OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Pinch-runner Rajai Davis’s decision to steal third base just as Oakland catcher Derek Norris was throwing the ball back to the pitcher caught most everyone by surprise — including several of his Detroit teammates.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus just hopes it’s the spark to pull his slumping team out of its two-week funk.
Davis scored on Austin Jackson’s fielder’s choice groundout in the eighth inning and the Tigers beat the Athletics 6-5 on Tuesday night to end a three-game losing streak.
“Raj was just being Raj,” Ausmus said. “He likes to wreak havoc on the bases, he saw the pitcher’s head drop and he took advantage.”
A day after getting shut out in this ALDS rematch from a year ago, the Tigers jumped out to an early lead, lost it, then rallied to win for just the second time in nine games.
That helped overcome another rough outing by reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, who gave up five runs and eight hits in six innings but was long gone by the time Davis scored the game-winning run.
J.D. Martinez drew a one-out walk off Oakland reliever Fernando Abad (0-2). Davis was brought in to run and the speedy outfielder took second on a passed ball. He then stole third when A’s catcher Derek Norris was throwing the ball back to Abad.
After Luke Gregerson replaced Abad, Jackson hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Jed Lowrie, but the A’s were unable to turn the double play and Davis raced home with the go-ahead run.
“I think he caught the whole stadium by surprise,” Nathan said. “I know I missed it.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin credited Davis for his aggressive running.
“That was the difference,” Melvin said. “He timed it perfectly. As soon as (Norris) let go of the ball he took off. I haven’t seen the replay yet if he had a chance to get it and throw him out, but that’s a big chance he took and it paid off.”
Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter homered for the Al Central-leading Tigers. Al Albuquerque (2-1) pitched one inning for the win and Nathan worked the ninth for his 12th save in 15 tries.
John Jaso homered for the A’s.
The game began as a marquee matchup between Scherzer and Sonny Gray, but both starters were gone after the sixth.
Scherzer, who beat the A’s in Game 1 of the ALDS last season, struck out four, walked two and balked home a run.
Gray, who led the AL in ERA entering the night, wasn’t much better. He pitched with runners on base in nearly every inning, allowed four runs for the first time this season and struck out five before leaving with a one-run lead after the sixth.
The A’s bullpen couldn’t make it stand.
Reliever Dan Otero gave up Hunter’s tying home run with two outs in the seventh before the Tigers scored off Abad in the eighth.
It was a much-needed boost for the slumping Tigers, who had dropped seven of eight before coming from behind to beat the A’s.
“We certainly needed it for sure,” Ausmus said. “The mood has been good all along ... (but) you could tell in the dugout that the players really wanted this one.”
Detroit, which was shut out in the series opener, got to Gray when Hunter doubled with one out in the first and scored on Cabrera’s single up the middle. After Gray walked Victor Martinez on four pitches, J.D. Martinez lined an RBI double to right-center to make it 2-0.
Oakland tied it in the second on RBI doubles by Lowrie and Alberto Callaspo before Cabrera hit his tiebreaking home run in the third and Alex Avila doubled in Jackson in the fourth to make it 4-2.
Coming off his worst start of the season, Scherzer couldn’t make it hold up. He balked home a run in the fourth after giving up singles to Josh Reddick and Callaspo.
Jaso followed with his fifth home run of the season, a two-run shot that gave Oakland a 5-4 lead.
NOTES: 2B Ian Kinsler went 0 for 5 in his return to Detroit’s lineup after getting his first day off Monday. That ended Kinsler’s 11-game hitting streak. ... Josh Donaldson has reached base in 42 consecutive games, the longest streak in franchise history since at least 1914, according to the team. ... The game featured three potential All-Stars. Detroit 1B Cabrera and 2B Kinsler, along with Oakland 3B Donaldson. All are leading at their respective positions in the first voting figures released by MLB. ... A’s LHP Scott Kazmir (5-2) pitches Wednesday and has a 3.99 ERA in 13 career starts against Detroit. He’ll oppose Tigers RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-2).