OAKLAND, Calif. — There wasn’t a champagne bottle in sight Tuesday night, not in the Detroit Tigers clubhouse. They may have come here intending to celebrate, to pop a few corks and douse each other with bubbly, but it will have to wait.
The question is, for how long? The Oakland A’s have done the unexpected this season, but can they now pull off the improbable? Can they come from two games down in a best-of-5 series against the Tigers?
They aren’t looking at it that way. They are doing what they always have, living in the moment and refusing to think too far ahead. But after a 2-0 win in a raucous Oakland Coliseum, they must believe anything is possible.
“We’re just trying to take it one game at a time,” outfielder Coco Crisp said. “Today was a big win for us. We’re going to sleep on it. We’re not going to get too high, we definitely didn’t get too low, and that’s been our mentality the whole year.”
It has served them well. The Tigers may still win this series, perhaps Wednesday to avoid a fifth game, but the A’s proved they’re not going to succumb easily.
This is a team that came from five games back with nine to play to sweep the Texas Rangers for the AL West title. It’s a team devoid of major stars, but its roster of rookies and no-name veterans had the best record in the majors (72-38) after June 2.
“We knew they weren’t going to roll over,” Tigers catcher Gerald Laird said. “We knew they were going to come out and play tough.”
The A’s did. Left-hander Brett Anderson threw a two-hit shutout over six innings. Crisp stole a home run from Prince Fielder with a leaping catch at the wall in the second, and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes took another hit away from Fielder with a diving catch in the seventh. Designated hitter Seth Smith, 0 for 6 in the series, hit a towering homer to center field in the fifth.
Everything the A’s couldn’t do in the first two games they did in Game 3. They were fast and loose, as always, even with so much pressure on them.
“We had a lot of fun earlier before we went out” to play, manager Bob Melvin said. “The group was like they always are; that’s something we encourage. And during batting practice, the same way. I think there was a good feeling about that.”
They were also lifted by a sellout crowd of 37,090 that waved towels, booed the Tigers during pregame introductions and pushed the decibel level to something you’d hear at a rock concert.
“They came out in full force from the get-go and got jacked up and the adrenalin (was) flowing,” Anderson said. “The fans kept us in it the whole game.”
Crisp was a force, too, chasing down Fielder’s soaring fly ball and jumping at the wall to bring back a home run. While it didn’t remove the memory of the fly ball he dropped Sunday in Detroit, it was undeniably a confidence builder.
“To be able to make a play like that definitely resets you mentally,” he said. “Obviously, it doesn’t erase what happened in the previous game, but it definitely builds your confidence back up, and I’m grateful I was able to come up with that.”
So was Anderson, who struggled briefly in the second inning but retired 12 of the last 14 batters he faced.
This is a pitcher who started just six times all season. He underwent Tommy John surgery on his left elbow in June 2011, returned in August, then suffered a right oblique strain Sept. 19. Basically, he couldn’t stay healthy.
“We always feel good about him when he takes the mound,” Melvin said. “We monitored him closely as far as his bullpen (sessions) went. I don’t know how you could expect more than we got out of him tonight.”
The Tigers got an effective performance from their starter, Anibal Sanchez, who pitched into the seventh inning but took the loss. Now they’re facing a critical fourth game that they must win or risk taking the series to its final game.
“We want to win tomorrow, and that’s where our focus is at,” left fielder Andy Dirks said. “We’re not even worried about the next game or the next game or the next game. That’s how you are the whole season. It’s always the game in front of you. That’s how we’re looking at it right now.”
And the A’s — well, they believe that maybe the momentum has shifted in their favor. They’ve come from behind once, they can do it again.
“Being back home in this stadium, with our fans, we’re feeling really good about going into tomorrow,” reliever Sean Doolittle said.
Maybe they should. If not, the Tigers have their champagne ready.