OAKLAND, Calif. -- Seth Smith has experienced more brushes with fame than the real thing. He backed up Eli Manning at quarterback for Ole Miss, and an Internet rumor places him in an acting role in "Home Alone 3.''
"Yeah, I've seen that,'' the Oakland designated hitter said Tuesday night, after the A's won Game 3 of their playoff series against Detroit. "It's not true.''
He doesn't look anything like the Seth Smith who appeared in the movie, but he might have denied involvement under any circumstances. Like most sequels with a "3'' attached, this one demanded disavowal from all participants, and the ballplayer Seth Smith found a way to dismiss a genuine accomplishment Tuesday night. He hit a solo homer in an elimination-averting 2-0 win over the Tigers, whose latter-day Bash Brothers, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, have yet to clear a fence in this series.
"We already had a run, and we didn't even need my homer,'' he said from a press-conference dais, where he shared star-of-the-game treatment with starting pitcher Brett Anderson. "I don't even know why I'm here, but I appreciate the invite.''
Anderson knew better. After that fifth-inning homer, he and his relief crew could attack the Tigers' lineup without the trepidation that the Cabrera-Fielder combo naturally evokes.
Smith and Fielder both shifted from the National League to the American this year. Fielder ended up with a 2012 salary about 920 percent higher than Smith's -- a reasonable illustration of the differences between the A's and Tigers, between fame and proximity to it. The gulf is enormous.
The results, as of Tuesday night, are not. The Tigers' series lead dropped to 2-1. Coco Crisp's theft of a Fielder home run in the second inning, just two days after the A's center fielder bungled a basket catch in Detroit, looked as much like a renaissance as any single baseball moment can. It outranked even Anderson's second rebirth of 2012 (late August return from Tommy John surgery, then Tuesday's comeback from a three-week hiatus due to an oblique strain).
But from the moment Smith's homer left the park, it bore the shrug that its owner tried to apply later, even though it was his first hit of this postseason. But that was forgotten, as was the fact that 2012 forced Smith to learn the art of being a designated hitter for the first time in his career, a process that he, like countless predecessors, found surprisingly difficult. He simply adapted. It's the definitive trait of the 2012 Athletics.
"I think he was probably ahead of the game DH-ing in that he was used to pinch-hitting quite a bit in the National League'' manager Bob Melvin said of Smith’s time in Colorado. "… He kind of struggled with it early in the year; he preferred to play. But once he had the hamstring problem and all he could do was DH, he settled into that.''
Perhaps naively, Smith expected an easier transition. He is only 30, with ample energy to burn. Given that he has the arm of a collegiate quarterback, he should have some value in the outfield. But Oakland's starters have a little Manning in them. In right, Josh Reddick's fence-scaling skills earned him a Spider-Man costume from his teammates. Tuesday's robbery by Crisp, plus a shin-high lunging catch in left by Yoenis Cespedes to swipe another hit from Fielder, further explained the exclusivity of the trio.
So Smith crafted a routine, which barely resembled his approach to pinch-hitting. He sought advice from Jason Giambi, but for the most part, had to work things out on his own.
"I try to move around a lot and try not sit it one spot,'' he said, "and I watch video of the pitcher, and just stay loose, get in the cage and maybe try to distract myself from the game a little bit.''
Smith always knew that he would stick with baseball. When he became a Rockie, the team doubled its ties to the NFL's First Family. Todd Helton, the first baseman, was the University of Tennessee quarterback who via an injury turned the job over to Peyton Manning.
"We talked about it a little bit,'' Smith said, "but we mostly left it up to the media. They talk about it enough for both of us.''
If this series ends in an Oakland comeback and trip to the ALCS, Smith should expect more of the same. In other words, how did a team with two sluggers making a total of $44 million this season lose to a team with an aggregate payroll of $55 million? It's easy to imagine a lot of the A's basking in that conversation.
In his locker stall, Smith displays a small wooden plaque from Casper, Wyo., citing him as a 2004 Pioneer League All-Star. "Just some baseball humor,'' he said, "and kind of a reminder of where you came from.''