DETROIT -- The A's had already struck once against Max Scherzer and seemed to have the Tigers' tall right-hander on the ropes again, trailing by one but with the bases loaded and nobody out in the eighth inning Tuesday night. And then, A's catcher Stephen Vogt said, something about Scherzer seemed to change.
"You could see his demeanor, as soon as the bases were loaded, he just got better," Vogt said. "He gritted down and said, 'Nope.'"
With the potential tying run 90 feet from home plate and the A's one win from clinching this A.L. Division Series, Scherzer, the 21-game winner summoned in relief, retired the next three A's hitters in order to preserve what was then a 5-4 lead. The Tigers then held on late for an 8-6 win to force a winner-take all Game 5 Thursday at the Coliseum.
It dropped the A's to 1-11 in their last 12 potential postseason clinchers dating back to the 1990 World Series. Now, for the second year in a row, the A's will face Detroit's Justin Verlander at home in an elimination game for both teams, with Oakland's starter -- either veteran Bartolo Colon or rookie Sonny Gray -- yet to be determined.
"It's a lost opportunity to win today," said A's center fielder Coco Crisp. "It's not a lost opportunity to win the entire series. We still have another game. We get to play in front of our fans. And we'll try to make the most of it."
In a back-and-forth Game 4, the A's led 3-0 in the fifth inning and 4-3 in the seventh, and brought the potential tying run to the plate in the ninth despite entering the inning trailing by four. Still, the enduring image from Tuesday night will likely be Scherzer stalking off the mound after the last out in the top of the eighth, pumping his fists and shouting.
Brandon Moss led off the eighth with a walk, Yoenis Cespedes blooped a double to right and the Tigers intentionally walked Seth Smith to load the bases. But Scherzer struck out Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt, and then got pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to center to escape the jam.
Reddick went down swinging at a full-count changeup low and inside that would have been ball four. The seventh pitch of the at-bat, it followed six mid-90s fastballs in a row. Scherzer said that, after throwing a fastball for the first 3-2 pitch, he thought "that if I executed a changeup that there was a chance I could get a swing and miss."
"He made a great pitch and I swung at a ball out of the zone," Reddick said. "All you can do is tip your cap at that point."
Said Moss of the pitch selection and location: "That is a (gutsy) pitch."
Vogt then struck out swinging at a 98 mph fastball for the second out. Callaspo worked a 1-2 count full, but his sharp line drive to center hung up just long enough for the Tigers' Austin Jackson to make the catch.
"We got the bases-loaded, nobody-out situation and we just didn't come through, myself included," Vogt said. "He got tough and we didn't match it."
An inning earlier, Vogt had given the A's a 4-3 lead when he singled off Scherzer and scored on a single by Crisp, one of Crisp's four hits in the game. But the A's gave that lead back in the bottom of the seventh.
Victor Martinez led off by homering off Sean Doolittle. Jhonny Peralta then doubled to left and -- four batters later -- Jackson broke the tie with a two-out, broken-bat single off Doolitlte that fell just in front of Reddick in right field. Before the at-bat, Jackson had been 1-for-14 on the series with 10 strikeouts.
"There's not a sequence or a pitch call or anything that I would've changed or done different," Doolittle said. "It's a game of inches. That ball in right that drops in front of Reddick, he almost caught it. That ball Peralta hit was fair by less than a foot. They did a good job on some tough pitches and the breaks went their way in that inning."
Peralta had given Detroit's offense its first shot of life with a three-run home run off A's starter Dan Straily. It was the first home run in eight games for a Detroit lineup that hit 176 of them during the regular season. Straily had held the Tigers hitless for the first four innings, while the A's built a 3-0 lead.
All three runs were driven in by Jed Lowrie, who entered the game hitless in 12 at-bats in the series with six strikeouts. Lowrie had an RBI single in the first inning and a two-run homer in the fifth, both off Tigers right-hander Doug Fister and both driving in Crisp.
Neither Straily nor Fister factored into the decision. Straily responded to Peralta's homer by striking out four of the final seven hitters he faced and finished with eight strikeouts, needing just 76 pitches to complete his outing. Fister, meanwhile, threw 104 before being pulled in favor of Scherzer after the sixth.
The Tigers added three runs in the eighth off an A's bullpen that hadn't given up a run in nine games coming in. That proved crucial when Yoenis Cespedes' two-out, two-run single made it a two-run game in the ninth. Detroit closer Joaquin Benoit, though, struck out Seth Smith to secure the win and push the series to the brink.
"Obviously we wanted to close out the series tonight, and wish we would've played a little bit better, but we still have Game 5," Vogt said. "It's a tough loss, but at the same time, we're not done. We'll regroup."
Doolittle was asked if the A's felt they let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers Tuesday night.
"It was such a back-and-forth game, there were so many chances by both teams, I don't know if we can put that kind of pressure on ourselves going into Game 5 that we let one get away," Doolittle said.
"They're such a good team that you knew they were going to put up a hell of a fight here to force Game 5. And I don't really think we're going to take it that way, to be honest."
-- Matt Kawahara