The Oakland Athletics fell to the Detroit Tigers by a score of 8-6 in Game 4 of the American League Division Series Tuesday night, with the Tigers scoring five times after the sixth inning to take command of a game that was all Oakland early on.
In a wild finish that few could’ve seen coming after solid performances by A’s relief pitchers in the first three games of the series, the Tigers offense came through against Sean Doolittle, Ryan Young and Brett Anderson, including a go-ahead single by Austin Jackson – who until then was hitless in the series – and a two-run double by Omar Infante in the eighth that proved to be the eventual margin of victory.
Max Scherzer got the win out of the bullpen after Doug Fister pitched a rough six innings where he gave up three runs on seven hits. Doolittle took the loss for the A’s after taking over for Dan Straily, who threw six innings with eight strikeouts and no walks. Straily was sharp early, but a three-run homer surrendered to Jhonny Peralta in the fifth opened the door for a Tigers comeback after Oakland took an early 3-0 lead.
That lead happened thanks to the continuation of Oakland’s hot hitting. Coco Crisp got the A’s off to a fast start with a lead off triple, and after Fister got Josh Donaldson to line out to right field for the first out, Jed Lowrie broke his 0-for-12 streak at the plate in the series by hitting a grounder to left for an RBI single, giving Oakland a quick 1-0 lead.
Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes were both retired to end the inning, but the two heavy hitters saw 15 pitches combined to drive Fister’s pitch count up to 26 after the opening frame.
Conversely, Straily needed a mere 10 pitches to garner two strikeouts and a pop out by Miguel Cabrera for a 1-2-3 first inning. The 24-year-old right-hander was fantastic early on in his first career playoff start, navigating through the first four innings without giving up a hit and allowing only one baserunner, Prince Fielder, on a hit-by-pitch in the second.
Fister’s second inning wasn’t much better, with Seth Smith leading it off with a single and advancing all the way to third on a wild pitch and a groundout. He’d stay there, however, as Fister was able to get the last two outs and escape the inning without surrendering a run.
The fifth inning saw the A’s extend their lead to 3-0 thanks to a two-run homer by Lowrie. Crisp hit a one-out single with one-out, and after Donaldson popped out to center field Lowrie got a cutter over the plate and just cleared the wall in left field corner with a well-timed swing. Torii Hunter had a chance to make a play at the wall, but the towering shot was just out of his reach, and Oakland appeared to be running away with the game with the Tigers offense still quiet against Straily.
Perhaps sensing the urgency of the situation, the Tigers came out and got their first hits of the game with consecutive singles by Fielder and Victor Martinez in the bottom of the fifth. Then, on a 2-2 count Straily delivered a fastball low and in to Peralta, who connected for a game-tying home run over the wall in left field wall.
Straily retired the next three Detroit hitters to end the inning, and he worked through the sixth without incident, but the home run by Peralta certainly changed the trajectory of the game, and it would be a battle from there on out.
Fister also remained in for the sixth and worked a three-up, three-down inning, but Game 1 star Max Scherzer was brought in for the seventh, although it probably didn’t work out the way that Jim Leyland envisioned. Stephen Vogt saw three straight fastballs before swinging on a changeup for a single, and he moved over on a sacrifice bunt by Eric Sogard. Vogt came home on a single up the middle by Crisp to make it 4-3, and it wouldn’t be the last lead change the game saw in a wild finish.
Scherzer retired Donaldson and Lowrie to send it to the bottom of the seventh, and that’s when things got interesting. Doolittle, who has been fantastic thus far in the postseason, came in and gave up a solo shot to Martinez on his second pitch of the game. Josh Reddick jumped to go for the play at the wall, but a fan reached down and made contact with the ball, and Reddick immediately protested that it was interference.
On replay he seemed to have a case, but it was too presumptuous to say that he absolutely would’ve had a chance to catch the ball, and the call stood with the game tied, 4-4.
Doolittle still had to work through the rest of the inning at that point, and he proceeded to give up a double to Peralta before getting the first out on a strikeout of Alex Avila. Omar Infante then lined out to Crisp in center, but a walk to Jose Iglesias kept the inning alive, and Austin Jackson made Doolittle pay for the mistake with a broken-bat blooping single to right to score Andy Dirks, who was brought in to pinch run for Peralta earlier.
That gave the Tigers a one-run lead, and it marked the end of Doolittle’s tenure on the mound as Dan Otero came in and struck out Hunter to send the game into the eighth.
Facing the likely Cy Young winner in their second-to-last set of at-bats, the A’s seemed to have their backs up against the wall in their effort to try to close out the series in Game 4, but Scherzer uncharacteristically walked Moss to start off the inning. Cespedes then drove a fly ball to Hunter in right, but the nine-time Gold Glove outfielder couldn’t field the ball cleanly, and the mishap allowed both runners to advance an extra base on what was officially ruled as a double for Cespedes.
With an open base, Scherzer intentionally walked Seth Smith to load the bases. From there, he battled back from a 3-1 count to strike out Reddick, blew a 98 MPH fastball past Vogt for another strikeout, and then got pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to center on a full count to escape a very, very tight spot. It was a missed opportunity for Oakland, and it would come back to haunt them as the Tigers went to work over the next half inning at the plate.
Ryan Cook came in to work the bottom of the eighth, the first appearance of the postseason for the right-hander. He quickly dispatched the two big bats of Cabrera and Fielder with a groundout and strikeout, respectively, but a single by Martinez and an ensuing walk to Dirks prompted Bob Melvin to bring in Brett Anderson.
That move ended up being a crucial decision in the game, as Anderson walked Alex Avila to load the bases, then threw a wild pitch to score pinch runner Hernan Perez from third. That was followed by Infante, the No. 8 hitter, doubling through the infield to left, and that would score two to make it 8-4 and effectively put the game out of reach for Oakland.
After Iglesias struck out to end the eighth, Joaquin Benoit was brought in to finish off the game, and in keeping with the back-and-forth nature of the game, Crisp led off with a single, his fourth hit of the game. After a strikeout by Donaldson, Lowrie drew a walk, and Moss came up with a chance to extend the rally. The first basemen grounded out to first for out number two, although it advanced both runners, and Cespedes came to the plate for the potential final at-bat of the game.
The left fielder had other plans, and he made it 8-6 on a line drive single to center, and Seth Smith got a chance to tie the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. During the at-bat, Cespedes advanced to second with no throw, and after seven pitches with four foul tips, Smith struck out swinging to end the game and send the series back to Oakland for a decisive Game 5.
The A’s are 1-11 in series-clinching games since their appearance in the 1990 World Series, and they’ll get a chance to improve on that record when they face off against Detroit at 6:00 PST Thursday night at the Coliseum. Justin Verlander will start for the Tigers, while the A’s starter is yet to be named.