DETROIT — On a night of desperation, dispute and finally, delirium, Max Scherzer and the Detroit Tigers kept their season alive by the slimmest of margins.
A tying home run, helped along by a couple of fans in right field.
A full-count pitch with the bases loaded that was low and inside but became strike three when the batter swung.
A line drive down the line with the bases still full — foul by a few feet.
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 AL division series.
Scherzer was in line to start Game 5, but the 21-game winner came on Tuesday instead for his first relief appearance since the 2011 postseason. He wriggled out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam in the eighth inning and got the win.
“We took our best shot and we had to because we were behind the 8-ball a little bit,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “We took that shot and, hey, both teams are going to have a good pitcher going two days from now.”
After avoiding elimination, the Tigers can now send Justin Verlander to the mound Thursday night in Oakland. Verlander shut out the A’s at the Coliseum in Game 5 of the division series last year.
Oakland hasn’t announced a starter for Thursday. 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.
“We haven’t decided anything yet,” manager Bob Melvin said.
Playing catch-up most of the way in Game 4, the Tigers tied it first with Jhonny Peralta’s three-run homer in the fifth 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.
“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.”
Gary Darling, the crew chief, was umpiring in right field. He disagreed, even after the replay.
“It was clear he was not going to catch the ball, so it was clearly going to be a home run,” Darling said. “There wasn’t any other evidence on replay to turn it another way.”
Scherzer came out of the bullpen in the seventh and gave up a run, then ran into 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, Leyland left his ace on the mound.
Scherzer struck out Reddick, who swung and missed at what would have been ball four on a low, inside pitch. Stephen Vogt struck out too, but pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo’s line drive to left nearly fell in before landing foul.
Callaspo eventually lined out to center.
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