DETROIT — After letting three different leads slip away Sunday, the A's had plenty to occupy their mind on a long flight back to Oakland.
The only idea that matters at this point: Finding a way to claw back into this American League Divisional Series after an emotional 5-4 loss in Game 2 to the Detroit Tigers.
Where to begin to describe what took place in front of 40,684 towel-waving fans at Comerica Park?
The A's scored first and then commanded two late-inning leads that they couldn't protect. They trail 2-0 in this best-of-five series that resumes Tuesday at the Coliseum. The A's have faced 2-0 deficits in seven postseason series in their history. They have never come back to win.
"We just need to win a game," manager Bob Melvin said. "If you start thinking about three games ahead, then you lose your focus on Tuesday's game."
They had plenty to kick themselves about after a wildly entertaining game that really got juicy in the seventh inning.
Cliff Pennington's RBI single in the top half put them up 2-1, but with two outs in the bottom half, center fielder Coco Crisp dropped Miguel Cabrera's shallow fly ball after a long run and the two-run error put Detroit ahead 3-2.
The A's came right back. On a crazy two-pitch sequence in the top of the eighth, Yoenis Cespedes scored the tying run on a wild pitch by Joaquin Benoit and Josh Reddick followed with a homer to make it 4-3.
But the A's normally trusty bullpen couldn't close the deal for the first time in a while.
Ryan Cook uncorked a wild pitch of his own to make it a 4-4 game in the bottom of the eighth, then closer Grant Balfour gave up a walkoff sacrifice fly to Don Kelly in the bottom of the ninth that scored Omar Infante with the game-winner.
"It felt like we just let them right back in the game when we really needed a shutdown inning," Reddick said. "We gotta keep swinging the bats and picking people up and that's really all we can do."
Late-inning leads have been automatic lately for the back of the A's bullpen. The combo of Sean Doolittle, Cook and Balfour salted away three straight wins over Texas to clinch the A.L. West title.
Melvin usually doesn't bring Balfour into a game on the road unless his team has the lead. He made an exception Sunday.
"It was three days in a row he was off and we were going to use him for two innings," Melvin said.
Balfour struck out Austin Jackson in the ninth but allowed singles to Infante and Miguel Cabrera to put runners on the corners.
Melvin ordereed an intentional walk to Prince Fielder to load the bases with one out, and Kelly lofted a ball deep enough into right field that Reddick didn't have a shot to throw out Infante.
"It was a little different than we would have liked," Balfour said. "When we go out there and pitch well, it's a team effort. I'm not taking the credit. When we lose we go down as a team. We all feel it and all want to come back and win."