Kelly hit .186 during the regular season, but all the Tigers needed was a flyball.
“We need everybody here, all 25,” Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera said. “It’s not only about one guy. I think when everybody’s got a job, they have to try to do it.”
Kelly’s sacrifice fly lifted the Tigers over the Oakland Athletics 5-4 Sunday for a 2-0 lead in their AL playoff series. Kelly entered the game as a pinch runner an inning earlier and scored the tying run on wild pitch. He stayed in the game in the DH slot, and with Detroit almost out of position players, Kelly delivered to put the Tigers one win closer to a second straight trip to the AL championship series.
“Was looking for a fastball and I got it,” Kelly said. “It’s a great feeling, to be able to go out there in that situation and do that.”
Detroit overcame three A’s leads and seesawed to victory. It was 1-all before a wild final three innings that included a key error by Oakland center fielder Coco Crisp, two game-tying wild pitches and several momentum changes.
Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque kept it tied in the ninth when he got Yoenis Cespedes to hit a comebacker with men on first and third and two outs. He gave the ball a little kiss before throwing underhand to first.
Omar Infante and Cabrera hit back-to-back singles off Grant Balfour with one out in the bottom half. With runners on first and third, Prince Fielder was intentionally walked, bringing up Kelly, who was designated for assignment in early August but returned to the Tigers less than a month later.
“He’s one of the best guys in the clubhouse. We all love him,” Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer said. “For him, a utility guy, to get a hit like that, it’s great.”
Kelly’s fly to right was plenty deep enough to score Infante without a play at the plate. It was Kelly’s first RBI since June and another big playoff moment for him — his home run last year helped the Tigers beat the New York Yankees in the decisive fifth game of the division series.
On Sunday, Kelly became the first player to score a run and have an RBI in a postseason game with no official at-bats since Baltimore’s Gary Roenicke in Game 3 of the 1983 ALCS.
Detroit will go for a sweep of the division series matchup in Game 3 on Tuesday at Oakland.
The A’s were left to lament a poor performance by their bullpen and some crucial mistakes in the late innings that allowed this game to slip away.
Cliff Pennington gave the A’s the lead with an RBI single in the seventh, but Crisp dropped Cabrera’s two-out flyball in the bottom half, allowing two runs to score.
Oakland tied it in the eighth on a wild pitch by Joaquin Benoit, and Josh Reddick followed with a solo homer to give the A’s a 4-3 lead. Then it was Ryan Cook’s turn to throw a tying wild pitch, allowing Kelly to score. Pennington nearly came through again for Oakland in the ninth, but his deep drive down the left-field line was just foul.
“It was certainly a good game for the fans,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Both teams played hard. Both teams got big hits and did good things at the right moments, and both teams did some — made some mistakes that got the other team in the game.”