DETROIT – The A's had already struck once against Max Scherzer and appeared to have the Tigers' tall right-hander on the ropes again, trailing by one run but with the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth inning Tuesday night. And then, A's catcher Stephen Vogt said, something about Scherzer seemed to change.
"You could see his demeanor, as soon as the bases were loaded, he just got better," Vogt said. "He gritted down and said, 'Nope.' "
With the potential tying run 90 feet from the plate and the A's one win from clinching this American League Division Series, Scherzer, the 21-game winner summoned in relief, retired the next three A's hitters in order to preserve what was then a 5-4 lead. The Tigers held on late for an 8-6 win to force a winner-take-all Game 5 Thursday at O.co Coliseum.
It dropped the A's to 1-11 in their last 12 potential postseason clinchers. Now, for the second year in a row, the A's will face Detroit's Justin Verlander at home in an elimination game for both teams, with Oakland's starter – either veteran Bartolo Colon or rookie Sonny Gray – yet to be determined.
"It's a lost opportunity to win today," center fielder Coco Crisp said.
"It's not a lost opportunity to win the entire series. We still have another game. We get to play in front of our fans. We'll try to make the most of it."
In a back-and-forth Game 4, the A's led 3-0 in the fifth inning and 4-3 in the seventh, and brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth despite beginning the inning down by four. Still, the enduring image will likely be Scherzer stalking off the mound after the last out in the top of the eighth, pumping his fists and shouting.
Brandon Moss led off the eighth with a walk, Yoenis Cespedes blooped a double to right, and the Tigers intentionally walked Seth Smith to load the bases. But Scherzer struck out Josh Reddick and Vogt, and then got pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to center to escape the jam.
Reddick went down swinging at a full-count changeup low and inside that would have been ball four. The seventh pitch of the at-bat, it followed six mid-90s fastballs. Scherzer said that, after throwing a fastball for the first 3-2 pitch, he thought "that if I executed a changeup that there was a chance I could get a swing and miss."
"He made a great pitch and I swung at a ball out of the zone," Reddick said. "All you can do is tip your cap at that point."
Said Moss of the pitch selection and location: "That is a (gutsy) pitch."
Vogt then struck out swinging at a 98-mph fastball for the second out.
Callaspo worked a 1-2 count full, but his sharp line drive to center hung up just long enough for the Tigers' Austin Jackson to make the catch.
"We got the bases-loaded, nobody-out situation, and we just didn't come through, myself included," Vogt said. "He got tough, and we didn't match it."
An inning earlier, Vogt had given the A's a 4-3 lead when he singled off Scherzer and scored on a single by Crisp, one of Crisp's four hits in the game. But the A's gave that lead back in the bottom of the seventh. Victor Martinez started the inning by homering off Sean Doolittle, and Jackson broke the tie with a broken-bat, two-out single. Before the at-bat, Jackson had been 1 for 14 in the series, with 10 strikeouts.
The Tigers, who didn't have a hit through the first four innings Tuesday against rookie starter Dan Straily, added three runs in the eighth off an A's bullpen that hadn't allowed a run in nine games coming in. That proved crucial when Cespedes' two-out, two-run single made it a two-run game in the ninth. Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit then struck out Smith to push the series to the brink.
"It was such a back-and-forth game, there were so many chances by both teams. I don't know if we can put that kind of pressure on ourselves going into Game 5 that we let one get away," Doolittle said.
"They're such a good team that you knew they were going to put up a hell of a fight here to force Game 5. And I don't really think we're going to take it that way, to be honest."
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015, and read his online reports at blogs.sacbee.com/ bay-area-baseball.
Video highlights from Tuesday's game: