The series is headed back to the Bay Area, back to O.co Coliseum and its 48,000+ awaiting fans Thursday evening.
The A’s had their opportunities to win the series in Game 4 and prevent a Game 5 from being necessary. They lead the game 3-0 following a first inning RBI by Jed Lowrie and a two-run home run by Lowrie in the fifth inning.
Pitching spectacularly to that point, Dan Straily made his first mistake of the night, leaving a fastball out over the plate to Johnny Peralta, who promptly turned on the pitch and sent it over the fence to tie the score at 3-3 and make it a whole new ballgame.
The A’s went back ahead 4-3 in the top of the seventh inning on an RBI single by Coco Crisp to bring in Stephen Vogt, but again lost the lead in the bottom half of the inning on a controversial home run call by umpire Gary Darling on a ball hit by Victor Martinez to re-tie the game.
Josh Reddick tracked Martinez’s fly ball and seemed to time his leap perfectly. A fan reached out over the railing though and prevented the ball from ever finding Reddick’s glove. Several replay angles were inconclusive if Reddick had a realistic chance at catching the ball or not, and the review resulted in a confirmed home run call.
“It was clear he was not going to catch the ball, so it was clearly going to be a home run,” Darling stated. “There wasn’t any other evidence on replay to turn it another way.”
Melvin saw it a little differently, stating, “It looked like and Reddick’s reaction was that he thought he could have potentially caught it. The explanation was it was over the yellow line and it wasn’t fan interference even though I guess a fan touched it.”
No guessing needed, Bob. A fan touched it.
Austin Jackson gave the Tigers the lead for the first time a few batters later, singling home Andy Dirks for a 5-4 Detroit advantage before they broke the game open an inning later with three more runs to push the score to 8-4.
The A’s had their opportunities. In the top of the eighth, Oakland had the bases loaded with no outs, still trailing just 5-4 at that point. Max Scherzer, pitching in relief of Doug Fister, got himself out of the jam though, striking out Reddick and Vogt before getting Alberto Callaspo to line out to end the threat.
Oakland was able to cut the deficit to 8-6 in the top half of the ninth, but Tigers’ closer Joaquin Benoit limited the damage and kept Detroit’s season alive.
Which brings us to this coming Thursday.
There was no doubt that there would be another game in Oakland this season, though the hope heading into Tuesday night was that the next game would be delayed to either Saturday (assuming the Rays had come back and beat the Red Sox) or Monday (as would now be the case with the Red Sox advancing to the ALCS and having home field advantage for the series). Such is no longer the case. The next, and to be honest, potentially last game of the season at O.co this year, will be the deciding Game 5 of the ALDS — the second time in as many years that we have seen such a game hosted in this venue.
The opponent, also the same, right down to the same starting pitcher. Justin Verlander, he of the AL Cy Young and MVP winning type, will be on the hill for the Tigers. And make no mistake, this is not the Justin Verlander that had his struggles throughout the 2013 season. This is the Verlander that lives for this type of moment.
“It’s what you play the game for,” Verlander said Tuesday after his team staved off elimination. “It’s exciting. This is what you dream of as a kid, be on the mound in a clinching game.”
Opposing him for the A’s? We don’t know yet. A’s manager Bob Melvin has not yet decided on a starter. The options? The veteran, Bartolo Colon? Or the rookie, Sonny Gray?
You really can’t go wrong with either pitcher. Colon has the experience and the demeanor on the mound that nothing gets to him and no moment is too big. Gray, on the other hand, was sensational in his start in Game 2 against Verlander, matching the perennial All Star pitch for pitch throughout a tough fought 1-0 victory that Oakland won on their final at bat.
The A’s will need their offense to show up for Game 5 against Verlander if they hope to advance to play the Red Sox in the ALCS.
Leading the attack, Coco Crisp will need to be a force again for the A’s. He was 4-for-5 in Tuesday night’s loss, scoring three runs and driving in one.
“He’s our ignitor, no doubt about it,” Melvin said of his center fielder. “He can hit, he steals bases, he gets on base, he takes the pitcher’s attention off the pinch hitter a lot of times and he’s had an awfully good year. He is our engine.”
Crisp is hitting .500 for the series.
Yoenis Cespedes has also been a consistent offensive presence for the A’s, batting .389 in the series, and Seth Smith brings a .417 series average into Game 5.
The A’s were 52-29 at home during the regular season, and are 1-1 this postseason. It’s been well stated this postseason that Oakland is the best home field advantage in all baseball. There’s no doubt the Coliseum will be packed, loud, and an imposing force all its own on Thursday night.
“It’s a lost opportunity to win today, but it’s not a lost opportunity to win the entire series,” Crisp told MLB.com’s Jane Lee. “We still have another game, and we get to play in front of our fans.”
Perhaps it was the opposing pitcher that said it best though:
“I guess you know what to expect a little bit, what the crowd is going to be like, and it’s going to be fun,” Verlander had to say.
“It’s not just another game. The season is on the line… This whole season, the way we battled and played as a team, comes down to one game, may the best team win.”