The Detroit Tigers took a step back from the postseason abyss on Tuesday evening, staving off elimination and beating the Oakland Athletics 8-6, knotting the ALDS series at two games. But it wasn’t easy.
As the enthusiastic sellout crowd of 43,958 settled into their seats at Comerica Park for the early evening affair, Coco Crisp, Oakland’s irrepressible lead off hitter, greeted Doug Fister with a triple to the left center field gap. He later scored on Jed Lowrie‘s one out single, and the A’s quickly led 1-0.
They increased their lead to 3-0 in the fifth inning on a two-run home run to right field by shortstop Jed Lowrie, a fly ball that fell just over the wall, barely eluding a leaping Torii Hunter‘s glove.
The Tigers’ offense had continued its punchless ways throughout the first four innings, as their only base runner was a hit batsman, Prince Fielder. The succession of weak outs ended abruptly in the fifth inning, however, as singles by Fielder and Victor Martinez were followed by a game-tying home run by Jhonny Peralta. Like Lowrie’s shot in the top of the inning, this one also narrowly cleared the wall, arcing just beyond Yoenis Cespedes‘ flared glove into the Tiger bullpen.
Doug Fister closed out the sixth inning uneventfully, and finished the night at 103 pitches with a quality start. Facing elimination, manager Jim Leyland called upon Cy Young Award favorite Max Scherzer for the seventh inning. After a single and a sacrifice bunt, Crisp delivered again by singling in Stephen Vogt, again propelling Oakland into the lead, 4-3.
Sean Doolittle, a hard-throwing southpaw, replaced starter Dan Straily for Oakland in the bottom of the seventh, turning the switch-hitting Victor Martinez around to the right side. Martinez quickly jumped on a fastball and lofted it to deep right field for a home run. This was the third consecutive home run of the game that was nearly caught by a defender, in this case Josh Reddick. The A’s claimed a fan interfered with the play, but it was reviewed and upheld by the umpires as a home run, and the score was tied at 4-4. Peralta then scalded a hot grounder down the left field line in the next at bat, and made his way to a smiling Tiger dugout as Dirks pinch-ran for him. With two out and runners at first and second following an Iglesias walk, a struggling Austin Jackson stepped to the plate. With two strikes, Doolittle broke Jackson’s bat, but the balled dropped safely in shallow right field, this time one step in front of Reddick, sending the Tigers into a 5-4 lead.
The eighth inning began ominously as Scherzer walked Brandon Moss. Cespedes then sprayed a fly ball to right field that dropped for a double, with Moss stopping at third. DH Seth Smith was intentionally walked, loading the bases with nobody out, as the Tigers clung to their perilous one-run lead. Scherzer then fanned Reddick on a full count change-up. He piggybacked that with another clutch strikeout of catcher Stephen Vogt on a 98mph fastball. He then allowed Tiger fans to finally exhale as pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo lined out to center fielder Austin Jackson for the final out of the inning.
In the bottom of the frame, right-handed reliever Ryan Cook got Miguel Cabrera and Fielder before Martinez singled again, his third hit of the game. Cook then walked Andy Dirks, and lefty reliever Brett Anderson issued a free pass to Alex Avila, loading the bases. With Omar Infante at the plate, Anderson uncorked a wild pitch, scoring pinch-runner Hernan Perez. Infante then lashed a ground ball double to left, scoring two runs and lifting the Tiger lead to 8-4.
To no one’s surprise, the resilient Athletics were not yet finished, as closer Joaquin Benoit required twenty-six pitches to finish them in the ninth, with Cespedes driving in two runs to make the score 8-6. Benoit struck out Seth Smith with a runner on base to end it, delighting the Tiger faithful and sending the series back to Oakland for the deciding game five on Thursday.