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Athletics rally to set up Verlander vs. Parker showdown

By Matt Kawahara, The Sacramento Bee –

OAKLAND, Calif. — The sea of green and gold swelled, clamoring for more to the story that it cheered without trying to explain. Written off before the season began, the Athletics had won 14 games at home in their final at-bat this year, raging against finality that didn’t come on their terms.

They did it again.

Trailing 3-1 and three outs from playoff elimination, the Athletics rallied against Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde for a 4-3 win in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday night to make this a one-game series. It will be Jarrod Parker of the A’s against Detroit’s Justin Verlander on Thursday night with a trip to the American League Championship Series on the line.

Josh Reddick singled to start the bottom of the ninth inning. Josh Donaldson then hammered a double off the wall in left-center field, moving Reddick to third. Seth Smith laced a ball into the gap in right-center field, and suddenly, the score was tied and the announced crowd of 36,305 came alive.

George Kottaras popped out and Cliff Pennington struck out looking to bring Coco Crisp to the plate. Crisp’s dropped fly ball in Game 2 led to two runs in a loss. He robbed Prince Fielder of a home run in Game 3 to preserve a shutout win.

On Wednesday night, Crisp shot a Valverde pitch into right field, and with Smith tearing around third base for home, the ball rolled under Avisail Garcia’s glove. Smith slid across with the tying run, the A’s exploded onto the field, and there would be another day in this improbable season.

Needing a win, the A’s sent rookie A.J. Griffin to the mound to oppose Detroit’s 16-game winner, Max Scherzer. Griffin, 24, started the season in Double A, arrived in Oakland in June and didn’t lose until September. But he struggled in his last four starts.

While the A’s were trying to figure out how to hit Scherzer’s mid-90s fastball and biting slider, striking out eight times through five innings, the Tigers built a 2-0 lead against Griffin.

Alex Avila doubled down the right-field line in the third, and Omar Infante sacrificed him to third. Austin Jackson lined a single to left to score Avila, only the second run-scoring hit in the series for Detroit.

The third such hit followed shortly, and loudly.

Griffin left an 0-2 fastball over the plate to Prince Fielder, who crushed it to right field, leaving no possibility of it being brought back a la Crisp the night before. Instead, Reddick barely looked up as it sailed into the seats.

Scherzer, a big right-hander who led all A.L. pitchers this season by striking out 11.1 batters every nine innings, breezed through four innings on 46 pitches. He struck out the side in the fifth, getting Cliff Pennington swinging with runners on first and third to end the inning.

But as Scherzer’s night lengthened, his fastball appeared to lose steam. Leading off the sixth, Crisp battled for 10 pitches before hitting a one-hopper that bounced off Fielder’s glove for a two-base error. Crisp then scampered to third on a wild pitch.

Stephen Drew, playing stellar defense for two nights, laced a double to right-center to score Crisp. Drew tried for third, and Infante’s relay of Jackson’s throw from center reached the bag well ahead.

The hit knocked Scherzer out of the game. The out was costly. Instead of a runner on second and no outs, the A’s had nobody on and one down, and after Brandon Moss drew a two-out walk, Reddick’s fly ball died at the warning track in center.

The Tigers added a run in the eighth on Quintin Berry’s run-scoring single to stretch their lead to two and put the game in the hands of their closer in the ninth.

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