The Detroit Tigers are heading back to California with the help of Max Scherzer and some fans in right field.
Scherzer escaped a major jam during a relief outing to remember — 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.
Playing catch-up most of the way, the Tigers tied it first with Jhonny Peralta’s three-run homer in the fifth inning 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, preventing 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.
Scherzer, making his first relief appearance since the 2011 postseason, gave up a run in the seventh and got in 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, manager Jim Leyland left his 21-game winner on the mound.
Scherzer struck out Reddick and Stephen Vogt before getting pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to line out to center.
Detroit, which had no hits through the first four innings, added three runs in the eighth on a wild pitch and a two-run double by Omar Infante that made it 8-4.
Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run single in the ninth, bringing the potential tying run to the plate, but Joaquin Benoit struck out Seth Smith to end it.
The Tigers can now send Justin Verlander to the mound for Game 5 on Thursday night in Oakland. Verlander shut out the A’s in Oakland in the decisive fifth game of the division series last year.
Oakland hasn’t announced a starter for Game 5. It is Bartolo Colon’s turn in the rotation, but rookie Sonny Gray could also come back on normal rest after a brilliant performance in Game 2.
Crisp had four hits and three runs for the A’s, who led 3-0 and 4-3 but couldn’t close out the defending American League champions. The Oakland bullpen hadn’t allowed a run all series until Tuesday.
After Crisp put the A’s ahead 4-3 with an RBI single off Scherzer in the seventh, Martinez lifted a fly to right against reliever Sean Doolittle. It would have been an extremely difficult catch for Reddick, and it looked as though the ball might have cleared the wall even without the fans’ involvement.
But it was a close call — one that brought back memories of Derek Jeter’s fan-aided homer against Baltimore in the 1996 AL championship series at Yankee Stadium. Umpires left the field for the review, and when they returned the call was upheld.