OAKLAND, Calif. -- Armando Galarraga yielded three times more walks than hits, and his Detroit teammates made a big baserunning blunder, gave up a ninth-inning homer and committed two fielding errors.
Manager Jim Leyland knew it all could have cost the AL Central-leading Tigers -- against a better opponent than the Oakland Athletics, that is.
Galarraga pitched two-hit ball into the seventh inning, and Placido Polanco homered and drove in three runs in the Tigers' 5-3 victory over the A's on Tuesday night.
Ryan Raburn went 3 for 3 with a run-scoring single for the Tigers, who have won nine of 12. After handing the slumping A's their sixth loss in seven games, Detroit is comfortably atop the division despite an inconsistent effort that left players scrambling for optimism in both clubhouses.
"We're living on the edge a little bit," Leyland said. "When you run into teams that are really hot, you're probably going to lose these games."
Leyland was particularly worried about Galarraga (5-7), who has won two straight starts after losing a career-worst seven consecutive decisions since late April. The right-hander issued six walks, yet otherwise had little trouble against the light-hitting A's over 6 1/3 innings.
"It's something that's negative, but I look at the positive, because my ball was moving really good," Galarraga said of his control problems. "My sinker, my slider, both were good. That's not an excuse for throwing a lot of walks, though."
"Walking that many people is not part of the major league game," Leyland said. "You just can't do it. That's not being upset with anybody. That's just telling it like it is."
Polanco hit a two-run homer in the first and an RBI single in the ninth, improving his career average against Oakland to .389 -- tops among all major leaguers against the A's. He also was the MVP of the 2006 AL Championship Series, when he hit .529 in the Tigers' sweep of Oakland.
"One of those teams, man," Polanco said. "I've never been part of an ugly win. Every time you win, it's a beautiful win."
Oakland, mired in last in the AL West, got its only hits off Galarraga in the fourth when Ryan Sweeney tripled and scored on Jack Cust's single. In the ninth, Ellis homered to left for the second straight night after returning to Oakland's lineup on Sunday following a two-month injury absence.
Gio Gonzalez (0-2) made an unconvincing case for a permanent spot in Oakland's rotation by allowing three runs and seven hits in five innings. The 23-year-old left-hander, who has been called up three times from Triple-A Sacramento this season, has lost back-to-back starts in his latest stint in the big leagues.
"I gave them five good, strong innings," Gonzalez said. "It's a stepping stone, and I'll keep learning from all this. I could have let the home run crumble me, but [pitching coach] Curt Young and [catcher] Kurt Suzuki kept talking to me, and that helped."
After Curtis Granderson led off the game with a four-pitch walk, Polanco hit Gonzalez's seventh pitch into the left-field stands for the veteran second baseman's fourth homer in 10 games.
Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn then had back-to-back, one-out hits, but Thames ran through a stop sign from third base coach Gene Lamont and got stuck in a rundown, leading to Raburn getting tagged out while standing on third.
Miguel Cabrera doubled and scored on Raburn's single in the third. Raburn left the game in the seventh when "his eyes dried out," Leyland said.
Jason Giambi's batting average dipped all the way down to an AL-low .197 when he went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts. The former MVP is in a 12-for-79 slump, going 2 for 21 on the A's current homestand, but he's still batting cleanup for one of the majors' least productive offenses.
A's LHP Josh Outman underwent season-ending elbow surgery. He'll be out for at least a year. Outman was a bright spot in Oakland's youthful rotation, going 4-1 in 14 appearances. ... Cabrera extended his hitting streak to 13 games with a seventh-inning infield single. ... The Tigers committed two errors after making just one error in their previous nine games.