OAKLAND -- While the pitching matchup of A.L. ERA leader Sonny Gray and reigning Cy Young winner Max Scherzer wasn’t the low-scoring affair one might have expected, the margin of victory did prove appropriately thin. The Tigers won, 6-5, by breaking a tie in the eighth on an unearned run, using no hits but a dash of speed and daring.
After Fernando Abad walked J.D. Martinez with one out, the Tigers sent Rajai Davis in to pinch-run. Davis took second on a wild pitch to Nick Castellanos and then, after a 2-1 pitch that was called a strike, broke for third base on a delayed steal as A’s catcher Derek Norris threw the ball back to Abad.
"He timed it perfectly," Melvin said of Davis. "Soon as (Norris) let go of the ball, he took off. … That’s a big chance he took, and it paid off."
Abad didn’t even attempt a throw to third. Castellanos walked, and after Luke Gregerson replaced Abad, the Tigers’ Austin Jackson hit a slow chopper and beat Eric Sogard’s turn to first base to avoid a double play and score Davis on a fielder’s choice.
Melvin said he hadn’t seen a replay of the delayed steal, so he wasn’t sure if Abad might have been able to throw out Davis had he reacted immediately. But he said: "You always have to be ready for something like that with a guy that fast."
Jackson’s speed also loomed large in the inning. His chopper gave shortstop Jed Lowrie a play at second base on Castellanos, but Jackson beat Sogard’s throw to first by a full step.
"When he rolls over one, it’s a little bit of a jailbreak for him -- he’s going to beat it out," Melvin said of Jackson. "He just put it in the right spot."
Indeed, with a slower runner, it might have been an inning-ending double play. Certainly Gregerson induced the ground ball he was trying to get. Contrast those baserunning plays with Coco Crisp’s being thrown out trying to steal third after a leadoff double in the first inning, though, and it highlighted just how close Tuesday’s game turned out to be.
Crisp, who had been 9-for-10 on stolen base attempts this season, broke on the first pitch from Max Scherzer to John Jaso and was thrown out on a quick release by Tigers catcher Alex Avila. Melvin challenged the play, and the call was upheld, leaving the A’s without their challenge two batters into the bottom of the first.
Melvin said he didn’t have an issue with Crisp’s steal attempt, despite it resulting in the A’s making the first out of the inning at third base and quashing a potential first-inning rally against Scherzer.
"I have as much faith in Coco as a base-stealer as anybody I’ve been around," Melvin said. "He studies, he knows moves, he knows tendencies, and if you look at our stolen-base percentage this year, it’s been really good.
"He had a green light there. If he wants to steal when he’s got a green light, I’m all for it. They made a great throw to get him."
Plenty of scoring remained. But as a bang-bang play on the basepaths, it set a tone for the outcome of the game.
* About that pitching matchup: Neither starter factored into the decision. Both lasted six innings and gave up eight hits. Gray allowed a season-high four earned runs and saw his ERA rise from 1.99 to 2.31. Scherzer, who came in averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings (best in the A.L.), struck out just four and was at 66 pitches after three innings.
Gray turned a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen in the seventh and saw it disappear when Torii Hunter hit a two-run home run off Dan Otero to straightaway center field. That also took Scherzer off the hook for a loss, as Ian Krol replaced him in the bottom of the seventh.
"They both battled," Melvin said of the starters. "Both teams made them work real hard, each guy, and got some big hits and some key hits off him. You don’t expect that going into the game, but you expect the outcome to be close, and that was the case."
Gray allowed two runs in the first as four consecutive Tigers reached, but settled down a little after that, retiring six in a row before Miguel Cabrera homered with one out in the third. Gray, who threw 102 pitches, said his outing "was definitely a battle."
"Felt like I made some good pitches and they put some good swings on the ball," he said. "They have a really, really good lineup. Sometimes if you’re not spot-on, they’ll make it tough against you."
Gray said his arm "felt great" and his velocity was up -- and that those factors might have actually worked against him. "I felt really, really good," he said, "and a lot of times when that happens you tend to leave a ball up. … No matter how hard you’re throwing you can’t leave it up, especially to these guys."
Catcher John Jaso said Gray posed the same theory to him after coming out of the game. Jaso said Gray didn’t pitch badly, but "it seemed like his two-seamer wasn’t moving like it normally does, and that’s where he ran into trouble. The balls that got hit hard were that pitch."
Cabrera’s homer came on a fastball up and in, but Gray said he wasn’t that unhappy with the pitch. Instead, consider this an illustration of why Cabrera is one of the best hitters in baseball. Gray got ahead 0-2 when Cabrera swung through a fastball, then swung over a curveball low and away. Gray threw another curve further outside on 0-2 that Cabrera did not swing at but did lunge after.
Gray said he "thought I had him leaning out over (the plate)," making a fastball located up and in a logical pitch. But Cabrera stayed straightened up and unloaded on the pitch, hitting it into the stands in left field.
"I thought I made a good pitch," Gray said. "It was just a good swing."
* Scherzer also labored through his six innings, with the A’s taking him deep into counts and making him work for outs. John Jaso epitomized that by seeing 20 pitches in his first two at-bats before homering on a 1-0 changeup in his third at-bat to put the A’s up 5-4 in the fourth.
Jaso said he was reading Scherzer’s slider well Tuesday, so he was able to lay off of the sliders and foul off Scherzer’s fastball, which Scherzer rarely threw over the middle of the plate. "I think his go-to pitch was that changeup, and every time he threw the change to me, he was fooling me," Jaso said. "The only one that didn’t fool me was the homer, and that was just because he left it up."
Afterward, Jaso had his left arm wrapped as the result of a third-inning at-bat that ended oddly. Scherzer threw a fastball that caught Jaso on the left arm, but Jaso hardly reacted and umpires first ruled it had hit his bat and bounced into fair territory, calling him out on a groundout.
Melvin ran out to argue, but that was rendered unnecessary because of the welt that blew up immediately on Jaso’s left forearm. Jaso showed the bruise and was sent to first base.
"I think it hit a vein and just burst," Jaso said. "But it was fine."
Jaso seemed OK after the game and said the swelling hadn’t as much gone down as just spread over a wider area of his forearm.
"Sometimes you play on adrenaline," Melvin said. "We’ll see how he feels tomorrow. I was surprised looking at it that he wasn’t having difficulty catching, throwing or hitting."
* Melvin was also asked if there was anything wrong with Crisp, who hit the center-field wall leaping to try to catch Hunter’s homer in the seventh, and said the A’s had checked on Crisp and "he felt fine."
It wasn’t nearly as hard a collision as the one Crisp sustained earlier this month that led to him missing nearly a week with bruised ribs.
* Josh Donaldson, who earlier today learned he’s leading All-Star fan voting among third basemen in the American League, went hitless but drew a walk. He has now reached base in 42 consecutive games as a third baseman, the longest such streak by a third baseman in A’s history since at least 1914.
* So the A’s remain tied with the Toronto Blue Jays for the most wins in the A.L. with 31 and own the best winning percentage by virtue of one fewer loss, despite having lost five of their last six games. They send Scott Kazmir (5-2, 2.56) to the mound Wednesday, as Detroit counters with Anibal Sanchez (1-2, 2.89). First pitch at 7:05 p.m.