When you absolutely, positively need a victory, there’s no better pitcher to have than the reigning Cy Young and MVP winner.
As Justin Verlander came off the mound in the 8th inning of the deciding Game 5 against the Oakland A’s, he pumped his right fist, finally showing some emotion as he smelled the victory.
At that point, Verlander had thrown 111 pitches, a pitch count just low enough for him to be able to head back out for the ninth.
As if there was any doubt.
“He’s the man,” Prince Fielder told TBS in the clubhouse after the game. “He’s our guy. If we have one game to play, he’s the one I want pitching.”
The final 6-0 score does not accurately reflect how close Game 5 was and how much the Tigers relied on Verlander’s dominance in a complete game shutout.
Through the first seven innings, Verlander allowed just two hits, a double to Yoenis Cespedes in the first and a single to Brandon Moss in the fifth.
Until the seventh, the Tigers had managed just two runs against A’s rookie Jarrod Parker, on an RBI single by Austin Jackson and then Jackson scoring on a wild pitch.
Verlander had to be at his best and he was, walking just one and striking out 11 for his second victory of the ALDS.
“For me personally, this has got to be right up there,” Verlander said in the post-game interview room. “I think this is No. 1. The two no-hitters are obviously up there but that’s something a little bit different.
“This is a win-or-go-home, my team needs me and I was able to go out there and have one of the better performances I’ve had.”
It really takes another pitcher to describe just how amazing Verlander’s performance was.
“For Ver to go out there and do everything he did, that’s just incredible,” a gleeful Max Scherzer told FOX Sports Detroit’s John Keating. “Better than great. It’s one of the best performances that I’ve ever seen. He was on top of everything.”
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Verlander’s 11 strikeouts are the most in a shutout in a winner-take-all postseason game.
“It’s tough to stop him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said in the interview room on the post-game show. “It’s like a locomotive going at a high speed. He was tough to deal with, unfortunately. He had really good stuff tonight and carried it all the way through the ninth.”
After the Tigers lost Game 4 in heartbreaking fashion, Verlander came into the interview room and looked every bit the ace he is. Although disappointed, he was calm, resolute and completely confident that he could and would get the job done.
Obviously Verlander had that same mindset when he got to the clubhouse Thursday afternoon.
“I think he’s a pretty good matchup for anybody when he’s right and he had that look in his eye today,” manager Jim Leyland told reporters after the game. “He was determined. He had a complete game look in his eye and we were thankful to get that.”
Now instead of questions about Leyland’s future and what the team will look like next season, the Tigers advance to the ALCS for the second straight season.
Although Verlander won’t be able to start Game 1, he’ll likely be ready for Game 3 and a possible Game 7.
Verlander, who has now added postseason dominance to his already impressive resume, believes his team is set up for a better showing in this year’s ALCS.
“I think a lot of these guys on this team have experienced the postseason and I think just experience helps to be able to perform in that scenario, knowing how not to press too much and use the adrenaline to your advantage,” Verlander said. “I think our experience last year is going to be huge for us. I said many times, this last whole month of the season, we’ve been playing pressure games where our backs were against the wall.
“We won the games that we needed to win and I think that bodes extremely well for us as a team moving forward in the playoffs because every game’s a must-win.”