OAKLAND -- The Tigers found the form they'd been looking for out of Brandon Inge ever since last summer. It just came in the wrong uniform for them, even if it has become the right situation for Inge.
"He's swinging the bat as good as I've seen him swing it for a while," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after Friday's 11-4 loss to the A's. "We probably didn't expand the zone enough, but he's in a pretty good groove right now."
With four RBIs in four of his past five games, including each of the first two games of this four-game set against his old club, Inge might be on his best stretch ever. Statistically, according to Elias Sports Bureau, he's the first Major Leaguer with four four-RBI performances in a five-game stretch since Lou Gehrig in 1931.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are caught in a pattern, alternating wins and losses for their past 13 games. They've been hovering at .500 or a game above it every day since April 26 -- ironically, the day they released Inge.
They were spinning their wheels in that mud well before they crossed paths with Inge again. With Doug Fister and Justin Verlander starting the final two games of this series, they arguably have their best chance to get out of it with back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-April.
While the deciding plays have been different each day, their past six losses have come with two runs or less scored from their lineup. Friday continued their recent struggles against left-handers, with seven strong innings from Oakland southpaw Tommy Milone (5-2).
"We've just got to put it all together," catcher Gerald Laird said. "That's the bottom line. It's tough. There's no excuse. We have a better team than we're showing. Obviously we all know that. We've just got to put it all together.
"It's just frustrating because [Thursday] we get 17 hits, and we come out today against a guy we thought we could get some runs off and we didn't get it done."
They were probably headed towards a defeat before Inge hit his three-run homer off long reliever Duane Below to turn a 5-2 game into an 8-2 runaway. Still, if they're going to turn this series in their favor this weekend, they're almost surely going to have to pitch to Inge better than they have.
They saw Inge punish plenty of fastballs in his time in a Tigers uniform. They've seen him do the same here.
"We figured he'd be locked in this series," Laird said. "I mean, he's a competitor. He got released by this organization and he feels like he has something to prove. That's the nature of the game. He's a competitor. We left some pitches out over the middle of the plate and he didn't miss."
Or as Leyland put it, "He's got a second wind and it's a good thing, obviously, for him."
Most days, the offensive struggles have spoiled some well-pitched games. Friday wasn't one of them, not with four extra-base hits on a night when Rick Porcello (3-3) had trouble keeping the ball low in the strike zone and the A's made him pay early.
While Inge added to his reunion numbers with an RBI single in the opening inning, the bulk of the damage came right above him in the lineup. Kila Ka'aihue continued to defy Detroit's game plan with a pair of hard-hit doubles to the outfield fences, and Josh Reddick had five RBIs with two home runs, including a leadoff shot in the third to put the A's on top for good at 3-2.
"From the get-go, I was out of sync," said Porcello, whose three walks Friday came after walking six in his first six starts. "I wasn't locating the fastball down in the zone. I had a tough time getting the middle of the order out. It's not a good combination for an effective game."
Porcello's four runs on nine hits over five innings ended the Tigers' streak of nine consecutive quality starts. Below, who had been used as a left-handed specialist over his previous couple outings, gave up a walk and a stolen base to Jemile Weeks ahead of Reddick's RBI single in the sixth.
Seth Smith's two-out blooper into short left field brought up Inge, who got a 2-1 fastball from Below and drove it deep into the left-field seats. It marked his fourth home run in 10 games with the Athletics, matching his total as a Tiger since the start of last season.
"It's such a mixed emotional feeling," Inge said. "I want to do well and I want to hit the ball. Every time I get in the box, my mindset is to take a good swing and basically smash the ball, hammer the ball somewhere. But right after it's done, it's like, 'Man, these are my buddies I just messed up a little bit.'"
Add in Inge's grand slam in Thursday's series opener, and he has driven in eight runs over the past two games against his former team. Once Reddick homered again in the seventh, he put Oakland into double digits.
"What else can he do? He's been great," Reddick said. "I don't know what the guys across the way were thinking when they let him go."
The Tigers, meanwhile, have been happy for him to find a place where he could get regular at-bats. After the last two nights, obviously, they've been wishing those at-bats weren't going so well.