The Detroit Tigers' season, and maybe Jim Leyland's future as their manager, comes down to Thursday night's fifth game of their best-of-five American League Division Series against Oakland.
A stunning 4-3 loss Wednesday night, when closer Jose Valverde didn't close out a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning, forced the fifth game at Oakland.
"You get tested all the time in this game," Leyland said. "This is a good test. We're down basically like the wild card situation was. One game."
The Tigers will have their best pitcher, Justin Verlander, starting the game against Oakland's Jarrod Parker in a rematch of the series' first game.
Leyland remains unsigned for another season as Detroit's manager, and a loss could prompt the Tigers to make a change.
It's a curious study. GM Dave Dombrowski said he's satisfied with the job his manager did this year, yet he remains uncertain of his 2013 status.
One scenario: Management wants to remake his coaching staff and it involves one or both of his longtime buddies, hitting coach Lloyd McClendon or third base coach Gene Lamont. Team officials know Leyland is going to fight that, perhaps to the point of leaving. A discussion like that could not take place during the season.
Leyland displayed the same kind of calm after the defeat that he has through most of the season. He wants his players to take the same professional approach to what could be their last game of the season as they have all year long.
"This is baseball. That's why this is the greatest game of all," he said. "It looked like we were going to get it. We didn't get it. We just didn't quite get the 27 outs. That's part of the game. I thought we played our hearts out. We just didn't close it out."
He stood by Valverde just as he stood by Joaquin Benoit after the setup man gave up two runs in Sunday's comeback win. Benoit worked a scoreless eighth Wednesday although he did give up a two-out single plus a walk.
Valverde inherited a 3-1 lead and gave up three straight hits to open the ninth, tying the score. He was one pitch from getting the game into extra innings but gave up a game-deciding single to right.
Rookie Avisail Garcia made a rookie mistake, trying to throw the ball to home plate before he caught it, and the ball snuck under his glove. Garcia had a good chance to throw the runner out at home if he had fielded the ball cleanly. Garcia had an RBI single as a pinch-hitter in the eighth that expanded the lead to 3-1.
"They just hit him," Leyland said of Valverde. "They basically just charged him and hit him. He probably didn't get the ball located where he wanted to. The first hit was just out of the reach of Omar (Infante); could have been right at him but wasn't. They got the hit, then they banged a couple after that.
"He's our guy. That's just the way it is. We worked hard to get to that point. Certainly I feel comfortable with Jose coming in in that situation. He didn't get the job done. That's just part of the game."
"We allowed ourselves to be in this position," Verlander said. "We won the first two games at home. You know it's not easy to play here. So we put ourselves in a position where we just need to win one."
"We're in a one-game playoff right now and anything can happen," Max Scherzer said. "We like where we sit, but this is a hostile place right now."