Al Alburquerque kissed the ball before tossing it to first. (Robin Buckson / Associated…)
OAKLAND — The Oakland Athletics didn't look or sound on Monday like a team on the verge of elimination.
Players on this low-budget, platoon-happy team talked about how they had overcome worse situations on their way to the best-of-five American League division series, in which they trail the Detroit Tigers, two games to none. On the eve of a potential elimination game in their home stadium, the Athletics smiled, even laughed, as they recalled recent glories.
But the smiles disappeared and the laughter was muted when they were asked about "The Kiss."
"Obviously, he doesn't believe in baseball gods," designated hitter Jonny Gomes said. "But I do."
Gomes was talking about Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque, who committed the sin of exhibiting his excitement in a sport that celebrates stoicism.
With two out and the score tied in the ninth inning in Game 2, Alburquerque got Yoenis Cespedes to hit a comebacker. Alburquerque caught the ball, removed it from his glove and kissed it before tossing it over to first base. The Tigers won the game in the bottom of the inning.
Cespedes, a Cuban-defector-turned-millionaire No. 3 hitter, was noticeably annoyed to have to interact with reporters Monday. He was even more so when asked about Alburquerque.
Cespedes backtracked from comments he made Sunday about how he would kiss the barrel of his bat after hitting a ball hard off Alburquerque.
"I'm not going to do that," Cespedes said. "I'm a professional."
Were Alburquerque's actions professional?
"To me, no," Cespedes said.
Over in the other clubhouse, Alburquerque explained that he never meant to offend anyone.
"It was the emotion of the game, nothing more," he said. "It's something that just came out in the game. . . . It was a big out for the team."
Nearby, Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel playfully shouted, "Keep getting outs and you can kiss the ball every time!"
Alburquerque, who is from the Dominican Republic, suggested that the uproar was the result of cultural differences. Still, some of his teammates took the time to tell him privately to refrain from such demonstrations in the future.
About the only Athletics player who wasn't bothered by Alburquerque's actions was former Tiger Brandon Inge.
"Me, personally, I just laugh because I know how he is," Inge said.
And how is he?
"He's unique," Inge said.
"The Kiss" wasn't the only subject that upset the Athletics. The schedule did too.
As the higher-seeded team, the AL West champions had to play the first two games of the series in Detroit. The Athletics are scheduled to host the next three games, but they are guaranteed to play only one.
"I think it's terrible that we had to go there," closer Grant Balfour said. "That's not right. We won 94 games. We should get the home-field advantage. We were the better team. We have the better record."
But the Athletics insisted they weren't finished. They pointed to how they were as many as 13 games out of first place and the number of crushing losses they put behind them.
"We've had like four, five season-ending losses throughout the year," Gomes said.
The most recent was in New York on the team's final trip. With a chance to cut the Texas Rangers' lead in the standings to three games, the Athletics dropped a 14-inning game to the Yankees.
"But we won the next day," Gomes said.
The Athletics had to sweep the Rangers in the final series of the regular season to win the division. The last day of the season was their first in sole possession of first place.
Gomes listed several setbacks the Athletics had to overcome: the August trade of team leader Kurt Suzuki to the Washington Nationals; the injury to projected third base starter Scott Sizemore in spring training; the loss of pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who suffered a skull fracture when hit in the head by a line drive and had to undergo brain surgery; the loss of pitcher Bartolo Colon, who was suspended for violating baseball's drug policy.
"Some dude kissing a ball in between the lines isn't going to bum us out at all," Gomes said.