Facing elimination in Game 4 of the ALDS with the Oakland Athletics, the Detroit Tigers managed to pull out an 8-6 victory on Tuesday night, as they'll send the series back to Oakland for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.
Doug Fister got the start for Detroit, and he gave the Tigers six solid innings, allowing seven hits and three runs, and left the game with things knotted up at 3-3.
With the season on the line, Detroit skipper Jim Leyland opted to go with his ace and likely Game 5 starter Max Scherzer to start the seventh inning, putting the season in the hands of the AL Cy Young favorite.
Leyland spoke before the game about the idea of potentially using Scherzer if the team was ahead for the seventh and eighth innings, and he pulled the trigger on that plan with the score tied up.
It's no surprise Leyland put the game in his hands, as Scherzer was an absolute stud during the regular season, finishing the year with a record of 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and 240 strikeouts in 214.1 innings of work.
He drew the Game 1 start, and was virtually unhittable, allowing three hits and striking out 11 in seven innings of work, with the lone blemish being a two-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh inning, as the Tigers jumped out to a 1-0 series lead.
Scherzer made his first relief appearance since the 2011 ALDS against the New York Yankees, when he also relieved Fister. He worked 1.1 innings in that one and allowed two hits and one run but recorded a hold.
Things got off to an inauspicious start for Scherzer on Tuesday, as he allowed a lead-off single to catcher Stephen Vogt, who was then bunted over to second by Eric Sogard.
The red-hot Coco Crisp came up next, and promptly delivered an RBI single to put the A's up 4-3, before Scherzer retired the final two hitters to get out of the inning. The Tigers then struck for two runs of their own in the bottom of the seventh to regain the lead.
With setup man Drew Smyly warming in the bullpen, Leyland opted to go with Scherzer for a second inning, and he got into immediate trouble once again.
A leadoff walk to Brandon Moss was followed by a double from Yoenis Cespedes. Seth Smith was then intentionally walked to load the bases with nobody out.
Throwing harder than he usually does as a starter, Scherzer was mixing in some solid changeups with his high-90s fastballs, and he got Josh Reddick to chase a 3-2 changeup down and in for the first out of the inning.
He followed that up with a strikeout of Vogt, before getting pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to center field for the final out of the inning. A fired up Scherzer greeted his teammates in the dugout.
A shaky ninth inning from closer Joaquin Benoit finished things off, as a heavily-favored Tigers team now heads back to Oakland looking to keep their World Series hopes alive.
Though they by no means ran away with the AL Central in the regular season, the Tigers entered the playoffs looking like a team built to win it all.
With a deep pitching staff that has Scherzer, AL ERA leader Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Fister and an offense that ranked among the best in the game even with a hobbled Miguel Cabrera, most picked the Tigers to emerge from this ALDS matchup and meet the Red Sox for a run at their second straight AL pennant.
Using Scherzer in Game 4 certainly changes the Game 5 outlook, as it will likely be Verlander getting the starting nod. He threw a gem of his own in Game 2, allowing just four hits and fanning 11 in seven shutout innings, and that no doubt contributed to Leyland's decision to use Scherzer in Game 4.
Putting the ball in the hands of your best pitcher makes sense with your back against the wall facing elimination, and while Scherzer no doubt took a few years off the lives of a number of Tigers fans, his eighth inning tightrope act already goes down as one of the biggest moments of the 2013 postseason.