Detroit — By the end of the crazy night, the Tigers had emerged from the deepest danger, gasping but resuscitated. There was Max Scherzer, newly crowned clutch reliever, pumping his arm in wild exultation. There were all sorts of Tigers suddenly circling the bases, as the huge crowd roared half in relief, half in disbelief.
Oh, the Tigers were pushed to the brink and nearly past it, stunned into silence for a while. And then in the gasp of a single swing, they were back in the game, back in the series, back in the mood. Baseball is a game of improbabilities and the Tigers proved it Tuesday night with clutch feats from improbable guys. They rallied to edge the A’s 8-6 to force a decisive Game 5 of the ALDS, and the throaty cheers at Comerica Park told the story.
On a redemptive night, Jhonny Peralta took a mighty swing and erased more than a 3-0 deficit. His three-run homer in the fifth inning eased the sting of his PED-related suspension, foreshadowed the theme and just might have saved the season. Austin Jackson, who struck out three times, used his fourth attempt to break his bat as he poked the ball to right field for the game-winning single in the seventh.
From the hard-luck guys to the hard-throwing ace, this was terrific theater, if you don’t mind numbing tension. When Victor Martinez clubbed the tying home run in the seventh, of course it required a replay review to make sure a reaching fan didn’t interfere with right fielder Josh Reddick.
Scherzer then took everyone to the wild side, relieving Doug Fister in the seventh and loading the bases with nobody out in the eighth as the Tigers clung to a 5-4 lead. Desperate times? Scherzer stuck out Reddick on a 3-2 pitch that was in the dirt. He struck out Stephen Vogt. And then on another 3-2 pitch, he got Alberto Callaspo to line out to Jackson in center, and danger finally dissipated, for the moment.
Game 5 is Thursday night in Oakland, and if you’ve watched any of this series, you know the A’s aren’t going meekly. But the Tigers have their other ace, Justin Verlander, lined up for the start, eager for a reprisal. Yes, it was Verlander who closed out the A’s in the same situation a year ago, shutting them out in Game 5.
The way things looked, there was no way the Tigers were heading back to Oakland, because there seemed no end to their hitting slump. Everything was silent — the crowd, the bats, the scoreboard. The Tigers didn’t have a hit until the fifth inning off A’s rookie Dan Straily. Jackson was 1-for-14 in the series before his single, and if you’re still trying to figure this out, good luck.
I suppose it’s as simple as this — one swing, one pitch, one moment can change everything, and the Tigers got a few of each. There was no time for patience, and it was clear from the start as the crowd turned from festive to restive quickly. The first inning was an encapsulation of the Tigers’ recent frustrations, their puzzling traits all rolled together.
Once again, they couldn’t stop the A’s pesky leadoff hitter, Coco Crisp. Once again, questionable defense played a role, as Peralta was slow to retrieve Crisp’s liner, and an apparent double became a triple. Once again, the A’s grabbed the lead, 1-0, and the foreshadowing matched the late-afternoon shadows.
Jackson struck out again, and so did Torii Hunter. Miguel Cabrera sent a towering flyball to right-centerfield that two months ago would’ve been a home run. With his injury sapping his leg strength, it was a deep out.
And so it went, the storyline repeating itself. By the bottom of the fifth, Oakland was on top 3-0 and Detroit still was seeking its first home run of the series. The clock was ticking on the season and the crowd was getting ticked off. It looked dire, but one swing can change everything when it’s least expected. A bloop base hit by Prince Fielder. Another base hit by Martinez. And then the Peralta blast that cleared the leftfield fence to tie the game 3-3 and send the fans into delirium.
There was nothing conflicted about it, either. Peralta paid the price for his steroid use with a 50-game suspension, and returned willing to accept any role. He moved to a new position in leftfield, said all the right things, then grabbed a bat and delivered the hit of the year, so far.
Finally, several Tigers grabbed a bat and swung the heavy lumber. It was tight to the end and you can bet it’ll be tight in Game 5, where the Tigers again try to turn the improbable back to reality.