The A’s are right back where they have been the past two years, facing a true elimination game in the A.L. Wild-Card round. The context surrounding Thursday’s affair is totally different, without recent playoff failures shrouding a mere nine innings.
This isn’t a one-game playoff. This is the grudge match of a three-game series. And the A’s are coming off a playoff win.
That might seem like a small feat. Not around here. Not after you absorb one simple fact about Wednesday’s 5-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox. It’s the A's first since Oct. 7, 2013, when they took a 2-1 series lead and then fell apart in a five-gamer against Detroit. It has been all heartbreak since, unraveling against the Tigers that year and losing three straight Wild-Card games.
“This is my first playoff win,” shortstop Marcus Semien said. "It’s Matt Olson’s first playoff win. It’s the first playoff win for a lot of us, and it feels good. We’re hungry for more.” This was nearly a quintessential A’s win. They got a quality start, big bombs from big stars and a stellar defensive play before an excellent bullpen closed things out. That sequence of success, as described, ignores Liam Hendriks being unable to locate an elite slider and Jake Diekman walking in a ninth-inning run.
Those major events surely will be re-hashed leading into Thursday’s series finale at Oakland Coliseum, but they matter far less than the end result. The A’s won, and they got a little mojo back. Avoiding late-inning drama might have increased their confidence moving forward, but the A’s took a ton from Game 2 that they can carry on to a true do-or-die proceeding.
The offense got rolling behind Olson, Semien and Khris Davis after struggling in the series opener. Chris Bassitt was dominant after Jesus Luzardo made too many mistakes for a tight game. A’s defense came through in the clutch as it often does, with Mark Canha making an unreal catch in left field that saved two runs and maybe the game.
Snapping a postseason losing streak is the most important, and that impacted the post game locker room’s mood.
“I mean, we knew the numbers,” Bassitt said. “I feel like the monkey’s off our back, and now we can just play baseball from here on out. We’re excited, obviously, relieved if anything.”
The A’s would certainly be relieved to see Hendriks’ command come back. Manager Bob Melvin said he’ll be available after throwing 49(!!!) pitches Wednesday, and we’ll likely know in a high-leverage situation. There’s no reason to worry about Diekman. He made an unplanned appearance and walked in a run, but then came right back and got MVP favorite Jose Abreu to ground out with the game on the line.
The A's won’t go into Thursday’s elimination cold, thinking only about postseasons past. They’ll feel good after playing their brand of baseball in a positive result, trying to replicate that success one more time. And, as if they need any more motivation, the rival Houston Astros are waiting for Thursday’s victor in the divisional round. Hendriks has already said it. The A’s would love to knock them out of the playoffs. They only get that shot by beating the White Sox with everything on the line.
“Anything can happen,” Semien said. “It’s just like Game 7. We just want to have a good plan against whoever we face.”