OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics will play another day in this improbable season full of remarkable rallies.
These A’s never count themselves out — down and doubted is their dogma.
Brett Anderson outdueled fellow postseason first-timer Anibal Sanchez and the upstart Athletics showed off stellar defense all over the diamond, avoiding another playoff sweep by Detroit by beating the Tigers 2-0 Tuesday night in their AL division series.
The A’s cut their deficit in the best-of-five matchup to 2-1.
Coco Crisp, whose misplay dearly cost Oakland in Game 2, saved a likely home run by Prince Fielder with a leaping catch at the top of the center-field wall in the second inning.
“You see him hit it and you just kind of put your head down a little bit because you think you just gave up a homer,” Anderson said. “Then you see him plow through there and catch the ball and it kind of kick starts you to go out there and make pitches.”
Yoenis Cespedes hit an RBI single in the first inning and Seth Smith homered in the fifth. That was plenty on a night Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, Fielder and the Tigers’ high-priced offense were shut down by the low-budget A’s.
Tigers 16-game winner Max Scherzer will try to close out the series in Game 4 Wednesday night against A’s rookie A.J. Griffin. Detroit swept the A’s in the 2006 AL championship series.
Fielder was the biggest victim of Oakland’s spot-on defense, robbed three times. First by Crisp, Oakland’s most experienced player whose blunder on Cabrera’s fly allowed two runs to score in a 5-4 loss Sunday in Detroit.
“Not to be all over-confident or anything, I think I’m going to catch everything out there,” Crisp said. “Obviously it doesn’t happen that way — duh Detroit, right?”
Crisp let out a big “Whoo!” after raising his arm to signal he’d made the grab.
“Coco’s catch, the ball was out of the ballpark and it came back,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “The key to that play was he was playing deep and that enabled him to get into a spot to get up and make the catch. And it was a great catch, no doubt about it.”
A’s shortstop Stephen Drew made a tough play running to his left to stop Fielder’s grounder in the fourth and then threw to first while still off balance and in motion.
Then, in the seventh, Cespedes cut over to make a diving catch on Fielder’s liner to left field.
That delighted the yellow towel-waving sellout crowd of 37,090 in this blue-collar city.
“It’s frustrating. But it’s a good team you’re playing,” Fielder said. “They’re going to make those plays, that’s why they’re here.”
After Cabrera singled with one out in the ninth, Fielder grounded into a game-ending double play.
The A’s own the lowest payroll in baseball at $59.5 million. Fielder is getting big money in Motown: $214 million over nine years.
Anderson, back on the mound for the first time since straining a muscle in his right side Sept. 19 at Detroit, worked quickly and showed no signs of a layoff or jitters in his first postseason start.
That’s just not the way the A’s have operated this year.
Last week, Oakland entered its final three-game series of the regular season needing to sweep the two-time reigning AL champion Rangers to capture the AL West — and the A’s did it, sending a stunned Texas team to the one-game wild card, which it lost to Baltimore.
A club with a majors-best 14 walkoff wins and countless whipped cream pie celebrations snapped the longest postseason skid in franchise history at six games. All of those against the Tigers, too.
The Tigers are trying to reach second straight AL championship series after losing last year’s ALCS in six games to the Rangers.
Detroit captured the AL Central in Oakland last year and is hoping for another clinching party as soon as possible.
Anderson did his job to delay it.
He insisted he was healthy and ready to go — and manager Bob Melvin took his pitcher at his word and gave him a shot in his biggest start yet. Anderson had shown plenty when he returned in August following a 14-month absence recovering from elbow-ligament replacement surgery and made six impressive starts.
Not feeling quite 100 percent, he allowed two hits, struck out six and walked two in six innings. He was on a pitch count of 80 and was done at exactly that, though was never told about it beforehand.
“I don’t know how you could expect more than we got out of him tonight,” Melvin said.
Next, the reliable bullpen took over.
Ryan Cook pitched the seventh, Sean Doolittle struck out the side in order in the eighth and closer Grant Balfour finished the four-hitter for a save. The A’s staff pitched the 11th postseason shutout by the franchise, while the Tigers were blanked for the 13th time in the postseason.
The A’s had lost five straight while facing elimination in the postseason, one shy of the longest active streak by the Twins.
But this group has defied expectations ever since the first full workout at spring training back in February when the A’s lost third baseman Scott Sizemore to a season-ending knee injury. Opening day starter Brandon McCarthy took a line drive to the head Sept. 5 and needed brain surgery. Starter Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games in August for a positive testosterone test.
Oakland became the first team in major league history to win the division or pennant after trailing by five or more games with fewer than 10 to go. The A’s were five back of the Rangers with nine left, then won their final six all at home with sweeps of Seattle and Texas.
Smith hit a towering drive to the deepest part of center field in the fifth for yet another timely home run for the A’s, whose 112 longballs after the All-Star break led the majors.
“That’s how you win postseason baseball games, with pitching and defense and timely hitting,” Smith said. “We had that. We got two runs and that’s all we needed. Anderson was great and our defense was, too.”
Sanchez gave up five hits and two runs in 6 1-3 innings, struck out three and walked two.
NOTES: Smith hit his first postseason homer and third lifetime against Sanchez in 15 at-bats. … At 24 years, 251 days, Anderson became the fifth-youngest pitcher in Oakland history to make his first career postseason start. … Both Bay Area teams avoided elimination after the NL West champion San Francisco Giants won at Cincinnati earlier in the night. … Oakland sold out for the eighth time this year and second straight — the regular-season finale vs. Texas drew 36,067 — including 1,000 standing-room only tickets and extra suite sales. It was the biggest crowd at the Coliseum since drawing 43,974 against the Yankees on Sept. 4, 2005, before the upper decks were tarped.