October 9, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Looking up: Tigers revive bats to force decisive Game 5

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Detroit — It was never impossible, but it was looking improbable. And then the unlikeliest scenarios started lining up, and the Tigers emerged from the deepest danger, gasping but resuscitated.

There was Max Scherzer, newly crowned clutch reliever, pumping his arm in wild exultation after a narrow escape. There was Jhonny Peralta, once banished, now basking. There were Tigers suddenly circling the bases, as the huge crowd roared half in relief, half in disbelief.

The Tigers were pushed to the brink and nearly past it. And then in the flick of a swing, they were back in the game, back in the series, back in the mood. The Tigers rallied to edge the A’s 8-6 Tuesday night to force a decisive Game 5 of the ALDS, and the throaty cheers at Comerica Park told the story.

Baseball is a game of improbabilities, and the Tigers proved it with clutch feats from improbable guys. On a redemptive night, Peralta took a mighty cut and erased more than a 3-0 deficit. His three-run homer in the fifth inning eased the sting of his suspension and just might have saved the season. Austin Jackson, who struck out three times, broke his bat on his fourth attempt and poked the ball to right field to knock in the go-ahead run in the seventh.

From the hard-luck guys to the hard-throwing ace, this was terrific theater, if you don’t mind numbing tension. Jim Leyland gambled and Scherzer delivered with two innings of gutsy relief, somehow slipping out of a bases-loaded jam. Even when Victor Martinez clubbed the tying home run in the seventh, it required a replay review to make sure a fan didn’t interfere with right fielder Josh Reddick.

The hitting drought ended in a flourish, and Peralta and Jackson showed what to do when given another chance. Jackson was booed after his strikeouts and mired in a 1-for-14 slump before his hit. At that very moment, I’m not sure which was more palpable — the cheers of the crowd or the sigh from Jackson.

“It felt great, a relief to just get something going,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t worried about the booing, to be honest. I’m still confident in myself, and my teammates kept my head up and kept pumping me up.”

Peralta was one of those teammates talking with Jackson between innings, and if anyone could appreciate the difficulty, it’s him. Peralta served a 50-game suspension for steroid use and returned in the final week, willing to accept any role. He moved to a new position, said all the right things, then grabbed a bat and delivered the hit of the year, so far.

When he returned to his left-field spot in the bottom of the inning, the fans cheered madly, and one threw the home-run ball back to him. Peralta is a man of few words, but it struck him deep.

All's forgiven

“The fans feel really good to me,” he said. “I tried to do my best for the team and the fans. I feel grateful for the opportunity.”

No one ever feels comfortable in the playoffs, and the Tigers certainly aren’t safe yet. Game 5 is Thursday night in Oakland, and you know the A’s aren’t going meekly. But the Tigers have another ace, Justin Verlander, ready to start, eager for a reprisal. It was Verlander in the same situation a year ago, shutting the A’s out in Game 5.

The way things looked, there was no way the Tigers were heading back to Oakland. Everything was silent — the crowd, the bats — and the Tigers didn’t have a hit until the fifth inning off rookie Dan Straily. Sometimes it’s as simple as this: One swing, one pitch can change everything, and the Tigers got a few of each.

Scherzer took everyone to the wild side when he relieved Doug Fister, then loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth as the Tigers clung to a 5-4 lead. Desperate times? Uh, no problem. Scherzer struck out Reddick on a 3-2 pitch that was in the dirt, then struck out Stephen Vogt. Then on another 3-2 pitch, he got Alberto Callaspo to line to Jackson in center, and danger finally dissipated, for the moment.

“To be able to get out of that jam, that’s something I’ll never forget,” Scherzer said. “That’s something I’m not really asked to do, and obviously Skip had the confidence in me to stick with me.”

It was an incredible escape for the presumptive Cy Young winner with the 21-3 record, and it wasn’t even the strangest turn of the night. Once again, the Tigers couldn’t stop the A’s pesky leadoff hitter, Coco Crisp. Once again, the A’s grabbed the lead, 1-0, and the foreshadowing matched the late-afternoon shadows.

Not looking good

Jackson and Torii Hunter struck out in the first. Then Miguel Cabrera sent a towering flyball that two months ago would’ve been a home run. With his groin injury sapping his leg strength, it was a deep out, and as the slugger limped, the signs were ominous.

By the bottom of the fifth, Oakland was on top 3-0 and Detroit still was seeking its first home run of the series. It looked dire before a bloop hit by Prince Fielder, and another hit by Martinez. Then came the Peralta blast that cleared the left-field fence to tie the game 3-3 and send the fans into delirium.

There was nothing conflicted about it, either. Peralta paid his penance and is back mainly because the Tigers need his bat. But the fans also welcomed him back, and so did his teammates.

“That home run couldn’t have come at a better time, and couldn’t have happened to a better guy,” Jackson said. “Jhonny’s been awesome, and for him to do that in that situation, it shows what kind of player he is.”

It showed what kind of night this was. Finally, several players grabbed a bat and swung the heavy lumber. It was crazy and tight to the end, and you can expect more of the same in Game 5, when the Tigers again will try to turn the improbable back to reality.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/bobwojnowski

Austin Jackson hits a broken-bat single that scores the Tigers' go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning Tuesday. The Tigers defeated the A's 8-6 and will play Game 5 at 9:07 p.m. Thursday in Oakland, Calif. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News