After squandering leads, A's on verge of elimination

After squandering leads, A's on verge of elimination

After squandering leads, A's on verge of elimination
DETROIT -- Four leads in two games have churned out nothing more than two losses for the A's in the American League Division Series. One more defeat and their season is over, while three wins in as many games in their home park keep it alive.

If this script sounds familiar, it's because it is, and you can count on the A's studying it on their flight back to Oakland on Sunday night, following a 5-4 defeat to the Tigers, in an effort to repeat it.

It was exactly one week ago the A's were challenged to win three straight vs. the Rangers for the division title. They responded accordingly in accomplishing that task, exactly as they plan to do now while the doubters who didn't think they could do it the first time tell them they can't do it again.

"The best thing you can do is take the momentum right back," Cliff Pennington said. "We've done it all year, and I don't think there's any doubt we can do it again."

"We've got to go home and win three, and who would have thought we would have done that last week?" closer Grant Balfour asked. "We've seen some crazy things happen in the last week, and I still believe."

Balfour, he who loaded the bases in the ninth and allowed a walk-off sacrifice fly to Don Kelly, radiated of confidence, his head held high just like the rest of his teammates, despite an emotional day that included as many twists and turns as the ones that sprinkled a storybook season that got them to this point.

For that they can thank their manager, who essentially reiterated to reporters on Sunday what he told them last week, his ongoing one-day-at-a-time mantra still the key to wins that are still within reach. Clubs taking a 2-0 lead in the Division Series have won the series 38 out of 42 times.

"We just need to win a game," Bob Melvin said. "We need to go home and concentrate on Tuesday. If you start thinking about three games ahead, then you lose your focus on Tuesday's game."

Monday's workout day comes at a needed time, after a game that wasn't meant to result in a win for the A's, despite several previous opportunities suggesting otherwise.

For a second straight day at Comerica Park, Oakland reached the board first, courtesy of an RBI single in the third by Yoenis Cespedes against righty Doug Fister. The rookie's presence would again prove pivotal in the eighth, when he walked, stole two bases and scored the tying run on a wild pitch from Joaquin Benoit. Seconds later, Josh Reddick's solo shot gave the A's a lead 4-3 lead.

It wouldn't last long, though, as another wild pitch, this time from A's righty Ryan Cook, allowed Detroit to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning and maintain the last bit of momentum.

It's a heavy load of frustration these A's carry back to the Bay Area, and the weight will feel heavier for some more than others -- for Balfour, for Cook, for Coco Crisp.

The speedy Crisp ran in for a potential inning-ending shallow fly ball off the bat of Miguel Cabrera to uphold a one-run A's lead in the seventh, opening his glove waist-high for a basket catch he's made so many times before in center field. But the ball was never secured, as two runs scored with reliable lefty Sean Doolittle on the mound to erase Oakland's 2-1 lead that Pennington had provided in the seventh via an RBI single.

"I think I had a good read on it," Crisp said. "Obviously we're playing deep, we don't want any balls to get over our head at that moment, plus the guy's pretty strong, but I came in, and it was one of those judgment calls, try to catch it like that and try to slide into it, and it's just unfortunate I didn't make the catch. I feel like I should have made the catch. I'm better than that. I feel like everyone would feel that way. You've got to make that play."

"We have a one-run lead going into the seventh, our bullpen is well-rested, I really like our chances," Doolittle said. "Unfortunately it didn't quite go as we had planned it. But you almost expect a counter-blow from a team, especially like the Tigers, in the postseason. You're playing to get that momentum and keep it on your side, and it seems like the momentum keeps going back and forth, and that's a tribute to them. When we have it, they're fighting and clawing to get it back."

Oakland's misfortunes spoiled a tremendous showing from starter Tommy Milone, who limited Detroit to just one run on five hits with six strikeouts and one walk spanning six innings in his first career postseason appearance.

His duel with Fister, who gave up two runs and fanned eight in seven innings, ultimately amounted to a more widespread one between a pair of bullpens. One eventually had to wear the loss, a rare look for the usually domineering trio of Doolittle, Cook and Balfour that plans on leaving it behind in Detroit.

"The fact we were able to win out against the Rangers shows a lot about the character of this team and that we're going to be calling on that experience," Doolittle said.

"We're not going to stand here and act like we're beaten just because we lost the first two," Reddick added. "We're going to keep grinding on Tuesday, act like the winning ballclub that we are. We didn't get this far for nothing and just by chance, so we're going to go out there and keep being the Oakland team that were all year."

Jane Lee is a reporter for Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.