Tigers' Verlander owns A's in Game 5 clincher
Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera (middle) celebrates with teammates, including Prince Fielder (left) after Game 5 of the American League Divisional Series against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum in Oakland October 10, 2013. (Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY Sports)
The Oakland Athletics thought they had seen Justin Verlander at his best in Game 5 of the Division Series last year.
They were wrong.
Last year in Game 5 Verlander was terrific as he twirled a complete-game four-hit shutout where he recorded 11 strikeouts in the Tigers’ 6-0 victory. He threw 122 pitches and the A’s could square up just four.
As great as he was that night, this game he was better.
Throwing a no-hitter through 6.2 innings — Yoenis Cespedes would break up the no-no bid with a ground ball single up the middle — Verlander put up eight more zeros, this time holding the A’s to two hits in pitching the Tigers to a 3-0 victory.
Talk about being a money pitcher.
With the win, the Tigers, who trailed 2-1 in the series, advance to the ALCS against Boston beginning Saturday night.
Reaching back to the first game of their Division Series hook-up last year, Verlander has now tossed 30 consecutive shutout innings against the A’s in four post-season meetings. He walked one, struck out 10 and threw 111 pitches.
Joaquin Benoit came on in the ninth for the shaky — a double and hit batter — save.
The game was a rematch of Game 2 starters with Verlander going against rookie right-hander Sonny Gray, who blanked the Tigers over eight innings in their 1-0 victory.
Gray wasn’t as sharp this game despite not allowing a hit until the fourth. He lasted just five-plus innings, allowing the three runs on six hits. He walked four (one intentionally) and struck out three.
If the Athletics see the Tigers again in another playoff series it will be too soon.
The meeting this year marks the third consecutive time that the Tigers have eliminated the A’s in post-season play — the others being 2012 in a Division Series and 2006 in the ALCS.
Overall, the A’s have now lost nine of their past 10 post-season series dating back to 1990.
Miguel Cabrera is hurting. There is no denying that fact as he has been slowed to a crawl by abdominal and groin injuries. Heading into last night’s game, the Tigers slugger had just two extra-base hits in his previous 113 plate appearances.
But then in the fourth inning, the MVP finally broke through. Gray tried to sneak an inside fastball by him and the right-handed hitter, despite not being able to stride into the ball, flicked his wrists and carried the ball over the wall in left for a two-run home run. It was his first homer of the series.
“They finally came in, a fastball inside and he just used his hands,” was how TV analyst Buck Martinez described it.
Although the home run only put a two-spot on the board, the way Verlander was dealing it might as well have been 20.
The wheels were really turning out on Oakland on Thursday night.
Both managers tweaked their respective lineups for the all-important one-or-done Game 5 of their Division Series.
In the Oakland Athletics corner, manager Bob Melvin penciled in switch-hitting Alberto Callaspo at second base in place of Eric Sogard.
Melvin also dropped Brandon Moss from third to sixth and bumped up Yoenis Cespedes to the cleanup spot with Seth Smith batting behind him.
“I think like any game, particularly in the post-season, particular in a Game 5, you’re looking to try to get your best lineup, your hottest hitters up there as much as you can,” Melvin explained to reporters prior to the game. “That’s the reason Callaspo is in there.”
Jim Leyland, meanwhile, moved Jhonny Peralta back to his usual spot at short, sat shortstop Jose Iglesias and brought in Don Kelly to play left field.
“In my heart, I think this gives us the best chance starting this game tonight, and I emphasize starting this game tonight, I think this gives us our best chance,” he said.
ON THE MONEY
Leyland, before the game, on the pitching matchup: “The kid (Sonny Gray) is special. Hopefully the fact that we have seen him will help us a little bit. It certainly doesn’t guarantee anything.
“But this is a big game and we got a big‑game pitcher going as well. Bob (Melvin) feels comfortable with his and I feel comfortable with mine.”
MAKING HIS MARK
According to John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press, Cabrera has reached base on a hit, a walk or a hit-by-pitch in all 29 of his post-season games with the Tigers which constitutes a major league record for post-season play. Cabrera set the mark at 28 when he singled in the sixth inning of Tuesday’s game. Phillies second baseman Chase Utley held the previous mark with 27 straight games reaching base.
Cabrera kept it going with his two-run home run in the third inning of Thursday’s game.