The Tigers' 4-3 loss Wednesday night was a heart-breaker and may have been a back-breaker for Jose Valverde as he blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth and the A's forced a game five.
Following an improved offensive performance by a Detroit lineup that was left silenced a night earlier, the Tigers were looking to slip out of the Coliseum in Oakland and head home to Motown to await their opponent in the ALCS.
The pesky A's had other plans.
Max Scherzer commanded the strike-zone for much of the game and was good enough to deliver the Tigers an opportunity to erase a chance Oakland could force a game-five winner-take-all ALDS Championship game.
In fact, Scherzer was nearly untouchable through 5.1 innings of work, allowing just three hits and one unearned run while striking out eight. He ran out of gas in the sixth and exited with his team still in the lead.
But, the pesky A's had other plans.
After two games of enduring a near-deafening crowd, Detroit finally quieted the raucous Oakland fanbase when Alex Avila's double to open the third inning was followed by a sacrifice bunt by Omar Infante pushing Avila to third. Austin Jackson followed with a line shot single to left for an RBI and 1-0 Tigers lead.
Not to be outdone and with much need to contribute, Prince Fielder provided offensive punch with a blistering rocket into the outfield bleachers that Oakland right fielder Josh Reddick never bothered to give chase to, leading off Detroit's fourth inning frame.
Scherzer followed Fielder by closing out the A's in five pitches in the bottom half of the frame.
Oakland's only real threat against Scherzer came in the bottom of the fifth when he found himself with runners at the corners after getting the first two A's hitters, Reddick and Josh Donaldson, out on strikes. Scherzer thwarted the A's chance with a Chris Pennington strikeout and a fist pump as he exited the field.
A's starter A.J. Griffin was chased from the game following a Miguel Cabrera bloop single to center on a ball that seemed catchable, but CoCo Crisp failed to get the jump on in time to nab it. Reliever Jerry Blevins forced a Fielder ground ball double-play and Delmon Young ground out wiping out Cabrera's start to the inning.
Crisp lead off the Oakland half of the sixth with a hot shot down the first base line that led to a Fielder defensive miscue and two-base error, putting Crisp at second. Alex Avila misplayed a Scherzer pitch allowing Crisp to advance to third.
Clearly laboring, Scherzer was now working deep into the count on every hitter, very different than his first several innings of work.
And, the pesky A's had other plans.
Stephen Drew struck Scherzer for a double up the gap, allowing Crisp to score. Drew's efforts to stretch an easy double into a near-impossible triple failed and Austin Jackson's relay to Infante and then Cabrera nailed Drew at third.
That, however, ended Scherzer's night for the Tigers.
Octavio Dotel replaced Scherzer and promptly struck out Yoenis Cespedes but then walked Brandon Moss. Dotel was replaced by lefty Phil Coke who got Reddick to fly deep to center for the third out of the inning and the Tigers escaped a potential tie game.
Detroit's offense sputtered through middle innings of the fifth, sixth, and seventh and entered the A's half of the inning with reliever Al Alburquerque and a greeting of boos from the Oakland crowd—his celebratory kiss of the baseball in Detroit on Sunday incensed the A's team.
Alburquerque worked a quick 1-2-3 seventh and returned to the Detroit dugout holding a precious one-run Detroit lead.
Sean Doolittle entered for the A's hoping to keep the game at the same differential, but the Tigers offense wouldn't allow it. Infante started the inning with a single up the middle and Jackson laid down a sacrifice bunt to put Infante into scoring position.
Tiger manager Jim Leyland elected to pinch-hit for Quintin Berry with fellow rookie and late-season call-up Avisail Garcia. Leyland's decision paid off as Garcia delivered an RBI single to right scoring Infante.
Fielder ripped a ball to right following a Cabrera pop out and the Tigers had runners at the corners with two outs, forcing Oakland back to the bullpen and calling on Ryan Cook to face Young with two outs. Young grounded out to end the Tigers eighth, but Detroit had regained a safer two run lead.
Joaquin Benoit worked through a rocky eighth after getting two quick outs. After allowing a single to Stephen Drew and a walk to Cespedes, Benoit was able to get Brandon Moss on strikes to end the inning.
Benoit wasn't clean, but he extended the Tigers opportunity to advance on the road and left the game in the hands of closer Jose Valverde in the ninth to shut down the pesky A's.
But they, the pesky A's, had other plans.
Reddick fired up an already last-ditch energized A's crowd by leading off the ninth with a single to right. Donaldson followed with a deep shot off the left field wall, and Valverde had runners at second and third with no outs.
Oakland was loud and would not go quietly.
Seth Smith doubled on a hanging Valverde fastball, and Oakland was on the verge of another walk-off win. Valverde had a blown save, and Smith, the winning run, was still on second with no outs.
With the game now 3-3, Valverde got the next two A's in order but couldn't get Crisp, who gave the A's their 15th walk-off win of the season. Valverde entered the inning with a two run cushion and walked out with a loss.
And now, a team that barely got in the back door and that was headed West with a full head of steam after winning the first two games of the series at home are one game away from going home, bags packed for the winter.
Box score stats provided by mlb.com.
Bleacher Report Columnist J. Cook is a member of B/R's MLB Coverage Team and contributes to B/R's MLB content and Detroit Tigers page. He also covers key sport interest stories for all of Detroit's major sports teams.
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