The four-game sweep that seemed all but certain for the Oakland Athletics was prevented by a three-run homer by Torii Hunter with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Thursday, and the Detroit Tigers grabbed the last game of the series with a 7-3 win.
It was a disheartening loss for the A’s, who never trailed in the game until Hunter’s blast. The loss puts them three games back of Texas in the AL West, and this one certainly stings after such a dominating effort for most of the game.
The bats stayed hot again, with Brandon Moss blasting a two-run home run to bring his total in the series to four and Jed Lowrie contributing a tw0-run shot in the first to continue a great run at the plate for the A’s.
A pair of sacrifice flies by Daric Barton and Eric Sogard rounded out the scoring for Oakland, which made Tigers starter Max Scherzer look downright average, not an easy thing to do considering the right-hander came into the game with only one loss on his resume in 26 starts this season.
The A’s hit up the AL’s leading Cy Young candidate for a season-high six runs, tied his season-high in hits (eight) and limited him to a season-low with five innings pitched, and it appeared he was going to earn his second loss of the season up until Hunter’s heroics in the ninth.
Bartolo Colon returned from a short stint on the disabled list and took the first step towards getting back to his old self. The right-hander threw five innings and allowed seven hits, but only one run on a sacrifice fly by Brayan Pena in the fourth. His velocity was back up after taking a dip in his two outings before hitting the DL, as was his location, as he didn’t walk any batters and threw 50 of his 73 pitches for strikes.
As they had against Detroit throughout the series, Oakland made Scherzer work just to get out of the first, forcing him to throw 29 pitches in the opening frame. Coco Crisp doubled to leadoff the game, and after striking out Josh Donaldson, Scherzer threw a fastball that drifted over the plate for Jed Lowrie, and the shortstop connected for his 10th home run of the year to give the A’s an early 2-0 lead.
They’d add two more in the fourth after Alberto Callaspo doubled to start off a rally, followed by a single by Seth Smith that put runners at second and third after a throwing error by right fielder Don Kelly. Barton and Sogard each drove in runs with sacrifice flies to make sure Oakland took advantage of the opportunity, something that has been a problem for much of the second half.
The bottom of the fourth was the most dangerous stretch of the game for Colon, and he did well to limit the Tigers to only one run. Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez hit consecutive singles out of the gate, and after getting the force out at second, Pena drove Fielder in with a sacrifice fly to center field to tally the only run against Colon on the day. The right-hander gave up a single to Omar Infante before getting Ramon Santiago to ground out and end the inning.
In the fifth, Moss drove in his 14th RBI in 10 games on his seventh home run over that span. Donaldson hit a triple to start off the inning, and Scherzer got Lowrie to pop out for out number one. But when a fastball drifted outside on the seventh pitch of his at-bat, Moss drove it deep to right to make it 6-1 and give the A’s a little breathing room against a Tigers lineup that was still looking to do some damage against Colon and the Oakland bullpen.
Miguel Cabrera hit a two-out single in the fifth but was thrown out trying to extend it into a double. He would leave the game after the play, having aggravated a lingering hip injury, and is listed as day-to-day.
Detroit gained some ground in the sixth when Jerry Blevins came in out of the bullpen for Colon and immediately gave up a home run to Prince Fielder to make it 6-2. Blevins got Martinez to ground out in the next at-bat, but after giving up consecutive singles to Don Kelly and Pena, he was pulled by Bob Melvin and the ball was handed off to Dan Otero.
Otero got the second out after Infante grounded out to short, but Santiago was able to hit a ball through the right side of the infield to score a run and cut Oakland’s lead to three runs. Next, Austin Jackson grounded out to end the threat.
Otero stayed in for the seventh and got two quick outs before giving up a couple singles to Fielder and Martinez, which prompted Melvin to bring in Sean Doolittle out of the bullpen. Doolittle got Torii Hunter to ground out to end the inning, and he stayed in to work the eighth without trouble.
From there, it was up to Grant Balfour to finish things up, but the All-Star closer couldn’t get the job done. A four-pitch walk to Jackson certainly was not how he wanted to start things off, but he retired Andy Dirks and pinch-hitter Alex Avila to make it two outs with Fielder at the plate.
Balfour understandingly pitched around the slugger, walking him in four pitches to give the Tigers another chance at staving off the sweep. Martinez then singled on a line drive to center to score Jackson from second and make it 6-4.
That put the tying run on board for Detroit, and Hunter’s drove a slider over the plate over the wall in left-center to give the Tigers a 7-6 victory. Balfour, known for his antics on the mound to hype himself up, was notably displeased with his effort, screaming in anger as he walked into the dugout. It certainly wasn’t without cause, as a routine save turned into a head-scratching loss for a team that played eight and half innings of winning baseball.
The A’s are heading back to Northern California to kick off a 10-game homestand, where they’ll take on the Tampa Bay Rays over the weekend before hosting the Rangers and Astros at O.co Coliseum next week.