OAKLAND, Calif. -- After almost two days out in the wilderness, the Athletics' offense showed up in the ninth inning to give Oakland a 1-0 win late Saturday night and a split of the first two games of the American League Division Series with Detroit.
After the Athletics couldn't get a run off Detroit's Justin Verlander to support eight innings of shutout pitching by Sonny Gray, rookie catcher Stephen Vogt singled up the middle for the walkoff win as the A's swarmed the field.
The tie means the A's long flight to Detroit will be much more pleasant, celebratory even after 17 innings in which they never had the lead. And now the A's have their No.2 starter, Jarrod Parker, starting Game 3 Monday against AL ERA leader Anibal Sanchez.
The ninth inning started with a single to left by Yoenis Cespedes, his second hit of the night and fourth of the series. Seth Smith, on the bench in Game 1, then delivered his second hit, a single to right against reliever Al Albuquerque on which Cespedes raced to third.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland then brought Rick Porcello out of the bullpen to face Vogt after Albuquerque was ordered to intentionally walk Josh Reddick to set up a force at every base.
To get the force the Tigers had to bring the infield in, and Vogt shot a single past shortstop Jose Iglesias, a ball Iglesias likely would have reached had he been playing deeper.
Grant Balfour, who pitched a scoreless ninth, got the win.
There were questions galore when A's manager Bob Melvin said he was going to throw Gray in Game 2 of the ALDS and save Parker, who pitched last year in Detroit in the playoffs, for Monday's game in Motown.
The questions were dispatched smoothly inning after inning by Gray, the 23-year-old from Vanderbilt who was as in control of the first six innings.
The Tigers reached him for a two-out single in the first and put men at the corners with two out in the second, but in neither instance did the Tigers come close to scoring. Gray then set down seven batters in a row, including striking out the top third of the order in the third inning.
There was a bit of concern when Gray opened the fifth with a four-pitch walk to Omar Infante, who then took second on a ground out and third when Iglesias' grounder was slowed by the left side of the pitching mound for a hit. That put runners at the corners for the Detroit leadoff man, Austin Jackson.
He'd struck out in his first two at-bats against Gray, and when Gray punched him out for a third time, Iglesias was thrown out on a steal attempt by Vogt.
Such was Melvin's confidence in Gray, who had just 10 big league starts and who had never faced the Tigers, that the bullpen never got up even as the Tigers were mounting their most serious threat yet.
Verlander allowed the A's just one run in 16 innings in the ALDS a year ago, and while he'd struggled to stay above .500 in the regular season (13-12), Verlander said Friday that he felt he'd solved his problems in recent weeks. It looked like it.
The 2011 Cy Young Award winner set down the first 11 batters he faced before Josh Donaldson, facing a 3-2 count with two out in the fourth, turned on a 97-mph fastball and slapped it up the middle for the A's first hit.
The A's best chance to break through against Verlander, however, came in the fifth. Cespedes and Smith opened the inning with singles. Cespedes placed one in front of Torii Hunter in right-center when it appeared Hunter had a chance to get to the ball, and Smith stinging a no-doubt liner to right.
That brought up Reddick, who had fouled out in his first at-bat and who was 0-for-5 in the series. He became the first A's batter to try to test hobbled Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera by bunting, which was a good idea, but he popped it up to Cabrera, who wasn't challenged or even winded.
Given the reprieve, Verlander got two quick strikeouts at the bottom of the order to preserve the scoreless tie.
The A's got a leadoff walk from Brandon Moss and a two-out single where the runners went to second and third on the throw in the seventh inning, which would be Verlander's last. Vogt went on to hack at almost everything Verlander threw, fouling off seven balls in a 10-pitch at-bat before striking out. Verlander wound up stretching his scoreless streak against the A's in the postseason to 22.
The A's got a leadoff double from pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo to start the eighth against reliever Drew Smyly, but A's didn't try to move him with a bunt. Coco Crisp fouled out and after Jed Lowrie walked, Albuquerque came out of the bullpen and struck out Donaldson and Moss.
(c)2013 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.contracostatimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services