(Reuters) - The Oakland Athletics built on their growing reputation of a team that refuses to give up with another ninth-inning rally that shocked the Detroit Tigers 4-3 on Wednesday and sent their playoff series to a decider.
Trailing 3-1 and on the brink of elimination, Seth Smith hit a game-tying two-RBI double and Coco Crisp delivered the winning single to give Oakland a second straight win at a rowdy Coliseum to even up the best-of-five AL Division Series at 2-2.
Crisp made a spectacular catch that sparked a 2-0 triumph in Game Three a day earlier, where the A’s avoided being swept, and he came through again to set up Thursday’s decider in Oakland.
No stranger to improbable wins, the A’s recorded an MLB-leading 14 walkoff wins in the regular season with the 15th setting up a winner-takes-all showdown for the right to face either the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles.
“We’ve been doing this all year, it’s an awesome feeling and I‘m glad the opportunity was there for me,” Crisp told reporters as team mates slapped a pie in his face and showered him with a huge tub of energy drink.
“We don’t give up, and that’s a credit to the front office and coaching staff for instilling the right mentality in us.”
Detroit had appeared on target for a berth in the American League Championship Series after starter Max Scherzer held Oakland to just one run on three hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Prince Fielder blasted a home run in the fourth, making up for being denied by Crisp’s Game Three catch, for a 2-0 lead and the visiting Tigers added an insurance run in the eighth to re-establish a two-run lead.
However, a nervous-looking Jose Valverde was unable hold off the Athletics, who tapped into the inspired late-game play that has characterized their improbable run to the American League West title in the second half of the season.
Josh Reddick and Josh Donaldson led off the ninth with hits and the home team fed off the buzz created by a raucous yellow towel-waving Coliseum crowd.
“We’ve been in plenty of these situations but probably no more than tonight,” Athletics manager Bob Melvin said. “It’s giving us a sense that we’re never out of it until the last out.”
Oakland rookie A.J. Griffin was solid in his first ever playoff start, allowing two runs in five innings to keep his team close enough to be a threat.
Ryan Cook pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to record the win after it had appeared as though the A’s squandered their best chance of tying the game in the sixth when they trailed 2-0.
Stephen Drew doubled to pull his team within one but was thrown out trying to stretch the play to a triple, limiting Oakland’s inning to a single run when more could have been expected.
Detroit ace and reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander will take the mound Thursday against Jarrod Parker for a rematch of Game One which the Tigers edged 3-1.
Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien