OAKLAND, Calif. — They’ve been here before, three outs away from a loss and little or no reasonable chance of winning. It has happened so often to the A’s this season that the feeling is something they know well.
But if there’s a resilient team in baseball, it’s them. The A’s are down but never out; they’re perpetually on the brink but never quite pushed over the edge. They get 27 outs and they use every one of them.
This season, they had 14 walk-off wins. Wednesday night, they added a 15th. Just as the Detroit Tigers were preparing to celebrate a clinching victory in the American League Division Series, the A’s ripped it away.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth, the A’s scored three runs — two on a double by Seth Smith and the game-winner on a single by Coco Crisp — for a 4-3 win that sends the series to a decisive fifth game, also in Oakland.
“You know what? We’ve done it too many times to feel like we weren’t going to win,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Then we get the first guy on (base) and we feel like, here we go again. We just don’t feel like it’s going to end for us.”
It will end for one team Thursday night. The A’s will face Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who beat them in Game 1 and was 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA against them this season. On a list of least-favorite opposing pitchers, Verlander would rank right up there.
But the A’s have played all season with a “what, me worry?” attitude, so they’re unlikely to flinch when they see Verlander take the mound. In a sense, this is all gravy.
“We’re going to go out and just give it 100 percent,” Crisp said. “That’s been our mentality the whole year. I don’t think we should change anything — just keep it loose, have fun and give it 100 percent. Whatever the results are going to be, win or lose, I think we can live with ourselves.”
It was Crisp who delivered the final hit, a two-out single to right that Detroit’s Avisail Garcia bobbled in his glove. It’s doubtful Garcia would have had a play at the plate on Smith, who was racing home from second base, but any chance he could have had dissolved in that moment.
The Tigers had their closer, Jose Valverde, in the game, but it didn’t appear he had his best stuff. Josh Reddick singled through the right side, past second baseman Omar Infante, and Josh Donaldson lined a double to the gap in left-center, putting two runners on base with no outs.
“They basically charged him and hit him,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Valverde, who had 35 saves this season. “He probably didn’t get the ball located where he wanted to. That pretty much sums it up.”
Smith, who struck out twice earlier in the game, drove a fastball to right-center that brought home Reddick and Donaldson, tying the game at 3-3. But pinch-hitter George Kottaras fouled out and Cliff Pennington struck out, and it began to feel like extra innings.
But Crisp, who had three walk-off hits during the regular season, delivered the decisive blow, pulling an 83-mph splitter to right.
Valverde called it the lowest moment of his big-league career, but he insisted he had his good stuff. He had no complaints.
“I throw my sinker, my split,” he said. Then, half-shrugging, he added, “You have to give credit to the other team. There’s nothing you can do. I have everything. Those guys hit it.”
Now it feels like something more, like kismet. The A’s were down to their last turns at bat, but they retained a sense of confidence. Reliever Grant Balfour walked up and down the dugout imploring his teammates to stay positive.
“Balf was pumping everybody up, telling everybody to visualize it in your head, running out there and celebrating like we did on the field,” starter A.J. Griffin recalled. “It came to fruition, and we’re just pumped to go out there tomorrow and play some more baseball.”
Outside, a sellout crowd at Oakland Coliseum screamed at deafening levels. In their clubhouse, the players cranked up the music and shouted with glee. On the field, Crisp was doused with Gatorade and hit in the face with a plate of whipped cream.
It felt right. It felt like they’ve been here before.