These decisive Game 5s sure are becoming familiar for Verlander. Not so much for the Oakland rookie.
Just like last October in Oakland, the Tigers have been pushed to a winner-take-all fifth game in their AL division series against the Athletics. And Detroit will have Verlander on the mound again Thursday night after he pitched a four-hit shutout in the 2012 clincher at the Oakland Coliseum."Well, you don't pretend. It's not just another game," Verlander said after the Tigers evened the series with an 8-6 win Tuesday at Comerica Park. "The season is on the line. It was on the line for us tonight, too. This whole season, the way we battled and played as a team, comes down to one game, may the best team win. You can't treat it just like another game. It's a little bit different. There is more to it."
The A's will counter with Gray against Verlander a second time after these two put on a pitching show Saturday night at the Coliseum."He's a little bit of a bulldog, he's scared of nothing," manager Bob Melvin said, noting Gray's experience on the big stage just last week. "Everything that went on in that game factored into it. ... When he came up, we were into the season and a pennant race already and we threw him right into the fire and right away he pitched very well with a lot of confidence and always has that mound presence." Melvin said he doesn't know how he might use, if at all, 18-game winner and Game 1 loser Bartolo Colon , who is "willing to do anything." He hasn't been ruled out as a reliever. "Obviously we had two great options," Melvin said.
Verlander dominated in a thrilling pitcher's duel with Gray, who matched the ace as each threw zeros but had nothing to show for it in a 1-0 A's win."I'm not really sure we liked what we saw, it was pretty good," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Gray. "At least we've seen him now."
Verlander is riding a 22-inning postseason scoreless streak against the A's, and has 33 strikeouts over the past three playoff matchups with Oakland, 11 in each outing.
Not that the A's are counting."He's been beaten before, it can happen again," third baseman Josh Donaldson said.
Verlander acknowledged it would have been great to pitch the playoff opener, while also noting 21-game winner Max Scherzer more than earned the nod. Now, Verlander gets the ball for his most meaningful start this year - to extend the season Thursday night."We all have a lot of confidence, we're playing at home, we know what we're up against in Verlander," A's shortstop Jed Lowrie said. "We're all prepared for one, winner-take-all scenario."
With Scherzer pitching in relief Tuesday, Verlander became the automatic Game 5 choice for manager Jim Leyland."That's kind of why we pitched him Game 2 so we'd have an option," Leyland said. "We were in a pretty good comfort zone to pitch Verlander if necessary, and it was necessary because we had to win (Tuesday). We're comfortable any time Verlander goes out there."
Both clubs chose to use Wednesday as a full day off without on-field workouts after two long flights in four days.
Who to start was quite a choice for 2012 AL Manager of the Year Melvin, whose team is trying to avoid having the season end at the hands of Detroit for the third time in as many postseasons - last year and also a four-game sweep by the Tigers in the 2006 AL championship series.
The last time the A's won a winner-take-all postseason game was in Game 7 of the 1973 World Series against the New York Mets . Oakland has lost its last five Game 5s in the AL division series since 2000.
The AL West champion A's know what's at stake - and realize full well the challenge of facing Verlander again. Last fall's frustrating finish is still fresh for everybody."We feel like this time we have a better chance to turn the tide," Melvin said. "It's awfully tough to go out there each and every time and consistently beat a team in the fashion that he has with us."
Verlander has hardly had the kind of dominant season like he had the past two years, including 2011 when he won both AL MVP and Cy Young Award honors. Yet that hardly affected Leyland's decision-making as he insisted Verlander's 13-12 record was hardly indicative of how well he pitched much of the season aside from a couple of rough stretches.
Oakland rookie Stephen Vogt delivered a walk-off single in Saturday's win once Verlander was out of the game. But he also had a wild 10-pitch at-bat with Verlander in which the left-handed hitting catcher fouled off the first five pitches and seven in all before striking out to end the seventh."We can expect pretty much what we saw from him the other night. Hopefully he makes a couple mistakes and we're able to capitalize," Vogt said. "It's a tough loss but we're not done. We still got one more game. We're not done."
