The never-say-die Oakland Athletics try to become the fifth team to rally from an 0-2 hole and win a best-of-five American League Division Series on Thursday when they play a decisive fifth game against the Detroit Tigers at the Coliseum.
Oakland kept its season alive on Wednesday with a thrilling win, as Seth Smith tied the game with a two-run double and scored the winning run on Coco Crisp's two-out single, lifting the A's to a 4-3 triumph.
Jose Valverde (0-1) faltered when asked to deliver a knockout blow, giving up three consecutive hits to begin the ninth. Josh Reddick singled and Josh Donaldson doubled before Smith brought both men home with his line drive to center field.
"He probably didn't get the ball located where he wanted to," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said of Valverde. "The first hit was just out of the reach of (second baseman) Omar (Infante). They banged a couple after that obviously."
Valverde retired the next two batters, but Crisp grounded the first pitch he saw to right. Smith hustled around third and scored without a throw because Avisail Garcia couldn't field the ball cleanly.
"There are guys we feel good about, but I don't think there's anybody we feel better about in that situation than Coco," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin.
The A's are no strangers to thrilling finishes. After all, they paced the majors with 14 walk-off wins during the regular season. They have also won eight in a row at home.
Should they win on Thursday, the A's would join the Seattle Mariners (1995), the Boston Red Sox (1999, 2003) and the New York Yankees (2001) to rally from such a deficit. They could also join the San Francisco Giants, who have also rallied from two down to force a Game 5, which will be played earlier in the day on Thursday.
Oakland, which hasn't advanced to the ALCS since losing to Detroit in 2006, was on the wrong end of 0-2 comebacks to the Yankees 11 years ago and to the BoSox in '03.
The odds are certainly not in the A's favor on Thursday, as they go up against perhaps the best pitcher in the American League in righty Justin Verlander, who was terrific in his Game 1 win. Verlander surrendered just an unearned run and three hits in that one and struck out 11 in seven innings of work.
"I'm going to try to treat it like just another start, kind of like the last start, as much as I can," said Verlander, who was 17-8 this past year with a 2.64 ERA and a league-best 239 strikeouts. "Obviously, it's a big game for us. This team has been resilient and we allowed ourselves to be in this position.
"We won the first two games at home. You know it's not easy to play here. We put ourselves in position where we need to win just one. Whatever game that is it doesn't matter. So hopefully it's the fifth one."
Verlander has allowed just three earned runs over his last 35 innings, spanning five starts.
"Obviously, it's win or go home," Verlander said. "But I'm not going to try to do anything more than I've done all year."
Oakland, meanwhile, will turn to rookie Jarrod Parker, who was outdueled by Verlander in Saturday's Game 1. Parker gave up three runs (2 earned) and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings and was charged with the loss in his first-ever postseason start.
"I think any time you get experience your first time in the postseason, now all of a sudden the next time out you know what to expect and know you can handle it," Melvin said. "His season as a whole, you've seen him get better and better and better and handle some things. Whether it's getting a few guys on base and getting his pitch count up earlier in games, being able to combat that and work past that, you know, as the season goes along, he's just gotten better and better."
Parker was 13-8 on the year with a 3.47 ERA.
"One thing we're doing really well right now is preparing each and every day like it's our last, just taking it one at a time," Parker said.
There have been 30 decisive Game 5s and home teams have gone 15-15 in those contests. Also, road teams are 10-7 in Division Series Game 5s (both leagues combined) since baseball went to the eight-team playoff format in 1995.
Of the last 11 opening-round series to go to a Game 5, the home team has won only two of those contests
Detroit, which is aiming for its second straight trip to the ALCS, won four of its seven regular season matchups with the A's, most recently taking two of three from them in mid-September, and outscored them 18-4 in winning the first two games.
These teams have met twice in the postseason. In addition to the 2006 series, the A's beat the Tigers in five games of the 1972 ALCS which started a run of three consecutive world titles.