Torii stuns A's, picks up Scherzer in walk-off
Vet knocks two-out, three-run shot; righty gets no-decision
DETROIT -- Max Scherzer has spent weeks insisting his historic win-loss record is a team accomplishment. His no-decision Thursday might have been his best evidence yet.
He was in the video room, watching the ninth inning of a game he left with a five-run deficit, when Torii Hunter hit the walk-off, three-run homer that completed the Tigers' largest comeback of the season and a 7-6 win over the A's.
"Torii bailed me out," Scherzer said.
He heard the crowd reaction before he saw the shot. His reaction was similarly delayed. Hunter had already been mobbed on the field and doused during a postgame television interview when he climbed the steps to the clubhouse and found Scherzer.
"He was jumping up and down when I came upstairs," Hunter said. "He hugged me so tight I couldn't even breathe, so I'm sure he's excited."
He wasn't the only one.
"Justin Verlander actually told me before that inning that I was going to hit a walk-off home run to win the game," Hunter said.
The Tigers were an out away from suffering their first four-game series sweep at Comerica Park since 2004 and heading into a weekend series against Cleveland with the Indians potentially back in a race for the American League Central. Hunter's shot salvaged a game in the series, and it gave Scherzer another chance at a 20-1 record when he takes the mound against the Red Sox Tuesday night at Fenway Park. Yet that walk-off homer arguably meant a lot more than that.
Three weeks after they tormented Mariano Rivera twice in three days at Yankee Stadium, they teed off on another All-Star closer. And the team that couldn't seem to hit the opposing bullpen for the first half of the year gave another reminder that they play until the last out, whether Miguel Cabrera's batting or not.
"You just can't give up," Hunter said. "We're still professional players. You just can't give up. You have to keep battling.
"Baseball is a crazy game. Anything can happen. As long as you have outs left, anything can happen, and we had some outs left, and we were able to capitalize on them."
Hunter's homer ranks fairly high on the craziness scale. The last walk-off homer he hit was off former Indians closer Joe Borowski five years ago. He hit a walkoff shot against the Tigers in 2004, and he hit a walkoff single for the Tigers on August 4. This, however, was something else.
The A's had the Tigers down -- not just for eight innings, but for the 24 that preceded. Detroit led for just three of the 36 total innings in this series, and the 34 runs Oakland scored marked the most off Detroit pitching in any four-game stretch since July 2011.
The A's thumped Scherzer more than any team had this year, including six extra-base hits, and Brandon Moss' fourth home run in three days. Scherzer left after just five innings, his quickest exit since April 24, with a 6-1 deficit.
"That's probably the best baseball I've seen the A's ever play, and that's major kudos to them," Scherzer said. "They made the playoffs, beat Texas last year [for the AL West title], and I thought what they were able to do the first three games was absolutely remarkable. Even what they were able to do against me, I tip my hat to them. They hit some good pitches. They hit some bad pitches, as well."
Luke Putkonen, recalled from Triple-A Thursday morning to provide a fresh arm in the bullpen just in case, was left to fill some innings and try to hold down an A's offense no one else could contain. He struck out four batters over two innings while stranding two runners after singles.
"I just wanted to come in and put up a couple zeroes," Putkonen said.
The Tigers, meanwhile, began to hit once Bartolo Colon left after five innings of one-run ball. Prince Fielder's 21st home run of the year started a sixth-inning rally that included a Ramon Santiago RBI single to make it a 6-3 game.
The rest of the damage came in the ninth off Balfour, who had converted 33 of his previous 34 save chances. A four-pitch leadoff walk to Austin Jackson, though, set him up for trouble.
"I had nothing," Balfour said later. "I didn't have a good fastball. I didn't have a breaking ball. I went out there with nothing, to be honest. I knew that warming up in the 'pen. I just had to tell myself, 'All right, let's go.'"
Balfour fell behind both Andy Dirks and pinch-hitter Alex Avila, but retired both to leave the Tigers to their last out and no Cabrera, who left after five innings with abdominal discomfort trying to stretch a single into a double. He is day to day and expects to play Friday.
Fielder represented Detroit's last hope, but he didn't see a strike from Balfour in a four-pitch walk that brought up Victor Martinez as the potential tying run. He fell into an 0-2 hole, but lined an RBI single into short center field.
"I was one pitch away," Balfour said. "I had him looking away there, and I came in, and thought I made a pretty good pitch, but he fought it and dumps it into center field."
Martinez knew it.
"Just put the ball in play, that's it," he said of his aim. "I didn't want to strike out looking."
Up came Hunter, who was supposed to be off. He had pinch-hit and grounded out as the potential tying run in the seventh. He knew Balfour as a division rival for the previous couple of years, and he knew what to look for.
A hanging slider on a 1-1 pitch gave him his chance. It wasn't what Hunter was looking for, but it was something he could pull.
"I was looking fastball," Hunter said, "and I saw the spin and just made the adjustment from there."
Said manager Jim Leyland: "When he first hit it, I thought it was out. But when I saw the left fielder looking kind of strange, I thought, 'That ball has to be gone, doesn't it?' Obviously, it was."