DETROIT -- For the A's, lost opportunity does not begin to describe Tuesday.
What would be more accurate? Tuesday was a lost journey to glory that instead took a turn down a dank canyon full of starving wolves, poison-dart-wielding monkeys and chubby guys in windbreakers who reach up to steal baseballs and crush hearts.
Yup. That pretty much expresses it.
"Look, you gotta finish it out for nine innings," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "Just because we had the lead doesn't mean you're going to win the game."
No, but for the bulk of Tuesday's game, the A's were poised to clinch their best-of-five playoff series against the Detroit Tigers with a Game 4 victory. The Athletics led 3-0 after their half of the fifth inning. The Athletics led 4-3 after their half of the seventh inning.
And then it all fell apart, in three separate crucial sequences that led to an 8-6 Tigers victory that sends the series back to Oakland for a decisive Game 5 on Thursday.
Josh Reddick, the A's right fielder who was involved in both a controversial fielding play and an agonizing plate appearance that saw him strike out with the bases loaded, admitted that flushing away the might-have-beens will be a challenge.
"It's going to be hard," Reddick said in a quiet A's locker room. "You think about the at-bats and the other plays that could have been different. But once I get on the plane tonight, I put my headphones on and my country music and try to let it go, treat it the same way as if we got beat by 10 runs or won by 10 runs."
Somebody could write an entire country music album full of sad songs about Tuesday's game and those three soul-sapping sequences that undid them. Let's review.
SOUL SAPPER ONE: After taking that 4-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning, Melvin turned to usually reliable reliever Sean Doolittle to retire Tiger batters. The first was Victor Martinez. Doolittle threw him one of his best fastballs -- and Martinez sent it flying over Reddick's head in right field.
The next few seconds after that were in dispute because as the ball reached the fence, a fan reached out clumsily and watched the ball thud into his upper arms before falling onto the turf. Umpires ruled it a home run and confirmed it on a video replay -- which showed that under the letter of the rule, the fan did not interfere.
A bigger problem was that Doolittle allowed three more baserunners and another run, on a broken-bat single by Austin Jackson. Doolittle wasn't second-guessing any of his pitch choices, tipping his cap to the Tigers.
"I feel like, for whatever reason, it was their day," said Doolittle. "They did just a good enough job to put the runs up there."
SOUL SAPPER TWO: With the Tigers now holding a 5-4 lead, the A's still had a terrific comeback window in the top of the eighth inning against an unlikely suspect -- Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer, the ace starter who was brought out of the bullpen owing to the Tigers' desperate situation.
After the first two A's batters reached base, Detroit manager Jim Leyland walked the bases loaded for the bottom of Oakland's batting order.
First up was none other than Reddick, who fought off some Scherzer fastballs until whiffing on an 86 mph changeup that was way inside.
"If I sit on an 86 miles per hour changeup, there's no way I can catch up to a 97 mph fastball," Reddick explained. "So I was sitting on the fastball and adjusting -- and I was on it, he just threw a good pitch. Looking back, I wish I would have taken it."
Next came catcher Stephen Vogt, who also went down swinging as Scherzer bore down and seemed to find another gear.
Finally, Melvin sent up pinch hitter Alberto Callaspo, known as a contact hitter, hoping for a better result. Callaspo also battled before smashing a line drive to center field that didn't get down fast enough and was caught by a charging Jackson.
"I thought it was a hit off Callaspo's bat," said Detroit catcher Alex Avila. "Then I saw Austin moving ... and realized Callaspo had hit it too hard. It's almost an impossible situation, to get out of there without any runs scoring. But we did."
SOUL SAPPER THREE: By this point, raucous Tigers fans were ready to immediately build a statue to Scherzer on the plaza outside. His performance will live in legend if Detroit wins the series. But the A's remained in position to battle -- until the Tigers scored three more runs in the bottom of the eighth off A's relievers Ryan Cook and Brett Anderson.
"One of the reasons that we are where we are is because of our bullpen," Melvin said. "It just didn't happen tonight."
So here we go again, to face Detroit nemesis Justin Verlander, who beat them in this same situation a year ago. Meanwhile, Melvin said he had not decided on the A's starter. The decision is between rookie Sonny Gray and veteran Bartolo Colon -- with Gray the likely and better choice because of his shutout performance against the Tigers last Saturday. He will be out to break the A's well-known elimination-game curse: Including Tuesday's defeat, the A's are 1-11 in their last 12 opportunities to clinch a series.
Avila also knew those numbers but discounts them in looking at the current A's roster.
"They're a little bit deeper now than they have been," Avila said. "And that's all in the past. Anything can happen now."
As the A's know only too well.
Contact Mark Purdy at email@example.com.