DETROIT -- Before the A's took their flight home Tuesday night, the team's brain trust gathered in manager Bob Melvin's Comerica Park office, trying to figure out what dials to turn next.
With a huge opportunity lost to close out the Tigers in Game 4 of their American League Division Series, the A's thoughts turned toward to the now critical Game 5 on Thursday at O.co Coliseum, airing on TBS at 5 p.m. PT. It'll be déjà vu all over again against Justin Verlander in the finale of the best-of-five series at home. Just like last year.
But last year, the A's lost.
The choice of a Game 5 starter for the A's seemed obvious: Game 1 loser, Bartolo Colon. But even before the Tigers came from behind to salvage an 8-6 victory, there were murmurs that the A's might bring back rookie right-hander Sonny Gray.
If that's the case, Melvin wasn't biting.
"We haven't decided anything yet," said Melvin, leaving the door open for the youngster, who threw eight innings of four-hit, shutout ball in a 1-0, Game 2 victory this past Friday night.
Before the game, Melvin, superstitious to a fault, didn't even want to broach the subject.
"I'm not even thinking about Game 5 right now," he said. "We've got to get through this one."
He almost seemed to recoil when asked the question, which now won't be answered until Wednesday.
For awhile on Tuesday, it all seemed to be moot. The A's were cruising along. Dan Straily had a no-hitter going through four innings and Oakland had a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth.
Straily then let up a tying three-run homer to Jhonny Peralta and the usually reliable bullpen collapsed. A homer off the bat of Victor Martinez was deflected by a fan in right field, reviewed and upheld as the A's squandered their last lead.
"Whenever you're up and you lose the lead it is a lost opportunity," A's center fielder Coco Crisp said. "But it was an opportunity lost today. It's not a lost opportunity to win the entire series. We still have another game. We get to play in front of our fans and we'll try to make the most of it."
These are the games that try a fan's soul.
Crisp was 4-for-5 with a triple and three runs scored. Jed Lowrie was 2-for-4 with a two-run homer, three RBIs and two runs scored. Yoenis Cespedes had a two-out, two-run ninth-inning single, albeit after Ryan Cook and Brett Anderson had allowed three runs in the bottom of the eighth.
And then there was that bases-loaded, no-out situation for the A's in the top of the eighth that went for naught.
"Yeah, that was a key," Melvin said. "We couldn't push anything across."
The A's bullpen had been flawless. Coming into the game, as a unit in this series, it hadn't allowed a run in eight innings and only two hits. On Tuesday, four pitchers worked the final two innings and gave up four runs on five hits.
Left-hander Sean Doolittle, who had allowed only one run during the entire month of September, entered in the seventh to protect a 4-3 lead. He gave up two as the Tigers took a 5-4 edge on the controversial Martinez homer, a double by Peralta and Austin Jackson's bloop single to right.
Opportunity definitely lost.
"We get that big run there in the top half of the inning -- Coco singles up the middle," Doolittle said. "We feel like we had the momentum. You get the ballgame to the bullpen with a lead in the seventh inning. You know, there are nine outs to get. We'll take that every day of the week. We feel pretty good about that.
"I don't think there's much we would have done different. They found a way get it done."
Now, it's back to Oakland. Let's summarize. Last year, in a different format, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead at Comerica and the A's came home to play the final three. They beat Anibal Sanchez, 2-0, in Game 3 and came from behind with three runs in the bottom of the ninth against Jose Valverde to win Game 4. Verlander shut them out on four hits and 11 strikeouts to win Game 5 and the series.
This year, the Tigers won Game 1 with three runs in the top of the first off Colon. In Game 2, the A's prevailed on Stephen Vogt's walk-off single even though Verlander struck out 11 on only four hits in seven scoreless innings. Game 3 was a 6-3 cakewalk for the A's, their only easy win in the nine games against the Tigers the past two postseasons.
And what happened in Game 4 has been documented. Now, the A's have one more shot at it, against Verlander again.
"The atmosphere will be electric," Crisp said. "I don't know if it can get any louder. Those were the loudest playoff games I've ever played in the last time we were there. So if they can top that, it will be amazing."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less