DETROIT — Grant Balfour sensed something was wrong while warming up in the bullpen, failing to throw fastballs or breaking pitches the way he’d like before entering a game.
It didn’t get any better for the A’s closer when he was on the mound.
Torii Hunter hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning, lifting the Detroit Tigers over the Oakland Athletics 7-6 Thursday to avoid a sweep.
The Tigers scored four times in the ninth off Balfour (0-3). A two-out walk set up Victor Martinez’s RBI single before Hunter cleared the left-center fence for their biggest comeback victory of the year.
Balfour said he felt “terrible” on the mound.
“It’s not a good lineup to go out there when you’ve got nothing, I must admit,” he said.
The A’s roughed up 19-game winner Max Scherzer and didn’t have to finish the game against slugger Miguel Cabrera, who limped off the field in the fifth inning with an abdominal injury.
Coco Crisp led off the game with a double and Jed Lowrie hit a one-out, two-run homer on a thigh-high, 92 mph fastball. Scherzer held the A’s to only one hit over the next two innings, but they built a four-run cushion in the fourth on sacrifice flies by Daric Barton and Eric Sogard.
Josh Donaldson hit a leadoff triple in the fifth and Brandon Moss homered deep into the right-field seats to make it 6-1.
A’s starter Bartolo Colon was in a position to win his 15th game. He allowed only one run and five hits without a walk over five innings in his first start since Aug. 13, when a groin injury landed him on the disabled list.
“I thought he was fine,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, adding Colon’s 73-pitch outing wouldn’t have lasted longer than 80 pitches in his first game off the DL. “He comes out of the game, we’re in good position, so he did his job.
Prince Fielder hit a solo homer in the sixth off Jerry Blevins, who gave up another run and retired only one batter to let the Tigers pull within three runs.
Oakland’s Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle each followed with a 1 1-3 innings of scoreless relief, setting Balfour up to potentially pitch for his 34th save in 35 chances. He gave up a leadoff walk to Austin Jackson and walked Fielder with two outs.
“When you walk that leadoff guy like they walked Jackson, a lot of times that spells trouble,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Balfour later got ahead 0-2 against Martinez, but couldn’t get a third strike against him and that proved to be costly.
“I was one strike away, you know?” Balfour asked. “I came in and I thought I made a pretty good pitch, I thought I got it in, but he fought it and dumps it into center field. He’s a good hitter. It’s frustrating, no doubt.”
Balfour gave up two hits, two walks and four runs and got just two outs in the pivotal inning that prevented the A’s from finishing off a four-game sweep.
“It’s nice to win three games here when you’re looking at it coming in,” Melvin said, “but certainly when you’re in position to win the fourth one, you want to win four.”
NOTES: Moss’ four homers in the series were more than he hit in three of his first five major league seasons. Moss didn’t reach double figures until last year, his sixth, when he hit 21 for Oakland. ... Lowrie has a career-best 11-game hitting streak.