Neither are those 48,000-plus fans with their swirling yellow rally towels packing the Coliseum. They are sure to be even more hyped up and fiery Thursday night after watching a disputed home run at Comerica Park in Tuesday's loss. On that play, a pair of fans reached out to grab the ball as right fielder Josh Reddick was leaping for it at the wall. The homer went to replay review and stood as a solo shot for Victor Martinez in the seventh."We just do it like we have been doing it all season long, we end up winning a pretty good ballgame and it's over, turn the page," Martinez said. "We go to Oakland now and play another game. We all know it's a tough place to play ... we go to the next day and play a brand new ballgame and see what happens."
|September 26, 2013||Danny Worth||60-Day DL||Dislocated left shoulder|
|September 19, 2013||Jose Iglesias||Day-to-Day||Hand|
|September 19, 2013||Phil Coke||Day-to-Day||Elbow|
|September 04, 2013||Jose Iglesias||Day-to-Day||Bilateral shin splints|
|August 24, 2013||Jose Iglesias||Day-to-Day||Sore left elbow|
|August 17, 2013||Omar Infante||Day-to-Day||Left game - lower back stiffness|
|September 27, 2013||Yoenis Cespedes||Day-to-Day||Right shoulder soreness|
|September 19, 2013||Yoenis Cespedes||Day-to-Day||Shoulder|
|September 02, 2013||Coco Crisp||Day-to-Day||Left game - right shin contusion|
|August 26, 2013||Josh Reddick||15-Day DL||Sprained right wrist|
|August 26, 2013||Josh Reddick||15-Day DL||Sprained right wrist|
|August 21, 2013||Derek Norris||15-Day DL||Fractured left big toe|
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Justin Verlander ripped off his jersey and rubbed Torii Hunter 's bald head. The Tigers pulled on goggles and popped bubbly, then waited for their straggling slugger. At last, Miguel Cabrera walked through the door to chants of "Miggy! Miggy! Miggy!"
Detroit's two biggest stars, Verlander and Cabrera, teamed up Thursday night to send the Tigers back to the AL championship series with a 3-0 winner-take-all victory over the Oakland Athletics in their division series.
"We won the game, that's all it's about," Cabrera said. "We want to win a World Series, man, that's our goal."
With the season on the line once more in Oakland, Verlander pitched another Game 5 gem by carrying a no-hit bid into the seventh inning. With his body aching, Cabrera contributed all the offense needed in one sweet swing - a two-run homer - as the Tigers eliminated the A's again.
"I'm pitching the way I'm supposed to. I worked my butt off all year to try to get consistent and get myself where I needed to be," Verlander said. "I feel like it finally paid off at the end of the year."
Joaquin Benoit retired Seth Smith on a fly ball with two on in the ninth to close out the deciding game of the series. The Tigers became the first team to reach the ALCS in three straight years since the New York Yankees from 1998-2001.
Anibal Sanchez will start Game 1 in Boston on Saturday. The Tigers went 4-3 against the Red Sox this year, but they have never faced each other in the postseason.
Detroit staved off elimination at home in Game 4, overcoming a three-run deficit on Tuesday. Behind Verlander, the Tigers never trailed in shutting out Oakland in Game 5 for the second straight October.
The big right-hander gave up a clean, two-out single to Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh to end his chance at the third no-hitter in postseason history. The hit hardly fazed him, however.
"We got pretty close there, seven innings is pretty unbelievable," catcher Alex Avila said. "To be honest, I thought we had a chance. He had the stuff for it, he had no-hit stuff."
On a night he allowed only two hits and three baserunners in eight innings, Verlander made it a postseason-record 30 straight scoreless innings against one team since Coco Crisp hit a leadoff home run for the A's in Game 1 last October.
Just 364 days earlier, Verlander tossed a four-hit, 6-0 masterpiece in Game 5 in this very ballpark, a 122-pitch performance for his first career postseason shutout and complete game.
"Obviously it's something that you dream about as a kid. It's a win or go home, you visualize when you're 10 years old in your backyard, Game 5, Game 7, gotta win," Verlander said. "It's pretty exciting to have gone out there twice in that scenario and done a good job."
He nearly matched last year's shutout with a spectacular 111-pitch outing in a rematch of his thrilling pitcher's duel with rookie Sonny Gray five days earlier in Game 2.
Aching slugger Cabrera connected in the fourth, a drive into the left-field seats for his first homer since Sept. 17 and just his third extra-base hit in 99 at-bats. That ended a 20-inning scoreless streak by the Tigers at the Coliseum.
Gray danced with danger from the start with stuff not nearly as crisp as just five nights before when he matched zeros with the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner.
