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Resilient A's face their biggest challenge yet

Resilient A's face their biggest challenge yet

Resilient A's face their biggest challenge yet
OAKLAND -- Jonny Gomes wants to let you in on a secret.

The 32-year-old ringleader of an otherwise youthful A's clubhouse, he who is tattooed, goateed and at the plate a force of fright -- he who was occasionally homeless as a child, lived through a car accident that took his best friend's life at age 16 and had a heart attack at 22 -- is panicking.

His team quickly down 0-2 in the American League Division Series following a pair of close games in Detroit, the seemingly indestructible and buoyant Gomes -- one of just eight players on the roster with postseason experience -- has returned home to the confines of the Coliseum in a state that's rather foreign to his teammates.

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"These guys don't really have panic in their vocabulary," Gomes said Monday. "Me, as the veteran, I've probably panicked the most. But I've been quiet about it. None of these guys are thinking it. I guess I'm the odd man out."

A's vs. Tigers

Gomes wants to be clear, though. This fear, this trepidation, does not stem from a lack of confidence in his teammates, nothing to do with "offense, defense or pitching," he insists.

"This has been a fun, remarkable season," Gomes said. "I just don't want it to end. That's my panic."

It's not over yet, and that's the message the A's were sending before their Monday workout, on the eve of a potentially eliminating Game 3.

In Division Series history, just four of 42 teams that have trailed 0-2 in a best-of-five Division Series have managed to stage a comeback and win it, and not since 2003, when the Red Sox, coincidentally, overcame a two-game deficit to the A's. The Yankees did the same against Oakland two years prior.

Just six of the 42 have even forced a Game 5, while 27 of them have gone on to be swept. The A's, it seems, have come too far to fall victim to the latter scenario.

"Don't get me wrong, I'd like to be two games up right now," A's closer Grant Balfour said. "Who wouldn't, right? But we are where we are. We've been the underdogs all year and nobody's believed in us. It'll just make for a better story, I guess."

Through the course of the 162-game regular season, the A's, like the Tigers, lost three straight games eight times, but won as many in a row a dozen times, their wild campaign culminating with six straight victories, the last three over the Rangers to capture the division crown.

Surely they know how to produce a dramatic ending, now it's just a matter of doing it again, against a vulnerable road team in the Tigers, who went 38-43 away from Comerica Park.

"There have definitely been peaks and valleys, and we've been pressure tested," Gomes said. "With that being said, we haven't had our backs against the wall before. We've never had a lose-or-go-home situation. To be completely honest, I don't think that that's going to change anything. I really don't."

For months, the A's have admitted to perhaps being too young and too naive to really make sense of the uniqueness of their second-half plow through the standings; of their creation of one of the most improbable stories in baseball.

They went 51-25 in that time. Since their nine-game losing streak ended June 2, they were 72-38. In essence, they've seen greater deficits than the one they're currently staring down, just not one of the same magnitude.

"It's not uncharted territory for us," reliever Ryan Cook said. "We all know what we gotta do. There's no reason to come in here with a panic, there's no reason to worry. One pitch here, one pitch there, both of those first two games are completely different, but that's out of our minds. What we're thinking about is tomorrow and whatever we gotta do to get a victory."

"Obviously we'd like to be in a different position, but we know we have one game on Tuesday, and we gotta win Tuesday," second baseman Cliff Pennington said. "Then we can worry about Wednesday. That's the mentality we've had all year, since the first day of Spring Training, and we get to see if it really holds true this series."

The resilient A's, just as calm as ever on Monday, will use a sellout home crowd to their advantage, as they did when they turned around the Rangers' fate last week. Many of those fans, clearly not discouraged, but rather hopeful in these A's, showed up at the Oakland Airport on Monday evening to welcome their arrival from the Motor City.

The A's now feel a sense of responsibility to return the favor, to snap a six-game postseason losing streak dating back to the 2006 AL Championship Series against none other than the Tigers.

"The fans have been incredible," Cook said. "There's no doubt about it, after what we've been through as a team, they deserve to see as many games as possible. How much they've helped us this year, they deserve everything. I'll tell you one thing: they're going to get 110 percent, that's for sure. I think that's what every single one of us has been about all year, leaving it out there."

"We know we can play with this team," Brandon McCarthy said. "Everything's there. We just need a few more things to go our way, and hopefully just being at home will take care of that. We do that three more times, and hopefully we're right back to where we want to be."

In for the save on Tuesday will be a starter. Lefty Brett Anderson, the most veteran of Oakland's baby-faced staff at age 24, is set to take the mound following a three-week injury layoff. This, after the rookie duo of Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone combined to allow just three earned runs in 12 1/3 innings in the pair of disappointing losses.

"This series is kind of like a microcosm of our season," Anderson said. "You've got two rookies and a guy that's been hurt 90 percent of the season. This team has handled adversity better than any team I've seen, so you wouldn't expect anything less."

"This team has done an unbelievable job -- probably the best I've ever been one -- of after a loss or a win, leaving these double doors and coming back in the next day through those doors with a clean slate," Gomes said.

As he was on Saturday and Sunday, the right handed-hitting Gomes is likely to be stationed on the sidelines as a cheerleader on Tuesday, as the Tigers throw out a third straight right-hander in Anibal Sanchez. He'll raise his voice, clap his hands and pump his fists. And, silently, he'll panic.

"How good is a filet Mignon steak if you've never had one?" Gomes asked. "These guys haven't won or lost, so they don't know how awesome or how tough it's going to be. They'll find out in the end, and hopefully we'll be in a parade. But if not, these guys have grown miles and miles from the start of the season."

Their travels, they believe, are far from complete.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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