It's up to Verlander now

Justin Verlander will be required to be the stopper in Thursday night’s winner-take-all Game 5.

Justin Verlander sat in the Tigers dugout during the ninth inning Wednesday night in Oakland, hands in his jacket pockets and a look of anticipation on his face.

He most likely was thinking about the celebration about to erupt at the Oakland Coliseum and starting the American League Championship Series opener on Saturday.

Instead, after watching closer Jose Valverde surrender three runs in the ninth inning, Verlander will be required to be the stopper in Thursday night’s winner-take-all Game 5.

“Obviously, it’s win or go home,” Verlander said after the Athletics rallied for a 4-3 victory, evening the AL Division Series at two games apiece.

With the way the Detroit bullpen has caved recently, it makes you wonder if Verlander must pitch his first postseason complete game to advance the Tigers.

“We’ve got our best pitcher going, so I like where we sit,” Game 4 starter Max Scherzer said. “I like where we sit, but this is a hostile place right now.”

Verlander is capable of taking a crowd out of the game. He's the defending league MVP and Cy Young Award winner, and was 17-8 with a 2.64 ERA and a league-leading 239 strikeouts this season.

“It’s obviously a big game for us,” Verlander said. “But, like I said, this team’s been resilient. We’ve put ourselves in a position where we have to win just one.”

The Tigers were three games down to the Chicago White Sox with 12 to play and ended up winning the Central Division by three games.

“We beat the White Sox when we had to beat them,” Verlander noted.

Verlander beat the A’s, 3-1, in Game 1 at Detroit. He went seven innings, allowing one run on three hits and striking out 11. The four walks were the lone chink in his armor.

Oakland has batted .214 against Verlander over his career, and he’s posted a 2.38 ERA against the A’s.

He has the number of most of their hitters — with the exception of Game 4 hero Coco Crisp, who’s batting .346 against him. Cliff Pennington (.067), Josh Reddick (.167), Smith (.111) and Josh Donaldson (.125) have been sent back to dugout empty-handed by Verlander on a regular basis.

The A’s are sending out another rookie, Jarrod Parker (13-8, 3.47), who allowed three runs (two earned) in 6 1/3 innings in his Game 1 loss. Alex Avila hit a homer, and Quintin Berry had two hits against the right-hander.

Parker has never pitched in a game like this.

Verlander beat the Rangers last year with Detroit facing elimination in the ALCS, and this will be his 10th postseason start, including a pair in the World Series.

If you must have your back to wall, there isn’t a better pitcher to have there with you than Justin Brooks Verlander.

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