The big names got them this far, including Cabrera's single -- his third hit of the day -- to put Infante on third with one out in the ninth inning. For at least a day, the role players lifted them, capped by a fly ball from the utility man the Tigers outrighted to Triple-A Toledo in August and brought back in September.
It was the first Tigers walk-off win in the postseason since Magglio Ordonez's home run off another A's closer, Huston Street, to complete a 2006 ALCS sweep.
It was the first game in Major League postseason history in which both teams tied the game on a wild pitch in the same inning, according to STATS.
It may or may not have been the first postseason game in which the winning pitcher kissed the baseball on the last out he recorded, a fact that irked the A's but didn't particularly surprise the Tigers with the quirky Alburquerque.
"Yeah, Tuesday's going to come and it's a new day. Anything can happen that day," said Fister, whose pitching duel with A's rookie lefty Tommy Milone for six-plus innings became a distant memory by game's end. "But it's a matter of we're feeling good about ourselves. We've taken care of business here."
Clubs taking a 2-0 lead in the Division Series have won the series 38 out of 42 times. The Tigers split four games in Oakland in early May, long before the A's went on their second-half run. None of those games, even the one with former Tiger Brandon Inge's grand slam, swung quite as dramatically, either way, as this one.
Three times, the Athletics scored to pull ahead. Three times, the Tigers scored in the same inning. They finally pulled ahead after Alburquerque, seemingly as much in danger of a go-ahead hit as a wild pitch, stranded a runner on third by retiring Yoenis Cespedes.
"You almost expect a counter-blow from a team, especially like the Tigers, in the postseason," said A's reliever Sean Doolittle. "You're playing to get that momentum and keep it on your side, and it seems like the momentum keeps going back and forth, and that's a tribute to them. When we have it, they're fighting and clawing to get it back."
Detroit scored in each of the last three innings against an Oakland bullpen that posted the AL's second-lowest ERA and OPS allowed during the regular season, yet none of their five runs scored on a base hit. When the Tigers took the lead in the seventh, Doolittle seemingly had escaped a cruel fate against Cabrera with a fly ball to shallow center, until the ball hit off the heel of Coco Crisp's glove and bounced away for a two-run error.
The Tigers were down again, 4-3, in the eighth after Josh Reddick followed Joaquin Benoit's run-scoring wild pitch with a go-ahead solo shot. It was the first ball Reddick put in play all series after six strikeouts and a walk, and it handed the lead back to setup man Ryan Cook.
Again, the A's bullpen seemingly had escaped, with Cook striking out Quintin Berry pinch-hitting for Avisail Garcia with one out and runners at second and third. Yet a pitch in the dirt to pinch-hitter Alex Avila brought home Kelly, pinch-running for Delmon Young after his leadoff single.
Worth, who was pinch-running that inning for Jhonny Peralta, stayed in at shortstop for the ninth and likely prevented a go-ahead run by ranging deep in the hole and retiring the lead runner on Crisp's ground ball. Crisp moved to third on Stephen Drew's single off Phil Coke, but Alburquerque snared Cespedes' chopper back up the middle to halt it there.
All the while, Kelly -- usually a defensive replacement in games like these -- was still in the dugout as the designated hitter. He'd be up fifth in the ninth inning if the Tigers could get a rally going.
"I was thinking about the situations that could happen before the inning started," he said. "That was the main one. If guys got on, I would walk Miggy and Prince to face me as well. That's the right move."
It was a single from Cabrera, not a walk, that set up the situation, but Grant Balfour predictably walked Fielder to face Kelly. With switch-hitting Ramon Santiago the last position player remaining on Detroit's bench, Kelly was their best hope.
Two pitches later, Fielder was airborne and Kelly was a Division Series hero.
"I don't know about that," Kelly said. "I didn't even get a hit today. My teammates put me in that position."