DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers are heading back to California with the help of Max Scherzer and some fans in right field.
During a relief outing to remember, Scherzer escaped a major jam one inning after two fans reached out to try to reel in Victor Martinez’s disputed home run, and the Tigers rallied past the Oakland Athletics 8-6 on Tuesday to force a decisive fifth game in their A.L. division series.
Playing catch-up most of the way, the Tigers tied it first with Jhonny Peralta’s three-run homer in the fifth inning and then on Martinez’s solo shot in the seventh. A couple of fans attempted to catch Martinez’s drive, and at least one of them bobbled the ball as he reached over the railing above the wall.
That prevented right fielder Josh Reddick from having any chance at a leaping grab. Reddick and center fielder Coco Crisp immediately protested, pointing up at the stands in the hope of a fan-interference call. But umpires upheld the home run after a replay review.
Scherzer, making his first relief appearance since the 2011 postseason, gave up a run in the seventh and got in trouble again in the eighth. With the Tigers ahead 5-4, he allowed a walk and a double to start the inning, but after an intentional walk to load the bases, manager Jim Leyland left his 21-game winner on the mound.
Scherzer struck out Reddick and Stephen Vogt before getting pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to center.
“It was surreal,” Scherzer said. “Maybe it’s not the ninth inning, but that’s the stuff you dream about pitching – bases loaded, eighth inning, no outs and I was able to do it.”
Detroit, hitless through the first four innings in a game of twists and turns, added three runs in the eighth on a wild pitch and a two-run double by Omar Infante that made it 8-4.
Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run single in the ninth, bringing the potential tying run to the plate, but Joaquin Benoit struck out Seth Smith to end it.
After avoiding elimination, the Tigers can now send Justin Verlander to the mound for Game 5 on Thursday night in Oakland. Verlander shut out the A’s at the Coliseum in the decisive fifth game of the division series last year.
Scherzer was in line to start Game 5 before being pressed into service Tuesday.
“We took our best shot and we had to because we were behind the 8-ball a little bit,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “We took that shot.”
Oakland hasn’t announced a starter for Game 5. It is Bartolo Colon’s turn in the postseason rotation, but rookie Sonny Gray could also come back on normal rest after a brilliant performance in Game 2.
Crisp had four hits and three runs for the A’s, who led 3-0 and 4-3 but couldn’t close out the defending American League champions. The Oakland bullpen hadn’t allowed a run all series until Tuesday.
After Crisp put the A’s ahead 4-3 with an RBI single off Scherzer in the seventh, Martinez lifted a fly to right against reliever Sean Doolittle. It would have been an extremely difficult catch for Reddick, and it looked as though the ball might have cleared the wall even without the fans’ involvement.
“I have no doubt I was going to catch that ball. When I looked at the replay, that’s what I thought,” Reddick said. “It’s totally frustrating that a fan can influence the game.”