Commentary

Athletics won't walk away

Ninth-inning comeback sets up a Game 5 showdown against Detroit

Updated: October 11, 2012, 4:00 AM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

OAKLAND -- The preferred nomenclature is walk-off victory, but that doesn't really describe it very accurately.

Oh, the losing team trudges slowly off the field as if on the way to the dentist for a root canal, the IRS for an audit or a spouse after a forgotten anniversary. But the winners? The winners race onto the field as if they were on the Jamaican track team. These are run-on victories, where the winning team rushes the latest hitting hero as if a major electronics store just opened its doors the day a new Apple device hit the market.

There is no walking off for the winners. It is all frantic, joyous and occasionally dangerous running-on. Ask Oakland right fielder Josh Reddick, who received a slight cut under his right eyebrow when the Athletics swarmed Coco Crisp following his game-winning single in the ninth inning of Wednesday night's 4-3 come-from-behind, last-gasp, Can-You-Believe-This?!?! Game 4 victory over the Tigers.

"It probably happened when I got trampled down in the celebration," Reddick said. "There were a few of us. Cliff Pennington and Ryan Cook and Josh Donaldson and I were the four that got knocked down somehow. I remember getting my toe stepped on and my elbow scraped up a little bit, but it's well worth it. I don't mind a battle wound here and there."

The scar won't last long at all, but the memory will endure.

[+] EnlargeCoco Crisp
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesCoco Crisp's ninth-inning single to right field kicked off yet another wild A's celebration.

Down to the possible last inning of an incredible season, the Athletics rallied for three runs in the ninth against Detroit closer Jose Valverde. After Crisp singled to right to score Seth Smith from second, the Athletics leaped out of the dugout and raced to first base as if a Walmart had just opened on Black Friday. They smashed a whipped-cream pie in his face. They dumped a bucket of ice water on him. They did everything but slap Crisp into a convertible and drive him through downtown for a ticker-tape parade.

Maybe they will do that Thursday night, though. If they win, of course. Which will definitely not be easy given they will face reigning (and possible repeat) Cy Young winner Justin Verlander.

"I'm going to try treat it like another start, kind of like Game 1, as much as I can," said Verlander, who held the Athletics to one run and won the series opener in Detroit. "Obviously it's a big game for us. But like I said, this team's been resilient and we allowed ourselves to be in this position."

The Athletics, meanwhile, counter with Jarrod Parker, just one more of Oakland's endless team of rookies. Rookie starters spill out of the Oakland dugout like clowns from a circus car.

Not to suggest that he is amped up for this game, but Parker was holding a pair of boxing gloves by his locker as he got ready to leave Wednesday night. OK, Parker said they were a souvenir signed by middleweight champ Andre Ward, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch. But still. It's a good sign for Oakland fans that their starter is ready to rumble in Game 5 with the season on the line. Again.

The improbable Athletics (who were in last place in June and 13 games back on July 1) swept the Rangers the final series of the season to win the AL West title, only to open the division series in Detroit, where they lost both games. But they shut out the Tigers in Game 3 here Tuesday, then came back to win Game 3 behind a good start by rookie A.J. Griffin (two runs in five-plus innings) and their spirited ninth-inning rally.

Closer Grant Balfour set the tone for that rally by firing up the team in the dugout.

"I didn't mean any disrespect but I said, 'We're going to rock this guy's world,'" Balfour said of Valverde. "'We're going to walk it off in A's fashion because that's what we do. Believe it. Believe it. See yourselves running on the field. Every one of you. See yourself running onto the field with a walk-off victory.'"

Well, there you go again. Balfour should have said "run-on victory." Far more accurate a term. But oh well. It didn't matter. The Athletics responded anyway. Reddick led off with a single, Donaldson doubled him to third and Smith doubled both home to tie it. Two outs later, Crisp singled and then the run-on celebration began.

The single was Crisp's fourth game-winning (or run-on) hit of the year and the 15th for the Athletics, who have become so accustomed to such victories that they replaced the usual shaving-cream pies with whipped-cream pies.

"We've advanced it," Crisp said. "Shaving cream burns the eyes and at some point we needed to maneuver that because we were getting a few walk-offs and we needed our hitters to be capable of hitting the next day. The ice is obviously cold, but it's a great cold. It's a great feeling."

It will be an even better feeling after winning Game 5. The question is which team will be the one walking off to begin winter and which one will be running on to celebrate reaching the ALCS.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com