DETROIT — You can have a top MVP candidate, last year’s MVP and Cy Young winner, an additional 16-game winner and another one of the top hitters in the game and none of it might matter in the end.
It did matter Wednesday night as the Tigers defeated the Oakland A’s 6-2 behind gritty pitching from Justin Verlander, the aforementioned MVP/Cy Young winner from last season.
The A’s came in playing well and needing wins just as much as the Tigers do right now.
While the Tigers (79-69) entered the series three games behind the Chicago White Sox in the race for the AL Central Division, the A’s were three games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West.
In the wild-card race, the A’s (84-64), New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles were tied for first. The Los Angeles Angels are three games back and the Tigers 5 1/2 games back.
The A’s don’t have some of the “name” sluggers like Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, but they have players like Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes — and even former Tiger Brandon Inge when he was healthy — contributing to plenty of victories.
Those A’s hitters fouled off many pitches, driving up Verlander’s pitch count, but they never managed to score a run off of him in six innings.
“That’s definitely the best I’ve seen,” Verlander said. “I made some pitches. They were fouling them off. I was battling. They didn’t get a lot of base hits, but still got my pitch-count up. I was only able to go six and I was a little bit disappointed with that.”
Catcher Gerald Laird used manager Jim Leyland’s favorite word for Verlander to describe his performance.
“That’s why he’s a horse,” Laird said. “He’s the ace of our staff, and aces do that. They’re facing Verlander, they’re bringing their best up there. They did a good job, and they were frustrating him a little bit, but he stayed with his game, and continued to make pitches and battled through six innings, and that’s what the great ones do.”
The offense came from Omar Infante (two-run double, RBI groundout), Delmon Young (sacrifice fly) Jhonny Peralta (RBI single) and of course, Cabrera, who hit his 41st home run.
Octavio Dotel, who pitched a perfect seventh, and Laird were on the St. Louis Cardinals team that overcame a 4 1/2-game deficit to make the playoffs. They have spoken to their teammates all year about what is possible.
But Dotel cautioned that the Tigers are going to need some help.
“Everybody knows and understands how every game is important and every pitch is important so this team is quite a bit close to the team we have last year,” Dotel said. “You’ve got to remember, we got a great team but luck has to be there. We got a lot of games that we were lucky. We played good games, we played hard but we got good luck. We cannot forget that. So hopefully that type of luck comes over here.”
Laird said races like these are what makes baseball a great game.
“It ain’t over until the last game,” said Laird, channeling his inner Yogi Berra. “There ain’t no time limit on any games, it’s the last out. Last year, we got in on the last day of the season. It’s frustrating that it takes that long, but if you get in, it makes it more sweeter when you get in like that. It kind of brings a team together, and you just kind of take off.
“My advice to these guys is play one game at a time. We’ve got the A’s again, and if we get another ‘W’ maybe we can get a game closer. So, that’s what it’s all about ‘W’s right now.”
Thanks to the Kansas City Royals beating the White Sox 3-0, the Tigers made up a game and are two behind the White Sox with 14 to go.
Since the Tigers don’t face the White Sox the rest of the regular season, all they can do now is try to beat the team they play that day.
“It’s all about winning games right now,” Laird said. “If you don’t win games, we’re not going to pick up games. If we lose, there’s no losing and watching, because there’s no chance of hoping they lose. You gotta win games, and that’s all I care about right now. I don’t care what they do.
“If we win games, I know we’re going to be there at the end, because they’ve got some tough games ahead of them.”