DETROIT (AP) — Grant Balfour and the Oakland Athletics aren't making many new friends in the Motor City.
That's fine with Balfour, the high-strung Oakland reliever who nearly came face to face with Detroit's Victor Martinez while closing out the Tigers in Game 3 to send the defending AL champions to the brink of elimination.
Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith homered for the Athletics, who chased Anibal Sanchez in the fifth inning Monday and defeated the Tigers 6-3 for a 2-1 lead in the AL division series. Balfour pitched a hitless ninth for the save, and he and Martinez started shouting at each other after the Detroit designated hitter fouled a pitch off and looked back at the mound.
"I said, 'Why you staring me down like that?'" Balfour said. "He was staring me down. He knew what he was doing."
That dust-up was a tense moment, but the A's were in control by that point. Detroit must now beat Oakland twice in a row to have any chance of returning to the World Series after being swept by San Francisco a year ago.
"They have a good team and we have a good team. Unfortunately, someone has to lose, and we're down 2-1," Martinez said. "We know what we have to do, and we've done it before."
Moss broke a 3-all tie in the fifth with a solo shot, and Smith's two-run drive later in the inning ended Sanchez's day. It was an impressive offensive show after the teams split two taut, low-scoring games in Oakland.
The A's lost to the Tigers in the decisive fifth game of last year's division series, and they'd love to end this one in Game 4 on Tuesday. Rookie Dan Straily takes the mound against Detroit's Doug Fister.
The Tigers were in the process of going quietly in the ninth inning Monday when Martinez started looking back at Balfour after hitting a foul ball. Moments later, the two were shouting at each other and Martinez was heading slowly toward the mound.
Players from both teams came running out. The situation eventually calmed and no players were ejected. Martinez said Balfour swore at him while asking him what he was looking at.
"I don't know him at all. I know he's a great closer, but I don't know him," Martinez said. "I was looking at him. Where did he expect me to look? I just wanted him to throw the ball."
Sanchez, the American League's ERA leader, allowed six runs — five earned — and eight hits in 4 1-3 innings. Smith has homered off Sanchez more than any other player, having now done it twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs.
Jarrod Parker gave up three runs in five innings for Oakland, and the Tigers couldn't rally against the bullpen.
Oakland lost the opener in this series before evening it with a 1-0 win in Game 2. That victory came in a pitchers' duel between Oakland's Sonny Gray and Detroit's Justin Verlander, and with Sanchez set to start for the Tigers on Monday, it looked like the A's might need another brilliant performance on the mound from Parker.
But they had Sanchez in trouble almost immediately, scoring a run in the third and two more in the fourth. Although the Tigers finally snapped out of their offensive funk with a three-run fourth, Sanchez couldn't keep the ball in the park.
Moss hit a line drive over the wall in right to make it 4-3, and Smith's high fly carried over the fence in left-center.
"The momentum shifted, crowd got into it, all of the sudden it's a tie game," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "Brandon Moss hit a home run. That's a huge swing in momentum for us. At the time it felt like it was more than just a solo home run, so big of a swing for us."
Coco Crisp had two doubles and a single for the A's.
A banged-up Miguel Cabrera made an error at third base that gave the A's their first run, and Detroit's vaunted starting rotation finally slipped in Game 3.
Sanchez allowed 0.45 homers per nine innings in the regular season, the lowest mark in the AL, and Oakland took him deep three times; he had not allowed more than one homer in a start previously this year.
Oakland threatened in each of the first three innings but needed a break to score the game's first run. After Crisp's single to start the third, Josh Donaldson walked. Jed Lowrie and Moss both struck out, and it looked like Sanchez might get out of the inning when Yoenis Cespedes hit a sharp grounder to Cabrera.
The slugging third baseman couldn't come up with the ball and couldn't keep it in front of him, and the error allowed the A's to take the lead.
Oakland made it 3-0 in the fourth. Reddick led off with his first homer since Sept. 15, and Stephen Vogt followed with a triple and scored on Crisp's one-out sacrifice fly.
Vogt was safe when Jhonny Peralta — who moved from shortstop to left field after returning last month from his drug suspension — couldn't make a strong enough throw home.
Peralta was in the lineup for his bat, and he did give the Tigers a boost shortly after his weak throw. After going scoreless for the previous 20 innings, Detroit pushed across three runs in the fourth to tie it.
With men on first and third, Martinez hit an RBI double down the line in right field. Then Peralta added a two-run single to left.
But the A's went right back to work against Sanchez, and now they're one win from a trip to the AL championship series.
NOTES: Oakland had lost four straight road postseason games, including two in Detroit last year. ... Cabrera, who has battled problems with his groin, hit a sharp grounder down the line in left field in the first, but he has been slowed so much that he couldn't even try to stretch the hit into a double. Cabrera has reached base in all 27 of his postseason games with the Tigers. ... Donaldson, Oakland's third baseman, went sliding feet first into a short portion of the fence while chasing a foul ball in the fourth. He didn't make the catch, but he wasn't hurt either.