By John Lowe, Detroit Free Press –
OAKLAND, Calif. — Five Detroit Tigers pitchers combined to get the ball to Jose Valverde for a ninth-inning save opportunity with a two-run lead Wednesday night.
By converting the save, Valverde would put the Tigers into the American League Championship Series for the second straight season.
It didn’t happen. The Oakland A’s amazing season wouldn’t end.
Before Valverde got an out, Oakland tied the game on Josh Reddick’s single, Josh Donaldson’s double off the wall and Seth Smith’s line-drive, tying, two-run double.
Two outs later, Coco Crisp singled in Smith for a 4-3 win, and now there will be a decisive Game 5 in this division series Thursday night with Justin Verlander pitching against Oakland right-hander Jarrod Parker.
The Tigers have to hope this is a replay in reverse of the ‘72 ALCS, when they overcame a two-run deficit on their final at-bat at Tiger Stadium to beat Oakland in Game 4 and force Game 5 — which the visiting A’s won.
“This is baseball. This is why this is the greatest game of all,” manager Jim Leyland said. “You get tested all the time in this game. This is a good test. I thought we played our hearts out.”
Valverde was preceded by Max Scherzer (5 1/3 innings), Octavio Dotel (one out), Phil Coke (one out), Al Alburquerque (seventh inning) and Joaquin Benoit (eighth inning). The only run they allowed was unearned, off Scherzer in the sixth.
Benoit, who has been struggling, allowed a hit and walk with two outs in the eighth. Up came lefty-swinging Brandon Moss, who almost hit a tying homer off Benoit in Game 1. Now Moss represented the potential go-ahead run. Benoit struck him out swinging on an 0-2 pitch that dived low and away.
Leading 2-1 into the eighth, the Tigers added a huge run. With one out, rookie Avisail Garcia pinch-hit for Quintin Berry against left-hander Sean Doolittle. On 0-2, Garcia spanked a single through the hole into right and Omar Infante scored easily from second. That meant Oakland could no longer play for one run to tie and that the Tigers didn’t need to guard the lines against an extra-base hit.
For the second time in the game, the Tigers had scored a) with the help of a sacrifice and b) with an RBI on an 0-2 pitch.
Scherzer took a 2-0 lead into the sixth on Austin Jackson’s RBI single in the third and Prince Fielder’s leadoff homer in the fourth.
Coco Crisp began the sixth with a smash off Fielder’s glove for a two-base error. Crisp went to third on a wild pitch. Stephen Drew drilled a 3-2 pitch up the right-field gap, by far the hardest-hit ball off Scherzer yet. Crisp came home to make it 2-1, and the A’s were going to have the potential tying run at second with none out — except that Drew for some reason tried to make it a triple and Infante, the relay man, threw him out.
Scherzer left for Dotel. The veteran right-hander fanned home-run threat Yoenis Cespedes and walked Moss. The lefty Coke came in for left-handed slugger Reddick, who sent a 1-0 pitch on a high arc to right-center. Jackson caught it on the front edge of the track.
Alburquerque took over for the seventh with the 2-1 lead. Many boos greeted him because he kissed the ball on the key comebacker he got from Cespedes in Game 2. The right-hander quieted the throng with a 1-2-3 inning.
It was another night of every-pitch-matters baseball on the East Bay.
Scherzer got four of his first six outs on strikeouts. The Tigers gave him a lead when Alex Avila pulled a double into right to open the third, went to third on Infante’s sacrifice and scored when Jackson (with the infield in) lined a single well into left.
Verlander bounded out of the dugout onto the field to cheer the run. It was only the Tigers’ second of the series that scored on a hit. The first was on Avila’s homer in Game 1.
Fielder led off the fourth by launching right-hander A.J. Griffin’s 0-2 pitch far over the rightfield wall.