OAKLAND -- What appeared to be the end for the A's just might be the beginning.
These kids couldn't go down quietly, not without sharing with a national audience the emotionally driven, theatrical play that personified their entire season, a script written by castoffs and rookies that most of the nation is just now catching up on.
Wanting to extend a storybook campaign that against all odds resulted in their first postseason trip in six years, the A's reached into their back pockets late Wednesday night during Game 4 of the American League Division Series to discover, in the face of elimination, they're not yet out of miracles.
Closer Grant Balfour stood next to his teammates on the top step of the dugout, his club facing a two-run deficit heading into the ninth inning against Tigers closer Jose Valverde, his message clear: "No disrespect to anyone," he said, "but we're going to rock this guy's world tonight. We're going to turn him upside down. We're going to walk it off in A's fashion, because that's what we do."
That's what they did.
After Seth Smith hit a game-tying two-run double, Coco Crisp delivered a two-out game-winning RBI single off Valverde to seal a 4-3 victory to force a decisive Game 5.
An exuberant chorus of fans erupted at the Coliseum, as an incredible season -- begun on the other side of the world in Tokyo nearly eight months ago -- continued for at least one more night thanks to the club's 15th walk-off win of the year. Crisp, who insisted on re-signing with the A's last offseason, citing them as winners when everyone else laughed, is responsible for four of them.
"Once Coco got up, we knew we were going to win that game, no doubt in our minds," said Josh Reddick, who started the rally with a leadoff single, before Josh Donaldson followed with a double. "He's come through for us so many times in the bottom of the ninth. We had zero doubt in our minds that he was going to get a base hit."
It was Oakland's seventh postseason walk-off win and first since Ramon Hernandez laid down a bases-loaded squeeze bunt in the bottom of the 12th inning to propel the A's to a 5-4 win over the Red Sox in Game 1 of the 2003 ALDS.
Never has there been so much excitement, so much buzz and so much hope in Oakland since that year -- until now.
"The emotion these guys feel and what I feel, it's almost uncontainable right now," Donaldson said. "Obviously we don't ever want to be behind in the ninth, but we definitely feel confident in that situation. We've been there so many times. It is a little bit different situation with the season on the line, but that's just how we've been playing all year. We're not going to stop until they tell us we have to. I guarantee you we could go play another nine right now."
Game 4 appeared to be Detroit's from the start, the momentum gained by the A's from Tuesday night's needed victory proving to be of no significance at the beginning. Not to Max Scherzer, at least.
The righty, who led all AL pitchers with 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings during the regular season, tallied eight in 5 1/3 innings in his fifth career playoff appearance, as Oakland's starting nine combined for just one baserunner through the first four frames.
The A's got two baserunners in a scoreless fifth and three more in an eventful one-run sixth, when a pair of blunders proved to cancel each other out.
Prince Fielder's fielding error on a sharp grounder from Crisp allowed the center fielder to reach second, yet the Tigers got the out back soon after. Stephen Drew sent a double into the right-center-field gap and was waved all the way around to third only to be easily tagged at the bag. Though Crisp was home, there was no chance that Drew would be now, and the A's left the inning still down a run.
Meanwhile, rookie righty A.J. Griffin, who was making his first career postseason start, limited what could have been extended damage, holding the Tigers to two runs in five-plus innings, a monster of a solo shot to right field off the bat of Fielder accounting for half of that total.
Lefty reliever Sean Doolittle allowed a run in the eighth, Ryan Cook pitched a scoreless ninth, and as his teammates roared back in fitting fashion, Balfour refused to warm up for the 10th.
"Curt [Young] was saying to me, 'You gotta go down there and start throwing with one out. You gotta get loose, you gotta get ready,'" Balfour recalled. "I said, 'We're going to walk it off, don't worry about it.'"
"I don't know what to say. It just blew me away what they did right there. That's one of the most emotional games I've ever been a part of."