and 2006.
Only in one of those years did the A’s actually finish off the series and advance in the AL playoffs.
After Sunday’s bullpen implosion in Detroit that caused Oakland to lose Game Two, 5-4, the organization will have to draw upon those collective, “genetic” memories of what’s possible as they now head back to the O.co Coliseum for Game Three on Tuesday night, down 0-2 in their 2012 ALDS.
Really, there’s not much else to be said: it’s win or stay-home time now, as it were.
To review, the A’s blew two late-inning leads on Sunday: up 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh, Coco Crisp dropped a two-out, fly ball that let two runs score for Detroit. And after his teammates picked him up in the top of the eighth with two runs of their own to regain the lead, 4-3, Ryan Cook put the first two runners on base in the bottom of the eighth. When he threw a two-out wild pitch, the lead runner scored from third to tie the game.
And then the usually-steady Grant Balfour — who had not given up a run in his last 10 appearances — lost the game in the bottom of the ninth by giving up two hits and a sacrifice fly.
So after being on the verge multiple times of picking up the road split they needed in the silly 2-3 format Major League Baseball implemented for this postseason, the A’s let the opportunity get away from them.
And truly, it started with a veteran leader of the team, Crisp, lollygagging on the fly ball he should have caught.
“I saw it come off the heel of my glove, and I tried to grab again,” the A’s outfielder told the media after the game. “I even went for it barehanded, but I couldn’t get it.”
The drop was reminiscent of both Josh Hamilton’s dropped fly ball in Oakland last Wednesday, which enabled the A’s to win the AL West in the final day of the season, and also of Gold Glove outfielder Torii Hunter’s defensive gaffe in the 2006 ALDS — which also helped Oakland beat the Minnesota Twins that year. It was Game Two at the old Metrodome when Hunter let Mark Kotsay’s fly ball past him in center and staked the A’s to a 2-0 series lead they held, finally.
But all that means nothing now. There’s only one thing on the collective Oakland mind, right now, as manager Bob Melvin noted after the game.
“We just need to win a game,” said the favorite to win the AL Manager of the Year Award. “If you start thinking about three games ahead, you lose your focus on Tuesday’s game.”
On Tuesday, the A’s will have their own crowd’s energy behind them, finally, which they earned by winning six more games than the Tigers in the 2012 regular season — but weren’t allowed to enjoy in the opening games, thanks to MLB’s strange scheduling decision.
The crowd will be rocking at the Coliseum, as Brett Anderson hopes to return from his oblique injury to start — thus breaking a 16-game streak of starting rookie pitchers for Oakland. Hopefully, his presence on the mound can filter through the rest of the squad as things will probably be a bit tense, even for a team with so many first-time playoff participants.
The A’s will need every advantage they can get in Game Three, as their edge on the Tigers in the bullpen and seasonal performance in close games went out the window on Sunday.
And Oakland has now lost six straight postseason games, all to Detroit — dating back to the ALCS sweep the Tigers completed in 2006.
Time has come Tuesday, perhaps, to change that. Otherwise, it’s all over for this magical team in 2012.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.