(Reuters) - Don Kelly hit a sacrifice fly to right-field in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Detroit Tigers a 5-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Sunday and a commanding 2-0 lead in their playoff series.
Kelly’s drive off A’s closer Grant Balfour scored Omar Infante to cap a wild finish in which both teams scored late, game-tying runs on wild pitches after Detroit took a seventh-inning lead on a two-run error.
Detroit reliever Al Alburquerque, who retired Yoenis Cespedes on a grounder with men on first and third in the ninth for the only batter he faced, took the win. The Australian Balfour got the loss.
Detroit moved within one win of advancing to the American League Championship Series, with the best-of-five AL Division Series shifting to Oakland on Tuesday.
“They (Detroit) got big hits and did good things at the right moments,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “Both teams made some mistakes that got the other team in the game.”
The clash between Central champions Detroit and West winners Oakland began as a pitchers’ duel with Tigers’ starter Doug Fister and his A’s counterpart Tom Milone each allowing just one run through six innings.
Cliff Pennington put Oakland on top with a run-scoring single off Fister in the top of the seventh.
The Tigers struck back in their half of the seventh off reliever Sean Doolittle.
With two outs, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera came to the plate with men on first and second and hit a shallow fly ball to center.
Oakland outfielder Coco Crisp raced in, but the ball bounced out of his mitt and he bobbled it once more before it fell to the ground as Austin Jackson and Infante came around to score and put Detroit ahead 3-2.
“They played deep and made the error,” Cabrera said. “I feel sorry for him (Crisp). But you need the little things and to get lucky.”
Oakland leapfrogged the Tigers in the eighth when Cuban rookie Yoenis Cespedes singled, stole second and third before scoring on a wild pitch in the dirt from Detroit reliever Joaquin Benoit with Josh Reddick at bat.
Reddick, who had struck out in all six of his previous at-bats in the series, promptly homered to right to give the A’s a 4-3 lead.
A wild pitch by Oakland reliever Ryan Cook with men on second and third and two outs allowed the Tigers to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth.
The A’s stranded runners on first and third in the top of the ninth, with Alburquerque retiring Cespedes on a comeback grounder before Detroit ended it in their last at-bat.
Singles by Infante and Cabrera, who had three hits in the game, put men on the corners with one out off Balfour. After an intentional walk was issued to dangerous slugger Prince Fielder, the light-hitting Kelly lined an 0-1 pitch to right for his first career walk-off run batted in.
“I was just trying to get a pitch to hit,” said Kelly, who had entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning.
“It was awesome, the crowd was into it. To get to go up 2-0 in front of our home fans was huge.”
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Julian Linden