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Griffin's rise leads to A's biggest game yet

Griffin's rise leads to A's biggest game yet

Griffin's rise leads to A's biggest game yet
OAKLAND -- Two years ago in June, A.J. Griffin was drafted in the 13th round out of the University of San Diego. A year ago in September, Griffin was pitching in the Class A California League playoffs. In March, he wasn't even in Major League camp.

On Wednesday, he'll be on the mound under the glare of the October spotlight.

A's vs. Tigers

That's quite a ride to the pinnacle in a short time, but the A's are obviously comfortable putting the 24-year-old rookie in an elimination situation for Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers.

And Griffin is comfortable taking the ball for his team's most important start of the year, even if it might have been unfathomable a year ago that he'd be in that position.

"I didn't have a press conference this time last year like this or anything," Griffin said. "But I just try to go out there and just have fun and be loose, not put too much pressure on yourself. It's still a game. You go out there and just try to enjoy it."

Based on his performance since being called up in June, Griffin isn't fazed by a whole lot, although this will put that demeanor to its stiffest test.

Tale of the Tape: Game 4
Max Scherzer
Tigers
A.J. Griffin
A's
2012 Regular Season
Overall: 32 GS, 16-7, 3.74 ERA, 60 BB, 231 K Overall: 15 GS, 7-1, 3.06 ERA, 19 BB, 64 K
Key stat: Second in Majors in K's, a category in which the A's led all of baseball. Key stat: Held opponents to a .215 average in Oakland this season.
At O.co Coliseum
2012: 1 GS, 1-0, 2.84 ERA
Career: 2 GS, 1-1, 5.56 ERA
2012: 8 GS, 3-0, 3.21 ERA
Career: 8 GS, 3-0, 3.21 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 2 GS, 1-0, 3.24 ERA
Career: 4 GS, 2-1, 3.79 ERA
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 9.64 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 9.64 ERA
Loves to face: Stephen Drew, 0-for-4, 2 K
Hates to face: Josh Reddick, 3-for-5, 3B, RBI
Loves to face: Delmon Young, 0-for-3, K
Hates to face: Miguel Cabrera, 2-for-2, HR, 2B, 2 RBI
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: He's 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA and 110 K's since the All-Star break. Why he'll win: Has never lost at Oakland Coliseum.
Pitcher beware: Hampered by right shoulder fatigue and a twisted right ankle. Pitcher beware: Allowed a career-high five runs in Detroit on Sept. 18.
Bottom line: Finish the series so Justin Verlander can open the ALCS. Bottom line: Must-win game if the A's magical season is to continue.

By finishing 7-1 for the season, Griffin had the best winning percentage (.875) in A's history by a pitcher with at least 15 starts. He went 6-0 with a 1.94 ERA over his first 11 starts, which Elias Sports Bureau reports made him only the second pitcher to be undefeated in at least his first 11 starts while maintaining an ERA under 2.00, following the Angels' Jered Weaver.

Griffin's last few starts weren't as sharp, however, as he exited his Sept. 12 outing with a 1.95 ERA and then finished at 3.06. That spike was thanks to four games of allowing four or more earned runs in a stretch that included his one loss -- to the Tigers, no less -- and his 2 2/3 innings against the Rangers in the season finale, saved by his teammates' furious rally.

A's manager Bob Melvin is aware of that as much as anybody, but he says that's not what he or Griffin should be focusing on.

"Well, I think he just got a little frustrated with his command that's been so good," Melvin said. "... You can tell when he's not throwing the ball where he wants to. He gets a little confused by that. But we have a lot of confidence in him.

"What we try to stress with him is focus on the good things that have happened, not the couple of tough starts that you've had, and you've accomplished a lot up to this point and pitched a lot of really good games and know that your team feels very good about you on the mound."

Asked about his previous experience against the Tigers, Griffin seemed to be taking that advice to heart. He allowed five runs on eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, giving up homers to Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

"It's a clean slate now, it's the postseason," Griffin said. "I'm 0-0. I haven't pitched yet. I'm just looking forward to going out there and contributing."

Griffin will become the sixth-youngest pitcher in Oakland A's history to make his first postseason start, which of course fits right in with a theme the A's have carried into October -- all four of their starters rank in the top 10 in that category. They have 12 rookies on their 25-man ALDS roster, including eight of their 12 pitchers, and their 54 wins recorded by rookies is the most in a season in Major League history.

So Griffin's not alone as a rookie stepping onto the biggest stage in baseball, and he's doing his best to enjoy the moment.

"I think we were just thrown into the thick of it. We just go out there and try to play baseball to the best of our ability every time we're asked to," Griffin said. "It's just a fun experience right now and we're just soaking it in. We're going out there just doing our best trying to win ballgames, and that's all anyone can ask of us. And we're just trying to have a good time.

"Yeah, we're young, but that's the beauty of it. We're just a bunch of young guys just going out playing ball."

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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