Detroit Tigers' Don Kelly tosses a baseball to fans after catching a fly ball by Boston Red Sox's Stephen Drew in the eighth inning.
DETROIT — On Wednesday afternoon, the Tigers put tickets to their four potential World Series home games on sale.
By night, it no longer seemed a cruel tease.
In a near must-win Game 4 of the AL championship series, the Tigers rallied back from a pair of exasperating losses behind a rearranged and revived offense with a 7-3 win that evened this best-of-seven showdown.
After scoring six runs in the first three games of the series, the Tigers let loose for their biggest postseason inning since 1987 to transform a white-towel-waving Comerica Park crowd of 42,765 from resigned to rapturous.
In an insta-classic series that opened with back-to-back-to-back one-run heart-thumpers, the Tigers rocked Boston starter Jake Peavy for five runs in the second and turned the lead safely over to starter Doug Fister.
“This is definitely a momentum booster,” Fister said. “We’ve been down before. It was just a matter of our whole team going out with a sense of confidence.”
It is now a sprint to the pennant, beginning with today’s fifth game in Detroit — and once more, the Tigers have to like their chances. League ERA champion Anibal Sanchez starts today, followed by Cy Young Award favorite Max Scherzer, and if a Game 7 is necessary, it’s Justin Verlander.
Funny how quickly fortunes can turn.
Hours earlier, there was a creeping sense the Tigers were letting a series they ought to be controlling slip away. Detroit had held the Red Sox to a .133 average — the lowest average through three games in championship series history — and yet trailed two games to one.
Manager Jim Leyland was willing to try about anything. The 68-year-old baseball lifer at times at times criticized for his stubborn streak was anything but, bumping punchless leadoff man Austin Jackson to eighth and jacking the rest of his hitters up one rung.
Leyland declined to pat himself on the back afterward, other than to say he would keep the same lineup today.
“I don’t know if that had anything to do with it,” he said. “I doubt it very much. ... We were ready to play.”
In all, the Tigers rocked Peavy for seven runs over three innings, their offense awakening for good in the second.
Peavy allowed a leadoff single to Victor Martinez, then began hurling baseballs everywhere but over the 17-inch-wide plate. He walked Jhonny Peralta on four pitches, walked Alex Avila, and threw four straight balls to Jackson to push across the first run.
Jose Iglesias followed with a sharply hit made-for-two grounder at second baseman Dustin Pedroia.
“A routine double play that we’ve seen [Pedroia] turn many, many times over,” Boston manager John Farrell said.
This time, though, Pedroia bobbled the ball and got only the force out at second, allowing another run to score, and — more dispiriting for Peavy — the inning to continue. Torii Hunter ripped a two-run double into the left-field corner, and Cabrera drove him in with a single.
It was just that kind of night.
The ailing Cabrera stole a base without a throw, the Tigers began swapping bats for gloves in the sixth inning, and Jackson had two hits, two RBIs, and reached base four times.
Jackson afterward betrayed a sense of relief, smiling as he recounted being awoken Wednesday morning by a text from hitting coach Lloyd McClendon telling him he was dropping from the leadoff role to eighth.
“I’ve been scuffling this postseason, it’s not a secret,” Jackson said. “I was just happy that I was still in there. That’s a good thing. ... It felt good to contribute to a win and just relax, just get a chance to go out there and not put so much pressure on myself.”
Fister, meanwhile, was every bit as effective as the Tigers’ more heralded first three starters, allowing one run on eight hits while striking out seven over six innings.
Through four games, Tigers starters have now allowed three runs and struck out 42 — nine Ks shy of the postseason series record held by the 2001 Diamondbacks staff fronted by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.
Closer Joaquin Benoit was shaky in the ninth, allowing back-to-back doubles to lead off the inning and narrow the Tigers’ advantage to four runs. But he struck out Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia, then got David Ortiz to fly out to right field to end the game.
Jackson, Cabrera, and Martinez led the Tigers with two hits apiece, though in a quirky testament to Fister’s adeptness at avoiding trouble, the Red Sox outhit the Tigers 12-9.