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DETROIT — Winter in Motown remains on hold.
A crowd of 43,958 at Comerica Park exploded to life Tuesday as the Tigers held off postseason elimination with a pair of rallies and ace-turned-reliever Max Scherzer’s improbable forestalling of another in an 8-6 victory over the Athletics.
On a night where goats became heroes, the recently outcast Jhonny Peralta belted a game-tying three-run homer, the staggering Austin Jackson hit a broken-bat game-winning single in the seventh, and Scherzer earned redemption in a way he said you “dream about.”
In a back-and-forth division series thriller, Scherzer allowed the go-ahead run upon entering in relief of starter Doug Fister in the seventh inning and nearly ceded a 5-4 lead an inning later. Yet after facing a 3-1 count with the bases loaded and no outs, he found a season-saving reserve.
Scherzer struck out Josh Reddick swinging on a low-and-in, full-count changeup, punched out Stephen Vogt, and watched pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo send a screamer into the glove of Jackson in center. The Tigers’ expected Cy Young Award winner pumped both fists, and a city did the same, the once-sedate crowd standing and in full throat the rest of the night.
“This is a good series,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I mean, I’m sure the commissioner is happy it’s going five. We’ll see what happens.”
Game 5 is Thursday in Oakland. Justin Verlander will lead the Tigers into their third straight winner-take-all division series finale. Detroit beat the Yankees in 2011 while Verlander shut out the A’s last season.
“You don’t pretend this is just another game,” Verlander said. “The season is on the line. ... It’s what you play the game for.”
It was a stirring finish to a day that not long before featured a creeping sense of an opportunity lost.
The club’s 84-year-old owner, Mike Ilitch, signed off on a franchise-record $152.9 million payroll expressly to deliver Detroit its first World Series title since 1984, and it all set up so perfectly. The Tigers had a nucleus of high-end stars squarely in their prime — Miguel Cabrera, 30 years old, Prince Fielder, 29, Verlander, 30, Scherzer, 29, and Anibal Sanchez, 29 — inarguably the best starting rotation in baseball and arguably the best offense.
Then came October. Trailing 3-0 in the fifth, the Tigers were in their 32nd inning of the postseason. They had scored in two of them.
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Dan Straily, the Athletics’ 24-year-old rookie fourth starter, carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning — his only imperfection an 0-2 fastball off Prince Fielder’s arm in the second.
In the stands, a man shouted, “If we’re going down, we’re going down loud.” He meant the crowd. The Tigers heeded the message.
Their biggest hits came from a pair of unlikely sources. Peralta, the converted left fielder less than two weeks removed from a 50-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis doping scandal, followed the Tigers’ first two hits — a bloop by Fielder and a single through the right side by Victor Martinez — with a three-run shot just over the left-field wall. It was Detroit’s first home run in more than seven games.
“I was thrilled because I said we need another over-the-fence bat in the lineup,” Leyland said. “I don’t want to sound like I’m smart, but that’s what happened, and it was huge.”
Then, after Martinez belted a game-tying solo shot to right to lead off the seventh, Jackson had his chance two outs later. Previously 1 for 14 with 10 strikeouts in the series and the biggest target of fan frustration, his floating RBI single off reliever Sean Doolittle proved the game-winner.
“I was just happy it fell,” Jackson said. “Looking over at the dugout, and seeing how happy they were for me, I kind of got chills.”
Scherzer, making his first relief appearance since the 2011 postseason, would feel the same in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Even as the right-hander loaded the bases and faced a 3-1 count against Reddick, Leyland showed little hesitation.
“Max is a strikeout guy,” he said, “so you take your shot.”
As did Scherzer, his full-count changeup to Reddick an admittedly bold call.
“I bounced it on the wrong side of the plate,” he said. “I pulled it. But it still had the effectiveness of looking like a fastball, because I got a swing and miss. That was huge.”
He struck out Vogt on another changeup, then whip-lashed his head to left-center to watch Jackson chase down Callaspo’s inning-ending line drive.
The Tigers added three runs in the eighth inning before giving the ball to Joaquin Benoit for the ninth.
Winter in Detroit was on hold. The team built for October would play on.
“It’s going to be fun,” Jackson said.