The Detroit Tigers were three outs away from getting Justin Verlander ready to open the AL championship series.
Now Verlander will be on the mound in Game 5 of a division series that has been completely turned around by the Oakland Athletics heading into Thursday night's decisive matchup at the O.co Coliseum.
Detroit took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning Wednesday before Oakland scored three times off Jose Valverde to tie this series at two games apiece.
"When we lose a game like this and I need three outs for my team to clinch, it hurts," Valverde said. "This is the toughest moment in my whole career."
Seth Smith doubled in two runs to tie the game and scored the winning run on Coco Crisp's two-out single.
The Athletics used 14 walkoff wins in the regular season to capture an improbable AL West title so Wednesday's dramatics didn't come as a surprise.
"There's a confidence,'' manager Bob Melvin said. "We've done it so many times so there's always going to be that confidence until we make that last out."
Oakland has now won eight straight at home dating to the regular season to gain a chance to break its Game 5 division series hex when the club dropped decisive contests from 2000-03.
The task won't be easy against Verlander (1-0, 1.29 ERA), who is 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Athletics this year. That includes his victory in Game 1 on Saturday when he struck out 11 and gave up one run in a 3-1 win.
"I'm going to try to treat it like another start, kind of like the last start as much as I can," Verlander said. "Obviously it's a big game for us. ... We allowed ourselves to be in this position, we know it's not easy to win here. We put ourselves in position to win one."
Game 1 started in promising fashion for Oakland as Crisp led off with a homer and Verlander was forced to throw 61 pitches through three innings. The ace got stronger and needed 60 pitches over the next four including five straight strikeouts in one stretch.
"The problem is that he'll throw 130 pitches in a game," Melvin said. "Even if you get his pitch count up there, it doesn't mean he's going to come out of the game at 100 or 105 pitches, he's a tough customer."
Including the postseason, Verlander has posted a 0.77 ERA in winning five straight starts with 38 strikeouts over 35 innings.
Crisp is probably the biggest threat to him with a .346 average including playoffs. No other Oakland hitter with more than five at-bats against the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner is hitting better than .222.
Jarrod Parker (0-1, 2.84) is looking forward to a rematch with Verlander after coming up short in Game 1, allowing three runs over 6 1-3 innings.
"It's going to be fun," Parker said. "I think it's what makes this time of year great. We both have a chance to do a lot of special things."
The right-hander is buoyed by how he fared in the opener against Tigers sluggers Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, who combined to go 0 for 5 with one walk.
"It's big," Parker said. "Obviously they're going to make that adjustment, as well. As long as I'm one or two pitches ahead of them, I think I'll be all right in terms of going at them."
Triple Crown winner Cabrera is 2 for 8 with no extra-base hits in the last two games for Detroit while Fielder went 2 for 4 with a homer Wednesday after starting the series 1 for 12.
Crisp, meanwhile, continues to be the center of attention in this series. He homered off Verlander to begin it, committed an error in Game 2 that allowed two runs to score in a 5-4 defeat, robbed Fielder of a homer in Tuesday's 2-0 victory and ended Wednesday's contest with his latest clutch hit.
Is he ready to deliver an encore in Game 5?
"Just go out and give it 100 percent," Crisp said. "That's all we can do and that's all we can continue to do. Hopefully it ends in our favor again."
- Justin Verlander
- Oakland Athletics
- Coco Crisp