This time, Verlander didn't allow a baserunner until Josh Reddick drew a one-out walk in the sixth - but the no-hit bid remained until Cespedes' single the next inning. The hardest hit ball was a fly to the center field warning track by Stephen Vogt in the sixth.
"Everything about it is frustrating. We're a better team than that," Vogt said. "We deserved better. We just didn't get it done."
Verlander struck out 10, giving him 21 Ks in these two starts. He has 43 strikeouts in his four playoff outings against Oakland the past two years.
The A's saw their season end at the hands of Detroit for the third time in as many postseasons, including in a four-game sweep in the 2006 ALCS.
Oakland has lost its last six winner-take-all Game 5s and fell to 1-12 in potential clinchers since 2000. The A's struck out 57 times for the most in a best-of-five playoff series.
Verlander earned the nod for the decider after Game 1 winner Max Scherzer pitched in relief of an 8-6, season-saving win Game 4 in Detroit. Manager Jim Leyland had no qualms turning again to Verlander, who went 13-12 this season.
When asked before the game about his bullpen availability, Leyland nodded his head and quipped, "Verlander, he's available."
Gray, meanwhile, looked overmatched this time. He wiped his brow and never got comfortable. Then, he broke his left thumb on Prince Fielder 's fifth-inning comebacker.
A's manager Bob Melvin went with Gray over 18-game winner and 40-year-old Bartolo Colon , who yielded three first-inning runs to lose Game 1.
"He pitched fine tonight," Melvin said. "He basically just gives up a home run to Miguel Cabrera . When you don't score a run and only get a couple hits, you know you have to be perfect."
These Game 5s are becoming awfully familiar for both sides in their recent October rivalry.
Detroit held another clinching party in the visiting clubhouse of the Oakland Coliseum, where a raucous crowd of 46,959 swirled yellow towels until Benoit threw his hands in the air at the final out.
Avila met Benoit in front of the mound for a long embrace as their teammates quickly joined them - with cheers of "Let's go Oakland!" still ringing out.
The Tigers came together near the mound for a unique chant in which they squatted in unison and raised their hands in the air. They call it "Turn Up," because "you've gotta turn it up," Avila said.
The 93-win Tigers are determined to take the next step and win a championship after being swept in four games of the 2012 World Series by the San Francisco Giants .
"That's the motivation that we've been looking for, that we've had all year," Verlander said. "Guys like Torii who wasn't a part of our team last year, he comes in and he's got that urge. He wants to win that championship before he retires. Everybody else that was here that had a taste of that last year how much it hurts, it's that extra driving factor."
Hunter hollered for all to hear in the clubhouse, "Let's go, boys! Way to fight!" yelled Hunter.
The 23-year-old Gray, pitching to chants of "Sonny! Sonny!" in his 12th career start, returned for the sixth inning at 92 pitches but was done once he allowed consecutive singles to Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta . Omar Infante then drove in the third run with a fielder's choice grounder off Dan Otero .
Along the 880 freeway just outside the Coliseum, a billboard blared: "IT'S ALWAYS SONNY IN THE TOWN." The only thing sunny was the outfield for the early evening start, which had players shielding their eyes to deal with tricky shadows and sun angles. Center field and right field initially played in bright sun.
Rookie starters have lost their last six winner-take-all postseason games since Daisuke Matsuzaka beat Cleveland in the 2007 ALCS for Boston.
Gray's curveball had less break and he never found the same groove that carried him in his playoff debut. It was a breezy Bay Area night and 19 degrees cooler at first pitch than the 82 degrees in a game starting an hour later Saturday night.
This marks another disappointing exit for the low-budget A's, who have baseball's 27th smallest payroll at $71.1 million after having the lowest at $59.5 million last year.
"Right now it's a little emotional, a little sad and a little frustrating," Crisp said. "I didn't want to have to say goodbye so soon to the guys I went to battle with. It's hard."
NOTES: Verlander tried for just the third no-hitter in postseason history and first since Philadelphia's Roy Halladay no-hit Cincinnati on Oct. 6, 2010. Don Larsen pitched a perfect game for the New York Yankees against Brooklyn in the World Series on Oct. 8, 1956. ... Brandon Moss struck out 13 times in 18 at-bats. Detroit's Austin Jackson fanned 13 times in 20 at-bats.