Many Tiger fans were not optimistic heading into today's potential elimination game versus the Athletics and the early innings did little to inspire confidence. Starter Doug Fister did not have his usual good command. The slumping hitters continued to flail away as Oakland right hander Dan Straily held them hitless for four innings. Gimpy slugger Miguel Cabrera seemed to aggravate one of his injuries when he tried to make a play on a little nubber towards third base. It was not looking good at all.
When Athletics shortstop Jed Lowrie lofted a two-run homer to right just beyond the the glove of a leaping Torii Hunter, Oakland took a 3-0 lead against Fister in the top of the fifth. Few fans, thought the Tigers could come back. Earlier in the season, they might have expected the team to rally from behind but not today. Not this team that had scored three runs in their last 21 innings, all in one inning. Not with superstar Cabrera struggling badly at the plate with an array of injuries.
Up to that point, no Tiger had hit a home run in the series and half their starters were batting under .200. Lead-off hitter Austin had already struck out twice today to up his series total to nine. Torii Hunter, Cabrera and just about everyone else looked helpless at the plate. The only base runner in the first four innings was hefty first baseman Prince Fielder, who was hit by a Straily pitch.
Tweeters on Twitter and posters on message boards were giving up on the season and already discussing off-season activity. Facing a seemingly certain season-ending loss, fans were ready for a roster shake-up. Would the Tigers re-sign second baseman Omar Infante? How about dealing Doug Fister or Rick Porcello and moving Drew Smyly into the rotation? Or maybe they would do something really big like trade Fielder or Jackson.
Everything changed quickly in the bottom of the fifth. Fielder led off with a single followed by another single by designated hitter Victor Martinez. Then Jhonny Peralta, who missed most of the last two months of the regular season serving a 50-game suspension for performancing enhancing drug use and started the series on the bench, got his second big hit in two games - a three-run home run to left to tie the game at three.
After Fister and Straily both got through the sixth leaving the score tied at three, game one starter and probable Cy-Young-Award winner Max Scherzer came out of the bullpen in the seventh. He wasn't at his best though giving up a run on two hits making it 4-3 Athletics.
So, Tigers followers were frustrated again, but not for too long this time as Martinez homered to right field just beyond the reach of outfielder Josh Reddick to tie the score 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh. The play was reviewed when the Athletics argued that a fan had interfered. A fan had indeed reached over and touched the ball, but the ball appeared to be going over the wall and it could not be assumed that it would have been caught. So, the play stood. (By the way, those hoping that the instant replay thing is going to go really quickly with quick decisions withinn seconds will be disappointed if this play was any indication).
Peralta followed with a double and scored on a broken bat single by Jackson who finally made contact after whiffing three times today and ten times in the series. The Tigers had the lead to stay this time, but it would not be without drama.
In the eighth inning, Scherzer worked his way into a bases loaded and no out jam with on a walk, a double and an intentional walk. Then he proceeded with some of the clutchest pitching we've seen from a Tiger hurler in recent memory. He went to three and two on Reddick before getting him to swing at a change-up about a foot off the plate for strike three. He more easily retired catcher Stephen Vogt on strikes for the second out. Finally, he got pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to Jackson in center for the final out. That was some gutsy work by Mr.Scherzer.
The Tigers tacked on three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth to make it 8-4. The key hit was a two-run double by Infante. It turns out they would need it as the closer Joaquin Benoit gave up two in the ninth making it an 8-6 final score.
I've been watching the Tigers for 46 years and this was one of the most dramatic games I've ever witnessed. This one did not have a Magglio moment, but there was more at stake here with the Tigers facing elimination and there will be lasting memories - Peralta's blast, Martinez's reviewed homer, Jackson's single and Scherzer's great bases loaded and no out escape.
Some Tigers fans may have given up hope early in the game, but the Tigers didn't quit and the season goes on. Nine more wins for a World Championship.