Detroit — Game 5 between Detroit and Oakland hasn’t been all that friendly to the A’s in recent times.
And it still wasn’t Monday night.
Down three runs entering the ninth inning, the Tigers clawed and clawed until Rajai Davis won it on a walk-off grand slam, a towering home run into the bullpen in left field for a 5-4 victory before a delirious sellout crowd at Comerica Park.
It was a fitting finish on the night the Tigers celebrated the 1984 champions.
This was the fifth meeting this season between these frequent playoff opponents, and the American League behemoths had split the first four games. The Tigers eliminated the A’s from the postseason each of the previous two seasons, both times in do-or-die Game 5s in the American League Division Series.
The only thing missing this time was the champagne, though a mob scene at home plate will suffice.
“When you’re actually the guy that’s getting mobbed, it’s a great feeling,” Davis said, beaming.
And your last walk-off, Rajai?
“In my dreams,” he cracked, “when I was sleeping.”
The walk-off grand slam was the eighth in Tigers history, and the first since Carlos Pena did it on June 27, 2004. That night, the Tigers were honoring the 20th anniversary of the 1984 Tigers.
And for the 30th anniversary, another walk-off slam.
“It definitely brings the guys together as a group,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “You see the big pile at home plate and they celebrated a little bit in the clubhouse, it’s a fun way to win a game.
“It’s not something you want to do every night, because you’ll end up having a coronary.”
The Tigers, playing without Victor Martinez (strained side), were shut down offensively most of the night thanks to A’s lefty Scott Kazmir, who’s reinvented himself with fantastic success. Two A’s relievers did the job, as well.
And it figured to be a cakewalk for A’s left-handed closer Sean Doolittle, too, given the fantastic year he’s having. He’d only walked one batter all year, in 39 innings.
The Tigers knew this. So rather than the traditional approach of a batter late in a tight ballgame — take a pitch — the Tigers went up there looking for fastballs. Nick Castellanos got one and drilled an infield single that A’s third baseman Alberto Callaspo stopped but couldn’t convert into an out, then Alex Avila ripped a single to right.
“He’s extremely tough,” Avila said of Doolittle. “Knowing the type of year he’s having, you just gotta try to get on the first good pitch you see. Nick did that, I did that.”
Eugenio Suarez was aggressive, too, but struck out swinging on three pitches.
That brought up Austin Jackson. On a night when the 1984 Tigers waxed poetic about a 13-pitch battle Dave Bergman had against Toronto’s Roy Lee Jackson in June that year — an at-bat that ended with a walk-off home run — Jackson had a nine-pitch plate appearance of his own. Granted, he didn’t hit the walk-off. But he fouled off three consecutive two-strike pitches, before laying off two tough pitches for Doolittle’s second walk of the year. So, huge all the same.
“He was fighting everything off,” Castellanos said. “He won the battle.”
Two pitches later, Davis won the game.
He got a middle-cut slider, slightly in, and didn’t miss it, though not everyone knew it was gone immediately off the bat.
“I wasn’t sure,” Ausmus said. “(Bench coach) Gene Lamont seemed to know. I know his eyes were going. Geno did say, right away, ‘He just won the game for us.’ He’s the wise sage.”
The grand slam was the third of Davis’ career, but none were bigger than this one, in a battle of likely postseason-bound teams before a Monday-night crowd of 42,477.
The big swing also took Anibal Sanchez off the hook for yet another hard-luck loss. He pitched well into the eighth inning before the A’s rallied for three runs off him and Joba Chamberlain, who was off his game for once. Oakland could’ve done more damage, but surging lefty reliever Phil Coke got a double play — it nearly was a triple play — and a groundout to keep it 4-1.
“A phenomenal job stopping the bleeding,” Castellanos said of Coke.
Rookie lefty reliever Blaine Hardy then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Little did he know that would be good for his first major-league win.
Cabrera homered for the Tigers’ other run, a moon shot to left off Kazmir in the sixth.
The Tigers were without Martinez — having gotten treatment all day, he wasn’t available to pinch-hit for Davis in the ninth. Under normal circumstances, it probably would’ve been an easy call. But no problem. Davis just did his best Martinez impression.
And the Tigers, to be sure, were impressed.
“Boom,” said Avila, “there it went.”