The Detroit Tigers' season on the line in a win-or-go-home ALDS Game 5, Justin Verlander proved he was still an ace after an up-and-down season. Verlander no-hit the Oakland Athletics for 6 2/3 innings, ultimately allowing two hits while shutting out the A's over eight full in a 3-0 victory.
The Tigers win their division series with the A's and move on to the ALCS to face the Boston Red Sox. The A's come up short once again, not having won a winner-take-all postseason elimination game since 1973 and losing four straight playoff series after being up 2-1.
Verlander was brilliant, not allowing a base runner for 5 1/3 innings, or a hit for 6 2/3. Only one base runner would reach second base in his eight innings of work, allowing just two singles, walking one and striking out ten. Closer Joaquin Benoit made things a little too interesting in the ninth, allowing the tying run to come to the plate before striking out Seth Smith to earn his second save of the playoffs.
Rookie Sonny Gray got the starting nod for the A's after overwhelming the Tigers in a dominant Game 2 win. Gray wasn't dominant tonight, taking the loss after giving up two runs and six hits over five innings. He pitched well, but never had a chance with Verlander at the top of his game.
Miguel Cabrera supplied all the offense the Tigers would need by hitting a two-run homer in the fourth, his first of the playoffs. Omar Infante drove in the Tigers' third run with an RBI ground out in the sixth. Victor Martinez chipped in three hits and a run scored. Looking to inject offense into the lineup against Gray, Jim Leyland gave Jhonny Peralta the start at short over light-hitting Jose Iglesias. Peralta would reward the call with two hits.
The A's could only muster three hits and a walk on the night, shut out by the Tigers in an ALDS Game 5 for the second consecutive season.
A Tigers team which was left for dead, put on the brink by losing Games 2 and 3, and forced to come from behind in Game 4, willed themselves to a series win over a very good and very tough A's team. Other Tigers had done their part in the series, Max Scherzer winning a pair of games, Peralta and Martinez carrying a badly slumping offense to comeback victory in Game 4. But with all the chips on the table, the Tigers were carried to an elimination game victory on the backs of a pair of superstars, Cabrera and Verlander.
One with a war chant!
More Detroit Tigers news and views: Bless You Boys' complete ALDS coverage
Just before the game started, someone who should know said to not expect much offense early in the game.
Until the sun sets, this game will have nothing offensively. You see weird stuff from hitters for pre 7pm games in Oak.— Brandon McCarthy (@BMcCarthy32) October 11, 2013
It held true in the Tigers' first inning -- A's starter Sonny Gray retired the side in order on 14 pitches, including Austin Jackson's 11th strikeout of the series.
McCarthy's prediction also held true in the bottom of the first. Coco Crisp, who had bedeviled the Tigers all series, flew out on Justin Verlander's first pitch. Verlander tossed a mere ten pitches in a 1-2-3, two-strikeout inning.
Top of two, Prince Fielder became the Tigers' first base runner by working a four-pitch walk. Victor Martinez made a bid, but Crisp ran down his fly ball to deep center on the warning track. Jhonny Peralta missed an extra base hit by thisdamnmuch, his fly ball to left landing inches foul.
Peralta still at the plate, Jim Leyland proceeded to outsmart himself by (as I'm sure he would say) "trying to make something happen." He helped the rookie starter out by calling a ridiculous hit-and-run on a full count, which resulted in a strike 'em out, throw 'em out.
What made the call worse was that Gray was well on his way to a 20-pitch-plus inning before Leyland asked Peralta to try and make contact against a pitcher he had never faced -- let alone setting Fielder in motion, who is not exactly a base-running wizard.
Thankfully, Verlander's second inning was almost as good as his first, recording in third and fourth K's while setting the A's down in order. Animated home plate umpire Tom Hallion had a zone to Verlander's liking. Unfortunately, that big strike zone would help Gray as well.
In the Tigers' half of the third, Gray set the bottom of the Tigers' order down 1-2-3. TBS's Buck Martinez was busy anointing the A's rookie an "impact pitcher," which is more than a little hyperbolic for someone, though damn good, with so little experience. The road to the World Series is littered with young pitchers who never lived up to their early promise. It's far too early to say either about Gray, which is why Martinez's gushing felt so over the top.
Verlander only recorded one strikeout in the bottom of the third, but it ended the inning. Nine consecutive A's had been retired by the Tigers' ace. Even better, Verlander was primed to go deep into the game, his pitch count standing at 40.
