When the inevitable nightmares come for Billy Beane, Bob Melvin and the A's about their latest postseason failure, Justin Verlander won't dominate the bad dream.

OK, maybe a little bit. But the prevailing haunt throughout Oakland's winter months will not be Game 5 of the American League Division Series. It'll be the Game 4 horror story in Detroit.

The A's fumbled away Game 4 so uncharacteristically that it not only cast a pall of doubt over their Game 5 homecoming but also got the Tigers up off their deathbed and spurred them through the finale behind Verlander.

"You say what could have been, and a lot of it sort of points to Game 4," general manager Beane said Friday. "Anytime you lose, one's not any more disappointing than the other. It's like asking which hangover is the worst -- the one on New Year's Eve or another one. But this hangover isn't quite as bad as the one before."

Indeed, Game 4 was the real crusher, just as Game 2 stuck in their craws a year ago. How did the A's blow it? Let us count the ways.

  • They had a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning but gave it right back in the bottom of the fifth without recording an out, and on a three-run homer by Jhonny Peralta.

  • They took a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh but not only gave up a tying home run to the first batter in the bottom half, Victor Martinez, but also allowed Detroit to score a go-ahead run.


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  • Trailing 5-4 in the eighth, they loaded the bases with nobody out against Max Scherzer but didn't score. Josh Reddick struck out on a pitch way inside that should have been a game-tying bases-loaded walk, Stephen Vogt followed with a whiff, and Alberto Callaspo hit a sinking liner to center for the third out.

  • The bullpen that was supposed to provide such a distinct advantage to the A's couldn't keep it a one-run game in the bottom of the eighth. The Tigers scored three runs off Ryan Cook and Brett Anderson, but only after Cook had retired Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder to start the inning. Killer.

  • Adding insult to injury, Oakland scored two runs in the ninth to further underscore their bullpen blowups in both the seventh and eighth, and lost 8-6.

    The difficult thing for manager Melvin in replaying Game 4 in his mind was that he couldn't think of a strategic decision he would have changed that might have altered what happened.

    "I'm the first guy to tell you I always think it's my fault and I'm always looking for ways that I can be better or have done something differently," he said. "But at the time, you have conviction in what you're doing, and you can't second-guess yourself because of it.

    "You expect the bullpen to be perfect all the time, but it's not," he added. "And there were some other opportunities in that game where we could have added on runs and not put that kind of pressure on our bullpen, but we didn't."

    As for Beane, he doesn't think the A's had any roster flaws that needed to be filled to win this series, even though for two years straight, Oakland hasn't had an answer for Verlander in Game 5.

    "No, I don't think any different," he said. "You just don't want to put yourself in that position. The best position we were in was in the middle of Game 4, and what you want to do is take advantage of that opportunity and not let it get away. So short of cloning our own Verlander and having him for Game 5 to go toe to toe, I think you win Game 4."

    One other thing -- the end of Game 3 might have set the table for what happened in Game 4. There's no question the Tigers were a different team after closer Grant Balfour got into his X-rated screaming match with Martinez, whose numbers bear it out. He was 3 for 11 before the incident and 6 for 9 afterward.

    "Is that right?" said Beane. "Note to self: Don't get Victor mad."

    Jed Lowrie had an interesting theory about that confrontation. He thought Martinez, a former teammate in Boston, provoked Balfour on purpose.

    "I didn't talk to Victor about it, but from watching the video, my sense is he was doing it to try and get his own guys fired up, because they were a little flat," Lowrie said. "It's well known Balf is vocal on the mound, he's yelling at himself, so to me, it seemed like (Martinez) was kind of waiting for Balf to yell. I have no evidence, that's just my sense."

    Whatever, the A's were stymied once again early in the playoffs, and it left them feeling empty and frustrated the day after. They didn't have to be told Game 4 was the lethal blow. They knew it.

    "We've beaten on this door a couple of times," said Melvin. "We need to actually kick it in."