The 2012 Oakland Athletics may be a team full of rookies, but in Game Three of the American League Division Series between the A’s and the Detroit Tigers, it was the veteran players who stepped up to save Oakland’s season and keep the magic at the O.co Coliseum alive — for at least one more day.
Behind Brett Anderson’s six innings of shutout baseball and Coco Crisp’s two-way efforts, the A’s beat the Tigers, 2-0, to close the gap in the best-of-five series. Now down 2-1 in the series, Oakland will host Game Four tomorrow night looking for a comparable result.
Anderson, returning after 20 days out with an oblique injury, demonstrated why the Oakland organization gave him a huge contract extension early in his second season a few years ago, and even after undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer, the 24-year old lefty has come back strong — and proved it tonight.
He only threw 45 of his 80 pitches for strikes, but Anderson kept the Tigers’ potent offense off-balance all night: he gave up only four base runners in six innings, and the Oakland ace also struck out six Detroit hitters along the way.
Of course, Anderson got some amazing help from his veteran center fielder. Crisp robbed Prince Fielder of a home run in the second inning, by reaching over the outfield wall to snag the ball. Considering his two-run blunder in Game Two, it was a nice moment for Crisp to redeem himself in front of the hometown fans.
The A’s veteran lead-off hitter also scored the game’s first run, when he singled in the first inning and scored on Yoenis Cespedes’ single. Oakland also got a second run off Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez when another veteran — designated hitter Seth Smith — homered in the fifth inning.
It was all the offense Oakland would need tonight, as the bullpen ably supported Anderson this time around.
Both Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle had rough innings in Game Two, giving up runs and leads in Detroit. But tonight, they were electric — especially Doolittle. The rookies struck out four batters in their two combined innings, and by the time veteran closer Grant Balfour took the mound in the ninth inning to save the game, the crowd of 37,090 — well over capacity, by the way — was rocking out to the Aussie’s entrance song.
Balfour did give up a harmless single to Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, but Fielder’s rough night continued when he grounded into a game-ending double play. The big first baseman was also robbed of a hit leading off the seventh inning against Cook when Cespedes made a diving catch in left field.
Overall, this was a pitcher’s duel, somewhat like Game One of the series, when Detroit’s Justin Verlander outdueled Oakland’s Jarrod Parker in a 3-1 win.
And considering the A’s had a Game Two victory in their sights, they could easily have been focusing on closing out the series tomorrow night. But that’s water under the proverbial bridge now, and Oakland just has to focus on beating the Detroit one game at a time.
If the A’s and their fans have anything to do with that possibility, you can be sure the Coliseum will be rocking once again on Wednesday evening: it’ll be rookie A.J. Griffin (7-1, 3.06) for Oakland against Detroit’s Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74, 231 Ks).
Tonight, the Oakland lineup only struck out four times, after striking out 23 times in the first two games in Detroit. The A’s also didn’t make any errors on Tuesday or hand the Tigers any free runs as a result.
So for the A’s to win on Wednesday, there’s an obvious recipe: don’t strike out so much, and don’t make any errors.
Perhaps then, the veterans can once again lead the rookies to a win in Game Four.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.