The Tigers' finally started to time Gray in the fourth. Jackson flew out to deep right, but didn't strike out, which felt like a victory. But Hunter did reach base with the Tigers' first base hit of the game, bouncing a single up the middle.
There was lots of talk before the game from various pundits and worked-up fans saying Leyland should think about benching Miguel Cabrera. His injuries had made him a shell of his former power-hitting self, little more than a replacement-level player, so the argument goes.
He proceeded to show why the Tigers have to play him.
Gray fired a chest-high, mid-90s fastball, which Cabrera effortlessly yanked over the 367-foot mark in right field.
CABOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM BENCH THAT!— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) October 11, 2013
Yoenis Cespedes could only watch as the two-run bomb flew over the fence, the Tigers taking a 2-0 lead on Cabrera's first home run of the playoffs, also his first since September 17 and only his second big fly since August 26.
After two were out, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta extended the inning with back-to-back singles. Alex Avila's patience at the plate paid off, his walk loading the bases. The Tigers were one hit away from breaking the game wide open. Omar Infante got ahead in the count, but couldn't break through. He bounced out to short, stranding three.
Though it could have been more, the Tigers were up 2-0, drawing first blood in an elimination game.
But two runs looked like it could be enough for Verlander, who was in beast mode. The bottom of the fourth was more of the same for the A's, Verlander retiring Crisp, Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie to make it 12 straight A's to take a seat.
Time for the TTBDNS portion of the recap. Top of five, Don Kelly started the inning with a base on balls. Two out and Kelly on second, injured or not, the A's wanted nothing to do with Cabrera. He was given an intentional walk, which made sense considering Fielder's struggles.
The move worked. Fielder ended the threat on a comebacker to Gray, stranding Donnie Baseball in scoring position.
Bottom of the fifth, Velrander finally allowed a hard-hit ball. Seth Smith's ground ball looked off his bat to be a solid hit, but Peralta was positioned perfectly, gobbling it up for the 6-3 putout.
NICE THAT OUR NEW LEFT FIELDER CAN PLAY SHORTSTOP— Bryan Craves (@DisplacedTgrFan) October 11, 2013
Verlander finished up another hitless inning with a strikeout of Brandon Moss, his sixth of the game.
This just isn't fair. 15 up, 15 down so far against Justin Verlander through five innings.— SB Nation MLB (@SBNationMLB) October 11, 2013
The no-hit talk had begun in earnest.
We're at the point where teammates are starting to leave Verlander alone on his way into dugout.— Jason Beck (@beckjason) October 11, 2013
Top of six, Verlander's rookie counterpart pitched into trouble, Martinez and Peralta leading off with back-to-back singles. Hoping to keep the game close, A's manager Bob Melvin went to the quick hook, calling right-hander Dan Otero out of the bullpen.
Gray's night was over after pitching two batters into the sixth, allowing five hits and two runs.
Sonny Gray clearly worn down from our emotionally devastating tweets earlier today.— PCB (@PhilCokesBrain) October 11, 2013
Runners on first and second, the A's pulled their infield in. Avila hit the ball hard, but on the ground. Moss made a diving stop, but had only one play, firing to second for the fielder's choice. Runner on the corners for Infante, Otero induced what looked to be just what the A's needed, a double-play ball to third. But Donaldson's throw to second was in the dirt, Alberto Callaspo unable to make the turn.
Martinez scored on the 5-4 fielder's choice, increasing the Tigers' lead to 3-0.
One out in the bottom of the sixth, Verlander allowed his first base runner, walking Josh Reddick after retiring 17 straight. Stephen Vogt followed with the deepest A's fly of the night, but to the wrong part of the O.co. Jackson got a late jump, but was able to flag the ball down on the warning track in right center. Reddick was able to tag up, becoming the first Athletic to reach scoring position. But that's as far as he would advance. The dangerous Crisp ended the inning with a can of corn to Kelly in left.
A perfect game was no longer in play, but the no-hitter was still on, a beyond-dominant Verlander having faced one over the minimum.
The Tigers threatened against Otero with two out in the seventh. Fielder's line drive dropped in front of Reddick for a single. Martinez, who has become an absolute machine at the plate, singled for the third time on the night. Fielder was now in scoring position for Peralta. He was unable to extend the Tigers' lead, Donaldson easily handing a high chopper and stepping on third to end the threat.
