The Detroit Tigers had their backs to the wall all night, but battled to a thrilling 8-6 win over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday to stave off elimination and force a deciding Game 5 in their American League Division Series.
The tense victory over the visiting A’s tied the best-of-five series at 2-2 and set up a do-or-die showdown in Oakland today, with the prize for the winner a berth in the American League Championship Series.
“We just kept battling away and battling away, and we finally got some huge hits,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “This is really a good series. We’re going back to Oakland and find out what happens.”
Detroit overcame a 3-0 deficit with a three-run homer in the fifth inning by Jhonny Peralta and then came back from 4-3 down in the seventh on a home run by Victor Martinez and a broken bat RBI single by Austin Jackson that put them ahead 5-4.
The Tigers looked set to fall behind once again in the eighth inning as Game 1 starter Max Scherzer, pitching in relief of Doug Fister, found himself mired in a bases-loaded, no-out jam.
Scherzer, who would be credited with the win, struck out Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt, then retired pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo on a line out to center to protect the one-run lead and send the nervous Comerica Park fans into delirium.
“That was one of the greatest feelings I ever had,” said Scherzer, who stormed into the Detroit dugout, dishing out high-fives as he was mobbed by teammates.
The Tigers added three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning for some much-needed breathing room, but Oakland still had some fight left and scored a pair of runs in the ninth on a single by Yoenis Cespedes.
Detroit’s Joaquin Benoit then struck out potential tying run Seth Smith for the final out to seal the win.
A’s manager Bob Melvin did not think his team had let the win slip through their fingers.
“They’ve got a good offensive club and you’ve got to finish it out for nine innings,” Melvin said. “Just because we had a lead doesn’t mean you’re going to win the game.”
Oakland jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, scoring in the first inning after Coco Crisp’s leadoff triple, and adding two more runs in the fifth on a homer by Jed Lowrie.
Peralta only rejoined the Tigers for the playoffs after serving a 50-game doping suspension and he tied the contest with his three-run blast in the bottom of the fifth.
After an RBI single by Crisp off Scherzer in the seventh put the A’s back in front 4-3, Detroit responded in the bottom half.
Martinez, who had a foul-mouthed flareup with Oakland’s animated closer Grant Balfour on Monday, tied it with a controversial home run.
As Reddick drifted to the right-field fence to attempt a leaping grab, a fan reached out and touched the ball, but it was still called a home run. The umpires reviewed the play, but decided there was no fan interference and the home run stood.
Peralta followed with a double and pinch-runner Andy Dirks came around to score on a broken-bat single by Jackson, who had struck out his first three times at bat.
Oakland starter Dan Straily pitched no-hit ball for the first four innings, before Prince Fielder began the fifth-inning rally with a bloop single to left.
Detroit snapped out of a batting slump in which they had scored only six runs over the first three games of the series without hitting a home run.
“What more do you want?” Scherzer asked.
“Game 5, everything on the line in Oakland. It will be fun,” he added.