With their season on the line, the Tigers' bats finally showed some life on Tuesday. After scoring only six runs and in two of 27 innings during the first three games of the ALDS, Detroit's previously feeble offense put some runs on the board against the Oakland A's.
The Tigers fell behind 3-0 in the fifth inning on a two-run homer by Jed Lowrie. Extending the ALDS to a decisive fifth game looked pretty hopeless at that point. Detroit hadn't managed a single hit in the previous four innings against Dan Straily. Another low-scoring result — or shutout — looked entirely possible.
But Prince Fielder led off the fifth with a single. Victor Martinez followed up with another single. Then Straily left a 90 mph fastball up in the zone to Jhonny Peralta, who again started in left field because the Tigers were so desperate for offense. Peralta cranked it out for a three-run homer and it suddenly looked like the Tigers might not be done after all.
Oakland took back the lead in the seventh, 4-3, on a RBI single by Coco Crisp, who's been unstoppable during the two ALDS games in Detroit. Crisp went 4-for-5 on Tuesday, batting a combined 7-for-9 in his past two games. But this time, the Tigers answered back.
Facing Sean Doolittle in the bottom half of the inning, Martinez launched a ball to right field. The line drive was just out of the reach of A's right fielder Josh Reddick and appeared to be a home run. However, Oakland argued that a fan had reached over the fence and the ball didn't really leave the park. (Reddick may also have argued that he would've caught the ball had the fan not interfered.)
Replays seemed to indicate that the ball would have gone over the yellow line even if the fan hadn't reached out. From several angles, it was difficult to determine whether the fan had truly interfered with the ball, but it appeared as if Martinez had a home run. That was the call on the field anyway, and umpires upheld it after reviewing the play. The score was tied at 4-4.
Later in the inning, the Tigers took the lead on an improbable, broken-bat, opposite-field RBI single from Austin Jackson. The Tigers center fielder came into Game 4 batting 1-for-11 and struck out in his previous three at-bats, looking completely lost at the plate. That was the sort of play that might lead you to think it was the Tigers' night. A base hit for Jackson, with a RBI? Five runs from this lineup?
But Detroit's success appeared to be short-lived when the A's loaded the bases in the eighth inning against Max Scherzer.
After the first two batters reached base, Scherzer intentionally walked Seth Smith, probably Oakland's hottest hitter other than Crisp. Scherzer went to a three-ball, two-strike count on Reddick before striking him out on a changeup low and inside that Tigers catcher Alex Avila had to block in the dirt. It was an extremely bold pitch to throw with the bases loaded. Scherzer then struck out Stephen Vogt and got Alberto Callaspo to line out to center field on a 3-2 pitch.
Escaping that jam, the Tigers increased their lead in the bottom of the inning. With two outs, Ryan Cook gave up a single to Martinez and walked Andy Dirks after a nine-pitch at-bat. Brett Anderson relieved Cook and walked Avila on five pitches to load the bases. Anderson then threw a wild pitch that scored a run. Omar Infante followed up with a two-run double to give Detroit an 8-4 lead.
Yoenis Cespedes drove in two runs with a double off Joaquin Benoit in the ninth to cut the Tigers' lead to 8-6. Smith brought the tying run to the plate, and fouled off four pitches during an eight-pitch at-bat, but eventually struck out to end the game.
Game 5 of the ALDS will be played Thursday in Oakland at 9:07 p.m. ET. Justin Verlander will get the start for Detroit. He pitched seven scoreless innings with 11 strikeouts in Game 2 of the series. Bartolo Colon is tentatively scheduled to pitch for the A's.
But the San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reported that manager Bob Melvin will decide on Wednesday whether to start Colon or Sonny Gray. Gray was excellent in Game 2, allowing no runs with nine strikeouts over eight innings. Meanwhile, Colon gave up three runs and 10 hits during six innings in Game 1 of the series. Starting Gray on a full four days' rest certainly seems like the right decision for Melvin in a do-or-die Game 5.