Verlander struck out Donaldson and retired Lowrie on a fly ball to left to start the bottom of the seventh. But Cespedes ended the no-hit drama, bouncing a single to center. Verlander would not join Don Larsen and Roy Halladay as the only pitchers in MLB history with a postseason no-hitter. But Dennis Eckersley was right on the money with this comment.
"I don't think it's a big deal to Verlander. He could care less."
Exactly. Verlander just shrugged the single off. It was all about moving the Tigers on to the ALCS. So he threw to first a couple of times to keep Cespedes honest, then made Smith his eighth K victim of the night to end the inning.
No big deal.
Facing the bottom of the Tigers' order, Sean Doolittle took over for the A's in the eighth. Doolittle pitched far better than he did in Game 4, setting the side down in order.
Bottom of eight, Verlander's pitch count stood at 97. As Moss led off and got ahead in the count 2-0, Leyland got the bullpen stirring. Drew Smyly was warming up as Verlander struck out Moss for the third time. Callaspo bounced out to Fielder for the second out, but Reddick extended the inning. His single to center was only the second hit of the game for the A's.
Not wanting to face Crisp with a pair of runners on base, Verlander took care of business by striking out the number nine hitter, Vogt.
Turned out Smyly wasn't needed, but Leyland had seen enough, His ace's pitch count at 111 pitches, Leyland broke out the "Handshake of Doom." A peerless Verlander was done after eight shutout innings, giving up just two hits, walking only one and striking out ten.
But why take out Verlander? Maybe because of this.
In '92 NLCS Game 7, Leyland let Drabek start the 9th and had to bring his closer in mid-inning. It ended badly.— Noah Trister (@noahtrister) October 11, 2013
That would be the game where the Braves scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth, Francisco Cabrera singling home Sid Bream, who narrowly beat Barry Bond's throw to give Atlanta the NL pennant.
So there's history at work for you.
Both teams would break out their closers. A's closer Grant "You looking at me?" Balfour pitched the top of the ninth, the Tigers going down 1-2-3.
Joaquin Benoit came on for what the TBS crew called a "big league save." He would face Crisp, Donaldson and Lowrie. Leyland went all defense on the left side, Ramon Santiago and Jose Iglesias taking over at third and short.
Crisp bounced weakly to second. One out, two to go.
Donaldson wrapped up an awful ALDS by going down swinging, the 11th K victim of the night. Two out, one to go.
Lowrie kept the game alive with line drive just over a leaping Iglesias. The ball rolled to deep left center, Lowrie legging out a two-out, two-base hit.
It wouldn't be a Tigers game without drama.
Needing only one strike to end the series, Benoit plunked Yoenis Cespedes on a checked swing. PANIC.
The tying run was now at the plate in Seth Smith.
The count 2-1, Smith SWUNG ... and got under Benoit's fastball, sending a lazy fly ball to short right.
Money bags trumps money ball— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) October 11, 2013
Seriously. Three years in a row. Three game five wins on the road. Just beautiful. #Tigers— Melissa Heyboer (@MelissaHeyboer) October 11, 2013
Your final score is Tigers 3, A's 0.
THEY DID IT THEY DID IT THEY DID IT THEY DID IT OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG I LOVE THIS TEAM SO MUCH <3 <3 <3 <3— Cath (@Baroque97) October 11, 2013
Good Lord, that was EXHAUSTING. And you know what? We get to do it all over again in a couple of days!
Up next for the Tigers are the Boston Red Sox, who eliminated the Tampa Bay Rays in four games in the other ALDS. Game 1 of the ALCS will be Saturday night in Boston, first pitch set for 8:07 PM.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:
Apparently Dave Dombrowski had a good-luck blazer and tie for Game 5.
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski wearing same green tie & blazer he was wearing Aug. 29 when Tigers scored 3 in 9th to beat A's 7-6 in Motown— Scott Miller (@ScottMCBS) October 10, 2013
Or it's just a coincidence. Hell, I have NO idea what I was wearing when that rally went down.
Elimination games are a completely different animal. Jim Leyland, who has seen a few, knows it.
Possible quote of the year. RT @ScottMCBS Leyland on who's available in bullpen tonight: "Verlander."— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) October 10, 2013
Jhonny Peralta's rust showed in the first, waiting far too long to back off on a shallow fly to left which Don Kelly had all the way. It forced Kelly to make a very awkward-looking catch.
