Austin Jackson had been mired in the worst slump of his career. He had struck out in nine of his last 10 at-bats, the Detroit Tigers leadoff hitter becoming a microcosm of his team's offensive struggles.
With one broken-bat swing, Jackson busted out of his slump and kept the Tigers' ALDS chances alive. He hit a go-ahead RBI single in the seventh inning, Max Scherzer worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth, and Detroit pulled away a half-inning later to defeat the Oakland Athletics, 8-6, at Comerica Park Tuesday night to take the series to a deciding Game 5.
Jackson's go-ahead base knock came as part of a series-saving two-run frame off Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle in the bottom of the seventh. Catcher Victor Martinez hit a home run to start the frame, which became shrouded in controversy when Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick claimed a fan reached over and interfered with the play. The umpires upheld the home run after replays, tying the score at 4-4.
Jackson, the inning's second hero, came up five batters later. With pinch-runner Andy Dirks on second and Jose Iglesias on first, Jackson wristed a broken-bat bloop single to right field on an 0-2 count, bringing in the go-ahead run, 5-4.
Having struck out in his previous three at-bats, Jackson went from goat to hero in an instant—something that the game's winning pitcher would also do a half-inning later.
Brought in to relieve starter Doug Fister, Scherzer struggled mightily with control. He gave up a run in the seventh inning, and then opened the eighth by walking Brandon Moss and allowing Yoenis Cespedes to smack a double to right. Jim Leyland then called for an intentional walk to Seth Smith, giving Oakland a bases-loaded situation with zero outs.
The sequence that came next reminded folks why Scherzer won 21 regular-season games. He battled through a seven-pitch at-bat to strike out Josh Reddick, whiffed Game 2 hero Stephen Vogt and then forced the pinch-hitting Alberto Callaspo to line to center, getting out of the inning unscathed.
A fired-up Scherzer slapped hands with teammates and then watched on as the floodgates burst with two outs in the bottom half. Brett Anderson, relieving a struggling Ryan Cook with two runners on, allowed a run on a wild pitch. Omar Infante then doubled to clear the bases, giving the Tigers an 8-4 lead.
Closer Joaquin Benoit battled through a rocky ninth inning, giving up two runs to finalize the score at 8-6.
The collapse of Oakland's bullpen obscured a solid outing from starter Dan Straily. Making his first career postseason start, Straily carried a no-hitter through the first four innings before things unraveled a bit in the fifth. Prince Fielder and Martinez halted the hitless streak to start it off, setting up Jhonny Peralta's three-run blast that knotted the game at 3-3.
Straily got back into a groove, though, and finished the sixth inning having thrown only 76 pitches. Although Straily likely had at least another inning or two in his holster, Bob Melvin chose to trust a bullpen that had not given up a run through the first three games. The 24-year-old righty left the game with eight strikeouts, giving up just that one Peralta blast for his only damage.
Limited to just one at-bat in the series' first two games, Peralta's bat has been valuable since the series moved to Detroit. He went 2-for-3 with three runs batted in before leaving for a pinch runner, and has now plated five runs over the past two games. Peralta has helped make up for the continued struggles of Miguel Cabrera, who went 1-for-4 with a single.
Tigers starting pitcher Doug Fister went six innings, giving up three runs scattered over seven hits while struggling with location. He gave up an RBI single in the first and a two-run homer to Jed Lowrie in the fifth, which gave Oakland its early 3-0 lead. Both of Lowrie's hits scored Coco Crisp, as the A's center fielder went 4-for-5 on the day and now has seven hits in his last nine at-bats.
In the end, though, the Athletics' offensive efforts were undone by their bullpen.
The teams will take a travel day before returning to O.co Coliseum on Thursday for Game 5. Justin Verlander is scheduled to start for the Tigers, with Bartolo Colon taking the mound for the home team.
Co-Players of the Game: Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta (DH, LF, Detroit Tigers)
Martinez and Peralta were both too integral to the Tigers' comeback efforts to ignore either one.
Peralta, whose spot on this roster sparked debate due to his 50-game PED suspension, has reminded fans in Detroit why his bat was such a big midseason loss. Leyland kept him out of the lineup for the first two games—likely a result of his slow adjustment to playing left field—but the club's inability to score runs early in the series forced his hand.
Peralta rewarded Leyland's faith by driving in two of the Tigers' three runs in Game 3, and then spearheaded their first comeback on Tuesday night with his big blast in the fifth inning. He might be a defensive liability, but it's a near guarantee he'll be back in the lineup for a third straight time in Game 5.
Meanwhile, Martinez found himself involved in every Detroit rally. He scored one of the three runs on Peralta's blast, tied the game up in the seventh, and then began the Tigers' three-run eighth with a single. The 34-year-old Venezuelan was hitting just .250 for the series coming into Game 4. He left hitting .375.
Neither Fielder nor Cabrera, the team's two best offensive players, has had the best of series. But if Peralta and Martinez continue to hit the way they did on Tuesday, the Tigers may be able to pull off this comeback without them.