OAKLAND For a huge chunk of his relatively young major league career, Brett Anderson has been a walking, talking bruise brother. Elbow inflammation. Tommy John surgery. A strained oblique muscle that kept him in the dugout while the A's swept their way into the postseason.
He has been absent so often in his four seasons, you almost forget why the A's once envisioned him as the ace of the staff.
But not Tuesday night. Tuesday night was about pitching and defense and mostly about remembering Brett Anderson. In his first postseason appearance and the first playoff in O.co Coliseum since 2006 the big left-hander baffled the Detroit Tigers for six innings, allowed only two hits, and helped extend the division series to a fourth game.
Fastballs. Curveballs. Changeups. Sliders. He still loves staring hard at hitters and then breaking off a pitch that dances out of reach, leaving them swinging for the fences and finding nothing but air.
"He had the oblique problem, but the first strike you could see he was like, 'OK, now that's out of the way,' " catcher Derek Norris said after Anderson earned the 2-0 victory. "Then he just dominated the rest of the way."
But it wasn't just Anderson. These A's are far from a one-man or a two-man team. Rookie Yoenis Cespedes singled in a run and robbed Prince Fielder with a diving catch in left. Seth Smith drilled a home run that allowed for a breather. Josh Donaldson, Cliff Pennington and Stephen Drew scooped up ground balls and made perfect throws. Coco Crisp stole virtually stole Fielder's home run with a spectacular leaping grab over the wall in center.
Then there were the relievers, one after another overpowering the Tigers. Ryan Cook allowed only a soft single in the seventh. Sean Doolittle struck out the side in the eighth. Grant Balfour induced Fielder into a double play that ended the game and extended the improbable run.
Tonight, rookie A.J. Griffin has the unenviable task of duplicating Anderson's performance and subduing the Tigers for a second straight night.
Or perhaps the task isn't so daunting after all. The A's keep saying they're too young and dumb to know better. They keep saying they're supposed to be winning these games. They keep saying they're having too much fun to stop now.
"A microcosm of our season," Anderson, 24, reiterated as he lingered in a hallway. "You've got two rookie (starters) and a guy that's been hurt 90 percent of the season."
Tommy John surgery forced him onto the disabled list after 13 games into the 2011 season. Elbow inflammation limited him to 19 years the year before that. Most recently the strained oblique muscle sidelined him Sept. 19 and jeopardized his postseason a cruel and unusual development considering that, while he recovered from surgery, he worked himself into the best physical condition of his life.
A chatty, good-natured native of Texas, Anderson used to joke about chugging beers and throwing darts. He would poke fun at his tall but chubby 6-foot-4 frame. Those days are over. While he will never be confused with, say, Adonis, he shed 35 pounds and admittedly prefers the look.
After Tuesday night, it's hard to argue with the results, either. He could even argue and he did that, because he allowed only two hits and no runs, and struck out the dangerous Miguel Cabrera with a wicked sequence of fastballs and sliders to end the sixth, he should have remained in the game for the seventh.
"There was a big discussion with him, but 19, 20 days off, we weren't looking for any more than that," said manager Bob Melvin with a slight smile. "With our bullpen, with the day off, we didn't want to push him too far. Hopefully, he gets another chance to pitch at some point."