Bottom of the first inning, A's MVP candidate Josh Donaldson strode to the plate to face Justin Verlander. Curt Schilling should know better, but he makes a prediction anyway.
And verlander is beatable right now, might not be in 2 innings— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) October 11, 2013
Donaldson swings through strike three...
Or not— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) October 11, 2013
TBS wasted our time in the third with the always used, but never informative, mid-game interview. Jim Leyland spewed cliches.
"Mumble, mumble, Verlander looks good, mumble, mumble, Gray's not sharp, mumble, mumble."
TBS play-by-play Don Orsillo also called Austin Jackson and Brendan Moss "teammates." OK, then.
Miguel Cabrera, setting records even when he can barely move. His two run shot in the fourth gave him 21 postseason RBIs as a Tiger. He's just one shy of the team record, held by Hall-of-Famer Hank Greenberg with 22.
Speaking of record setters, Austin Jackson claimed a record of futility. When he was punched out in the fifth, he broke the record for most strikeouts in a division series with 12. Well, 12 and counting. His record would go in the books as 13 strikeouts, adding a K in the ninth inning. By game: 1, 2, 4, 3, 3 = unlucky 13.
Amazingly, A's slugger Brandon Moss went K for K with Jackson, and shares the record.
Your managing editors can't handle stress.
Kurt: Still feel like I'm going to hurl
Al: Dombrowski looked like he wanted to hurl, too.
Kurt: I just took Tums
Al: Keep 'em close.
Meanwhile, in the Tigers' radio booth Jim Price was raving over Justin Verlander, and not using "WOW." to describe his performance.
Jim Price: "This is beautiful. I don't say that very often."— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) October 11, 2013
Yes, Jim. It was beautiful.
More problems for TBS, who has swung and missed more often than Jackson. Check out the spelling of "if necessary."
TBS spells "if necessary" like I spell "Rzepczynski"— SB Nation MLB (@SBNationMLB) October 11, 2013
As time started running out on the A's, fans were getting desperate. They would try anything to get Verlander off his game, even, well, this...
Verlander can't give up a hit bc I don't want the two idiots behind home to have a "WE BROKE UP A NO-HITTER, BRO" story.— Cee Angi (@CeeAngi) October 11, 2013
After tonight's heroics, Verlander finds himself in elite company.
Justin Verlander is 2nd pitcher in MLB history with 10+ K, 0 R allowed in back-to-back postseason games. Other: Sandy Koufax, 1965 WS G5+7— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 11, 2013
Speaking of history, the A's set some of their own: most team strikeouts in an ALDS with 57. That would be enough of a breeze to cause climate change.
As for the ALCS, Jim Leyland said he would announce his rotation on Friday. Though he did everything but confirm his Game 1 starter.
"But I can tell you, it looks like (Anibal) Sanchez in Game 1."
Justin Verlander: The last 31 postseason innings vs. the A's for Verlander are otherworldly: One earned run, 43 strikeouts. Remember earlier this season when panicked fans claimed Verlander was washed up? Remember when it was said Verlander came up small in big games? Verlander made them choke on their words with 6 2/3 no-hit innings, shutting out the A's over eight in an elimination game. I would hope to be as washed up as Verlander.
Miguel Cabrera: He was being called a singles hitter and worse thanks to his injuries. Cabrera still had enough in his injury-wracked body to muscle up on Sonny Gray, giving Verlander all the support he would need with a two-run home run.
Victor Martinez: Was the Tigers' most effective hitter in the ALDS. Martinez came through with three hits tonight, hitting .450 in the five-game series.
Jim Leyland: Over the past two games, almost every move Leyland made worked. From playing Peralta in left and at short, using Scherzer in relief, refusing to remove Cabrera from the lineup, to riding Verlander to a Game 5 win. All Leyland needs to do is stop using the hit-and-run with strikeout-prone batters, and there won't be much left to second guess.
Those who wrote off this Tigers team: never, ever count this Tigers team out. They've been declared dead so many times by fans and media over the past few seasons, the coroner doesn't even bother issuing a death certificate.
TOP TEN COMMENTERS:
Beating out several deserving candidates, Jhonny Peralta's game-tying three-run homer carried him to the top of the PotG poll with 61% of the vote. Victor Martinez and Max Scherzer tied for second, both with 18%.