Verlander flirts with no-hitter, Tigers advance
OAKLAND, Calif. — With the season on the line once more in Oakland, Justin Verlander pitched another Game 5 gem.
Verlander carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and Miguel Cabrera homered to lead the Detroit Tigers past the Athletics 3-0 Thursday night and back into the AL championship series.
Joaquin Benoit retired Seth Smith on a fly ball with two on in the ninth to close out the deciding game of their division 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. 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 the clincher.
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.
On a night he allowed only three baserunners, 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.
He nearly matched that 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.
“It felt good out there,” Verlander said. “It’s the first time in a while my changeup’s been really good. Obviously this lineup with a bunch of left-handed hitters that was a big pitch for me.”
Aching slugger Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the fourth off with 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 Ñ 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.
Verlander struck out 10 in eight innings, 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 looked comfortable.
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.
These Game 5s becoming awfully familiar for both sides in their recent October rivalry.