DETROIT — The Oakland Athletics have beaten Detroit with both pitching and power. And that’s left the Tigers on the brink of elimination — and simmering with frustration.
Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith homered for the Athletics, who chased Anibal Sanchez in the fifth inning Monday and defeated the Tigers 6-3 for a 2-1 AL division series lead.
Moss broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a solo shot, and Smith’s two-run drive later in the inning ended Sanchez’s day. It was an impressive offensive show after the teams split two taut, low-scoring games in Oakland.
This one got a little tense in the ninth, too, when A’s closer Grant Balfour and Detroit hitter Victor Martinez started shouting at each other after a foul ball, causing benches and bullpens to empty.
“I don’t know what happened. Honestly, I know that Balfour is fiery on the mound — he’s yelling a lot and spitting everywhere,” Moss said. “It’s who he is. You know, sometimes it can ruffle the feathers of other teams.”
The A’s aren’t worried about making friends, especially after losing to the Tigers in a five-game division series last year. Oakland can close out this series Tuesday and reach the AL championship series for the first time since 2006 — when the Athletics were swept by the Tigers.
Oakland will send rookie Dan Straily to the mound against Detroit’s Doug Fister.
“There’s no tricks. We’ve got to win the game tomorrow to try to extend it to Game 5. It’s that simple,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “We ran into another situation where we didn’t put enough runs on the board and an excellent starting pitcher didn’t have a very good day.”
Sanchez, the American League’s ERA leader, allowed six runs — five earned — and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings. Smith has homered off Sanchez more than any other player, having now done it twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs.
There was activity in the Detroit bullpen before Smith’s homer Monday, and he made the Tigers pay for sticking with the struggling Sanchez.
“Sometimes he starts out a little slow, you figure he’s going to get it going,” Leyland said. “Today he just really didn’t get it going. He made a couple of real bad pitches the last inning he was out there to Moss and Smith.”
Jarrod Parker gave up three runs in five innings for Oakland, and the Tigers couldn’t rally against the bullpen.
Balfour pitched a hitless ninth for the save. Martinez had just hit a foul ball when he started looking back at Balfour, who yelled something at the designated hitter.
Martinez started slowly toward the mound, and players from both teams came running out. The situation eventually calmed and no players were ejected. Plate umpire Gary Darling said warnings were sufficient.
“I said, ‘Why you staring me down like that?’” Balfour said. “He was staring me down. He knew what he was doing.”
Martinez said Balfour threw in a profanity when he yelled toward the plate.
“I’m not a rookie. I’m a veteran, and I’m a leader on my teams. I don’t take that,” Martinez said while including a few profane words of his own during his explanation. “He can’t intimidate me.”
When he was with Tampa Bay, Balfour was involved in a testy exchange with Chicago’s Orlando Cabrera in a division series game against the White Sox in 2008.
There also was some mild bad blood between the Tigers and A’s last year, when Detroit reliever Al Alburquerque kissed the ball after fielding a comebacker and Oakland took exception.
Oakland lost the opener in this series before evening it with a 1-0 win in Game 2. That victory came in a pitchers’ duel between Oakland’s Sonny Gray and Detroit’s Justin Verlander, and with Sanchez set to start for the Tigers on Monday, it looked like the A’s might need another brilliant performance on the mound from Parker.
But they had Sanchez in trouble almost immediately, scoring a run in the third and two more in the fourth. Although the Tigers finally snapped out of their offensive funk with a three-run fourth, Sanchez couldn’t keep the ball in the park.
Moss hit a line drive over the wall in right to make it 4-3, and Smith’s high fly carried over the fence in left-center.
“With their whole staff, you’re looking for a mistake and hope you capitalize on it,” Smith said. “You will miss them sometimes, but fortunately for me, I was able to get the barrel to it.”
Coco Crisp had two doubles and a single for the A’s.
Oakland won the AL West title and had a better record than Detroit, but it was the AL Central-champion Tigers who entered with the big names and the big payroll.
Now Detroit needs two straight wins to extend its season. A banged-up Miguel Cabrera made an error at third base that gave the A’s their first run, and Detroit’s vaunted starting rotation finally slipped in Game 3.
Sanchez allowed 0.45 homers per nine innings in the regular season, the lowest mark in the AL, and Oakland took him deep three times; he had not allowed more than one homer in a start previously this year.
Oakland threatened in each of the first three innings but needed a break to score the game’s first run. After Crisp’s single to start the third, Josh Donaldson walked. Jed Lowrie and Moss both struck out, and it looked like Sanchez might get out of the inning when Yoenis Cespedes hit a sharp grounder to Cabrera.
The slugging third baseman couldn’t come up with the ball and couldn’t keep it in front of him, and the error allowed the A’s to take the lead.
Oakland made it 3-0 in the fourth. Reddick led off with his first homer since Sept. 15, and Stephen Vogt followed with a triple and scored on Crisp’s one-out sacrifice fly.
Vogt was safe when Jhonny Peralta — who moved from shortstop to left field after returning last month from his drug suspension — couldn’t make a strong enough throw home.
Peralta was in the lineup for his bat, and he did give the Tigers a boost shortly after his weak throw. After going scoreless for the previous 20 innings, Detroit pushed across three runs in the fourth to tie it.
With men on first and third, Martinez hit an RBI double down the line in right field. Then Peralta added a two-run single to left.
But the A’s went right back to work against Sanchez, and through three games, they’ve been the better team — at the plate, in the field and on the mound.
NOTES: Oakland had lost four straight road postseason games, including two in Detroit last year. … Cabrera, who has battled problems with his groin, hit a sharp grounder down the line in left field in the first, but he has been slowed so much that he couldn’t even try to stretch the hit into a double. Cabrera has reached base in all 27 of his postseason games with the Tigers. … Donaldson, Oakland’s third baseman, went sliding feet first into a short portion of the fence while chasing a foul ball in the fourth. He didn’t make the catch, but he wasn’t hurt either.