October 5, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54, right) talks to manager Bob Melvin (6, left) after the eighth inning in game two of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at O.co Coliseum. The Athletics defeated the Tigers 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

ALDS Game 5 Musings: Reasons for Extreme Optimism

The wounds from the Athletics game 4 collapse are still fresh.  For many A’s fans it almost felt as if the team already lost the series, it was a rough loss.  But despite our beliefs to the contrary, this is not the end, and the final result is not a foregone conclusion.

I know I’m not known as the resident Athletics optimist, but in a position like this one needs to find reasons to feel good about a winner-take-all game like this otherwise they risk losing their minds.  As the A’s announced this afternoon, Sonny Gray is going to take the mound once again, putting into place a rematch of the incredible game 2 matchup we all witnessed last Saturday between the young right hander and the mighty Justin Verlander.  Verlander proved that he was able to flip the switch and take his game to a different level in the playoffs compared to his performance during the regular season.  But, the A’s managed to battle through his dominance and emerge victorious, in an effort that showed just how tough this team really is.

The A’s have endured their share of brutal losses this year, a number of games they should have won which they didn’t.  Each time they bounced back even stronger than before.

  • The first two games of the season, the A’s scored all of one run, with three hits in each game versus the Seattle Mariners.  It looked bleak from the get-go, but the A’s erupted in the third game and started an eight game winning streak that set themselves up for the rest of the season.
  • They suffered quite a swoon after the 19 inning war of attrition with the Los Angeles Angels, a game they did actually win.  But that victory took its toll, the A’s went 5-10 in their next 15 games and looked to be on the outside looking in for the division race.  They went on to sweep the Kansas City Royals, starting on Bacon Friday, and started off an 18-3 that put them in the race for good.
  • A tough 2-5 road trip in mid-June through Texas and Seattle tested the A’s as they entered the summer, they responded by going 6-2 on the following home stand against the Reds, Cardinals, and Cubs, and went 4-2 through Pittsburgh and Kansas City on their next road trip.
  • Grant Balfour‘s consecutive saves streak ended on July 23rd against the Houston Astros, a Matt Dominguez home run tied the game, and the Astros would ultimately walk off against the A’s for their first win vs. Oakland all year.  The A’s blew a sure win, but came back to win the rubber match to take the series and took 3 of 4 from the Angels at home following that loss.
  • We all remember Balfour’s other blown save, given a three run cushion in Detroit against these very Tigers, Balfour loaded up the bases and proceeded to allow a Torii Hunter walk off grand slam to shock the A’s and deny them a four game sweep at Comerica Park.  The A’s responded by sweeping the Rays at home, and taking series from both the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros for a 7-2 home stand following that loss.
  • We all know how tough Josh Willingham has been against his former team, and he struck again in the first game between the A’s and Twins at Target Field.  He launched his second homer of the game in the bottom of the eighth inning against Ryan Cook to enable the Twins to steal the victory.  The A’s retaliated by pounding the Twins into submission 18-3 the next night, and would take the series as well.  They went on to Texas to sweep the Rangers and all but seal the AL West title.

This team has had its share of obstacles this year as these examples illustrate, but they always fight back, and they always come out on top.  There’s no reason to think they can’t do it again tomorrow.

The Tigers have been responsible for the last two exits from the postseason for the A’s, everyone knows that.  It may seem like there’s nothing the A’s can do to get past the Tigers, but history shows that eventually you can overcome those postseason obstacles.  I remember quite fondly talking trash to a friend of mine who was a diehard Angels fan because every time they made the playoffs, the Boston Red Sox would sweep them away without batting an eyelash.  Three straight times the Angels lost in the first round to the Red Sox (2004, 2007, 2008), and they only won one game over that span.  When they matched up against the Red Sox in 2009 Angels fans had to be dreading the worst.  But the Angels finally got over the hump and returned the favor, sweeping the Red Sox in the ALDS.  If the Angels can do it, the A’s can do it.

Sonny Gray pitched his butt off on Saturday, and my gut tells me he won’t have to repeat his performance tomorrow for the A’s to win again.  While the A’s were shutout for seven innings on Saturday, it wasn’t too long ago that they tagged him for 5 runs and made him throw more pitches in an inning than he had in any inning all season (44 in the first inning that day).  The A’s have to remind themselves that Justin Verlander is human.  He isn’t a machine, and he can be beaten.    Game 5 cannot come fast enough.

 

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