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Another walk-off for A's forces decisive Game 5


OAKLAND — The A's have won with such flair and drama this season that they are making their observers into suckers. By now we'll believe practically anything.

We will believe, for example, that this team won yet another walk-off in Game 4 of its American League division series — and did it against Jose Valverde, the Detroit Tigers' nearly impenetrable closer. We are willing to accept that the A's got half their hits in the ninth inning, turning a sometimes-ugly 12-strikeout performance into a victory.

And with Wednesday's 4-3 win setting up a do-or-die Game 5 here at O.co Coliseum, some of you might even be willing to bet the A's can beat Tigers ace Justin Verlander to advance to the AL championship series.

"We've heard a lot of people say we're not smart enough to know when to lose a game like most people do," right fielder Josh Reddick said. "But we've been battling till the 27th out all year, and we're not gonna stop now."

With two outs in the ninth inning and the score tied 3-3, Coco Crisp rapped a single to right field to score Seth Smith from second base, sending the Oakland fans into well-rehearsed delirium. Smith had tied the game with a two-run double a few batters earlier, after Reddick singled and Josh Donaldson doubled to start the inning.

None of it seemed likely after five Detroit Tigers pitchers combined for 11 strikeouts in the first eight innings.

"Their pitching staff is good, and our offense is hit or miss for a lot of the games, and you don't know when the big hit is going to come," Smith said. "But it seems like more often than not that they come."

Before the dramatic rally in the ninth, most people who watched this game were ready to hash out the misses — missed pitches, and one big missed opportunity.

The bottom of the sixth inning started with with Detroit's Prince Fielder flubbing Crisp's hard grounder to first base, and with Crisp hustling to second on the play. He went to third on a wild pitch and scored easily on Stephen Drew's drive into the left-center gap.

The crowd erupted, but Drew rounded second and headed for third, and second baseman Omar Infante's perfect relay throw from center fielder Austin Jackson gunned him down at the bag.

It was a dubious gamble for the A's, with no outs and sluggers Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Reddick due to follow. Third-base coach Mike Gallego figured to catch some flak, but A's manager Bob Melvin said it was Drew's decision.

"He went on his own," Melvin said. "He thought he could make it. ... And he knows more than anybody, with nobody out that you have to be able to make it."

Detroit starter Max Scherzer set the tone with eight strikeouts in 5? innings, and it shouldn't have come as a great surprise. While Justin Verlander is Detroit's resident heater king, Scherzer can match him K for K. He led all American League pitchers with 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings this season, and his 13 games with nine or more strikeouts also were best in the league.

He didn't get that many Wednesday, mostly because he was on a short leash after experiencing some shoulder problems down the stretch of the regular-season.

Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit took turns finishing the job for the Tigers, but the A's got to Valverde, who has converted 93 percent of his save opportunities since coming to Detroit prior to the start of the 2010 season.

Oakland mounted two other mini-rallies on the night. In the fifth inning, Scherzer walked Smith with two outs, then yielded a single to Derek Norris, with Smith going to third. Scherzer ended the threat by striking out Cliff Pennington. In the eighth, Drew singled up the middle with two outs against Benoit, and Cespedes worked him for a walk. But that one, too, ended with a whiff as Benoit blew one by Moss.

The Tigers broke a scoreless tie in the top of the third when catcher Alex Avila led off with a double, moved to third on Omar Infante's sacrifice bunt and scored on leadoff man Austin Jackson's single.

Prince Fielder added a run for Detroit in the fourth on a towering home-run drive into the right-field seats. It looked like the floodgates might swing open on A.J. Griffin at that point, as Delmon Young and Andy Dirks followed with consecutive singles; Dirks' line drive through the box just missed nailing Griffin.

But the rookie starter made a nice recovery, inducing a groundball double play by Jhonny Peralta, then getting Avila to fly out to end the inning. Griffin was far from dominant, allowing seven hits and striking out just one batter in five innings. But he gave his team a chance to win, a chance it later redeemed.

The Tigers added a run in the eighth on an RBI single by pinch hitter Avisail Garcia to go up 3-1, but it wasn't enough to hold up the miracle-workers in green and gold. They live to play another game.

"We're never out of it until the last out," Melvin said.

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You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.