Tigers lead A's 2-1 after Prince Fielder homer

JANIE McCAULEY AP Baseball Writer Published:

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Prince Fielder homered and Max Scherzer struck out eight Oakland batters as the Detroit Tigers took a 2-1 lead against the Athletics after six innings in Game 4 of their AL division series Wednesday night.

The Tigers were up 2-1 in the best-of-five series and trying to return to the AL championship series for a second straight season.

Austin Jackson hit an RBI single in the third. Then, Fielder, Detroit's $214 million slugger, hit a drive deep into the elevated right-field seats leading off the fourth for his fifth career postseason clout.

With Oakland trying to stave off elimination again while playing before another sellout, yellow towel-waving Coliseum crowd, Yoenis Cespedes hit a first-inning single against Tigers 16-game winner Scherzer.

After that, Scherzer retired the next 12 batters in order before Seth Smith drew a two-out walk in the fifth -- including a 1-2-3 fourth on five pitches, five strikes.

Smith moved to third on a single by Derek Norris and Cliff Pennington worked the count to 2-2 before striking out on a nasty breaking pitch.

Coco Crisp reached on a two-base error by Fielder to start the sixth. The ball skipped off the first baseman's glove. Crisp moved to third on a wild pitch, then scored on Stephen Drew's RBI double. Drew was thrown out at third trying for a triple.

Former A's closer Octavio Dotel relieved Scherzer.

Right-hander A.J. Griffin became the third rookie A's pitcher to start a game this series after Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone, the first time it has happened in major league history in a single postseason. Griffin is the fifth rookie in Athletics history overall to make a postseason start.

"I never believed in that, I believe in talent," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said when asked beforehand about his team's experience advantage.

Griffin went 7-1 this season with his lone loss coming in a 12-2 defeat at Detroit on Sept. 18. He allowed a career-high five runs and matched his high in hits allowed with eight in 4 2-3 innings -- and also gave up three home runs, solo drives by Jhonny Peralta and Miguel Cabrera and a two-run shot by Fielder.

Playing to chants of "Let's go Oakland! Let's go Oakland!" and with dark clouds hovering right above the Coliseum, Griffin seemed unfazed by the big stage. He retired the first five batters of the game in order before Andy Dirks flared a double just out of reach for jumping third baseman Josh Donaldson.

After Fielder's homer, Delmon Young and Dirks followed with singles, pitching coach Curt Young visited Griffin and Evan Scribner began warming up in the A's bullpen.

Griffin's day was done after Cabrera's leadoff single in the sixth to shallow left-center that landed between three Oakland players.

The Tigers, who won the World Series on Oct. 10 in both 1945 and 1968, were hoping for another celebratory night in the Bay Area after they clinched the AL Central here last season.

The A's avoided being swept out of the playoffs by Detroit again with a win Tuesday night to play on for one more day in this improbable season. The Tigers eliminated Oakland in the minimum four games of the 2006 ALCS -- and the A's on Tuesday ended the longest postseason losing streak in franchise history at six games and all to the Tigers.

Leading off the second, Tigers cleanup hitter Fielder flied out to the warning track in left. He was robbed of three hits a night earlier, including on Crisp's leaping catch at the top of the center-field wall to save a home run.

Detroit had only one RBI via hit in the first three games, on Alex Avila's solo home run in a 3-1 Game 1 win at Comerica Park.

Avila doubled against Griffin to start the third and advanced on Omar Infante's sacrifice before Jackson drove him home.

Leyland made a few tweaks to his lineup Wednesday against a right-handed starter after facing lefty Brett Anderson a night earlier.

Josh Reddick, who led the A's with 32 home runs this season, struck out to start the second and again leading off the fourth to give him eight Ks so far in the four games. That is the most by an Oakland player in a single postseason series.

The A's shut out the Tigers 2-0 on Tuesday night but have never come back to win a series when trailing 2-1.

Yet this no fear Oakland team erased a five-game division deficit over the final nine games of the regular season to stun the two-time reigning AL champion Texas Rangers in Game No. 162 one week ago.

Game 1 winner Justin Verlander would pitch Game 5 on Thursday night if needed, against Parker.

At 24 years and 256 days, Griffin became the sixth-youngest pitcher in Oakland history to make his first postseason start.