OAKLAND -- Its not magic, what the Oakland Athletics have done for six months, including Wednesday night in Game Four of this American League Division Series. Magic is a lazy way to describe what they do, and how they do it.
In fact, magic might actually demean them a bit. Even on a night in which they score three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to cheat the reaper and the Detroit Tigers, 4-3.
PRATT'S INSTANT REPLAY: We'll see you Thursday night
ESPECIALLY on a night like Wednesday.
At some point, its just got to be good baseball, designated hitter Seth Smith said after his two-run double off Tiger closer Jose Valverde tied the game and after Coco Crisps two-out single scored him with the winning run. Theres no magic recipe, or anything like that. We go out there and we play hard and carefree and get the job done. And thats how we go about it. Theres nothing going on in the clubhouse or anything crazy like that. We go out and play the game the way its supposed to be played.
Well, as often as they can, anyway. For five innings, they played the game the way Detroit starter Max Scherzer wanted it to be played, and in the sixth, they killed their own rally when third base coach Mike Gallego encouraged Stephen Drew to take third on an RBI double and ended up dramatically wrong by about ten feet, killing a budding rally and leaving Detroit ahead, 2-1.
That wasnt very magical.
But it was very baseball. Gallego was trying to force an issue and thought Drew had a better shot to beat Austin Jacksons throw than he actually did. Not a bad idea. Not a good play.
Still, the As, who have defibrillated themselves back to life more times than even TV hospital shows are allowed, came back from down 0-2 to tie this series not because of magic but because they did the hard things well when they needed to be done. They forced Scherzer out of the game after Drews double, making Detroit manager Jim Leyland coax 11 outs from his spotty bullpen. That was a very tough ask.
It got easier when Detroit scored off Sean Doolittle in the eighth, and easier still as Leyland navigated his way through appearances by Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Al "The Kissing Bandit" Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit, and was left with Valverde, his best, against Josh Reddick, Josh Donaldson and Smith, who were a combined 0-for-8 with five strikeouts.
Enter magic, in the guise of some very smart at-bats.
See thats the thing, manager Bob Melvin said. Its a magical season and all that, I guess, but those arent magical at-bats there. Im telling you these guys have smarter more aggressive at-bats than any team Ive ever managed. They know what they want to do, they have a plan, and they stick to the plan.
Reddick (single past second baseman Omar Infante), hes been struggling a little, but hes looking for a fastball he can do something with not hit it out, but put it in the big part of the park. Donaldson, hes clearly looking fastball and gets one right away that he can do something with, and its first and third. Smith, hes not trying to hit a home run either. He just wants to put it in play and gaps it . . . and Coco, well, right now, hes the guy I want in that situation as much as anybody for us.
And thats the thing about baseball. After 162 games, it isnt luck. As many times as weve done this, it isnt luck. You make your own luck.
And luck is another word for magic. And magic is a construct of the outworlders who hold to a story line that lost its validity a month ago.
Example: Smith came back from the interview room after the game, entered the clubhouse and took a hard left to go to the video room to look at his at-bats again. To see what he did, to see what Valverde did, and to see what he might have to do Thursday. No goat sacrifices, no pointy hats and wands, no eye-of-newt-and-wild-Brazilian-toad extract, no praying to graven idols. It was the work that got them all to this point.
But they know they will have to wrestle with the illusion of magic the rest of the way, whether it last one day or three more weeks. When one media member asked Crisp and Smith, Entering the ninth, knowing your history, is all of this on purpose? Were you guys trying to be down in the ninth?
Crisp tried to laugh, and said, I think so. What do you think? Definitely?
And Smith dropped his head a bit and said, Definitely. You nailed it.
So it goes. The As are stuck with magic, whether they like it or not, and the only way they lose it is to think that what they are doing is really magic after all.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com