The Tigers' Jhonny Peralta, left, and Prince Fielder celebrate in front of Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt after Peralta hit a three-run home run in the fifth inning. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Oakland, Calif. — Boston’s waiting.
A one-game trip means one of two things: a makeup of a rainout.
Or something far more important.
The Tigers are facing the latter, something far more important Thursday night in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the A’s at O.co Coliseum.
They face the either/or — moving on in the postseason or moving into the offseason.
Awaiting the winner of this series are the Red Sox, who host Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday.
If it’s the Tigers, you care. Absolutely, you do.
If it’s the A’s, unless you bleed yellow and green, you don’t.
Can the Tigers get there? Sure. They’d never be happier to fly cross-country again.
But to get there, they won’t have Max Scherzer to start after he threw 47 pitches in relief and was the Game 4 winning pitcher.
As long as he didn’t break any hands high-fiving teammates after getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning, it was a heck of a scene as the Tigers could sense they were about to extend the A’s series to the limit.
Back to the question of whether they can take the next step, though, and to the answer: Sure.
They can for several reasons more than why they can’t.
That alone is a big difference in the way of looking at Game 5 after the less promising challenge of having to win two in a row.
When the Tigers were down 2-1 in the series, they weren’t hitting. The need was for someone, anyone, to step up and deliver a big hit.
When they were down 3-0 in the fifth inning Tuesday and, one by one, were going quietly at the plate, the outlook still was bleak.
Jhonny Peralta changed all that with his three-run home run.
The Tigers held onto their hope, but suddenly there was life alongside the hope. And you know the difference.
You can still hope for a birdie when you’ve been hitting bad shots all day. But the real hope comes when you’re 5 feet from the pin.
Peralta’s home run got the Tigers on the green, close to the pin.
There was plenty of work to be done after that, though.
Undaunted, the A’s took a 4-3 lead off Scherzer. The Tigers came right back to tie it on Victor Martinez’s home run.
Austin Jackson, who’d struck out four consecutive times the last two games and was 1-for-14 with 10 strikeouts in the series, put the Tigers in front with a broken bat single to right in the seventh.
One of the lingering questions was why A’s manager Bob Melvin stuck with left-hander Sean Doolittle against Jackson when right-handers had been eating him up, but the answer to that is left-handers had been, too.
“Doolittle is our guy,” Melvin said. “It’s his inning. I brought him into the eighth the other day against right-handed hitters.”
But he had just walked Jose Iglesias before Jackson’s at-bat.
“He’s our guy,” Melvin said.
Verlander on his game
The A’s were disappointed, but didn’t seem particularly shaken by the loss. That’s because they don’t feel overmatched.
Even if they did, the solace of returning home makes them feel better about prevailing than probably they should.
After all, they’ll be going up against Justin Verlander, who’s been vintage Verlander three consecutive starts and blanked the A’s on four hits and 11 strikeouts in seven innings of Game 2.
In his last 19 innings, all of which have been scoreless, Verlander has 33 strikeouts.
He’s tweaked everything that can be tweaked in his delivery, having to settle for a 13-12 record, but whatever his last tweak was seems to have worked.
He was, however, lights-out in Game 2 and the Tigers still lost 1-0, so Game 5 will be about this: Will one productive game lead to another for the Tigers?
For the first 31 innings of the A’s series, they scored six runs.
In the last four innings of Game 4, they scored eight.
“You just dream to be in this position,” Jackson said. “We’re going to be pumped, and we know they’re going to be pumped, as well. It’s going to be fun.”