Verlander, Tigers cut Rangers’ ALCS lead
One moment, Justin Verlander and the Tigers were on the verge of watching their season slip away.
After a double play and a lucky bounce, they were headed back to Texas.
Verlander helped save Detroit’s season with a gutsy effort and the Tigers hit for a sudden cycle to break away in a 7-5 victory Thursday that cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-2 in the AL championship series.
Delmon Young hit two of Detroit’s four homers and Miguel Cabrera had a tiebreaking double in the sixth inning – thanks to a bizarre bounce off third base.
”I have that bag in my office right now. And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life, I can promise you,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
After building a five-run cushion, Detroit held on despite Nelson Cruz’s record fifth home run of the series. With closer Jose Valverde unavailable for the Tigers, Texas cut it to 7-5 in the ninth and had Cruz on deck when Phil Coke retired Mike Napoli on a game-ending groundout with two runners on.
Coke got five outs for his first career postseason save.
”Cokie came through for us,” Leyland said. ”A little different situation for him obviously, but he was up to the challenge.”
The Rangers get another chance to reach the World Series for the second straight season in Game 6 Saturday night at home. Derek Holland will start for Texas against Max Scherzer.
A swift turn of events in the sixth helped Detroit pull ahead. The Tigers turned a bases-loaded double play to keep the score tied at 2, then opened the bottom half with a single, double, triple and homer – in order – to take a 6-2 lead.
It was the first time four consecutive batters on one team hit for a ”natural” cycle in a postseason game, according to STATS LLC.
The Rangers were the ones who seemed on the verge of breaking the game open in the sixth, loading the bases with one out. But then Ian Kinsler hit a grounder right to third baseman Brandon Inge, who merely had to step on the bag and throw to first for a double play.
”We had him right there in the sixth. He got out of it,” Texas manager Ron Washington said. ”We missed a home run by inches, and they opened the game up by inches. Got a groundball double play, hits the bag, and from that point on, you know, boom, bam. Put up four runs.”
Ryan Raburn led off the bottom half with a single, and Cabrera’s slow grounder bounced high off third base and down the line, putting Detroit ahead 3-2.
Victor Martinez followed with a rare triple down the right-field line, scoring another run, and Young added a two-run homer.
Raburn homered in the seventh to make it 7-2.
After using Valverde and Joaquin Benoit for three straight days, Leyland announced before Game 5 that neither reliever would be available. He was hoping to make it through the day with just Verlander and Coke, and that’s exactly what happened.
”Well, it’s what we said before the game. So it gave everybody a chance to get all their second-guessing ready about it,” Leyland said. ”That’s just the way it had to be today. We talked about it before the game and we did exactly what we felt we had to do to give ourselves any chance to win the series.”
Verlander allowed four runs and eight hits in 7 1-3 innings, throwing a career-high 133 pitches. He struck out eight and walked three.
”I want the ball. I want to go as deep as possible,” Verlander said. ”It was a battle for me, all night.”
Verlander reached 100 mph on the stadium radar gun with pitch No. 133. Cruz, however, caught up to that fastball and sent it down the left-field line for a two-run homer, chasing Verlander and setting a record for homers in a league championship series.
Cruz became the fifth player to hit five homers in a postseason series. Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez and Chase Utley were the others.
After winning 24 games and leading the American League in ERA and strikeouts, Verlander hadn’t had much of a chance to shine this postseason. Two of his first three playoff starts were ended early by rain delays.
He didn’t have to worry about that Thursday. Game 5 began under a cloudy sky with the sun peeking through over Comerica Park, and the threatening sky later in the game never amounted to anything.
Instead, the Rangers were Verlander’s biggest obstacle. With two strikes on Kinsler in the first, Verlander went to his sweeping breaking ball, and the Texas second baseman pulled it to left field for a double. After going to third on a groundout by Elvis Andrus, Kinsler came home on Josh Hamilton’s sacrifice fly to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
”I kind of haven’t had my rhythm,” Verlander said.
Texas starter C.J. Wilson was sharp at the start, retiring his first seven batters.
Alex Avila tied it with an opposite-field homer to left in the third. The Detroit catcher has taken a beating behind the plate all year and has had a miserable postseason, going 2 of 33 before the homer.
Young was actually left off Detroit’s ALCS roster because of an injury, but he returned before Game 2 after Magglio Ordonez re-fractured his ankle. Young’s homer over the fence in left-center gave Detroit a 2-1 lead in the fourth.
Hamilton’s RBI single in the fifth tied the game at 2.
”This has been a tremendous, tremendous series in my opinion,” Leyland said.
Wilson, who has struggled in three playoff starts this year, was done in by Detroit’s rally in the sixth and came out after that inning. He allowed six runs and eight hits, striking out five and walking two.
With two outs in the ninth, Hamilton doubled and Michael Young drove him home with a single that made it 7-5. After a walk to Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli grounded into a forceout, sending the series back to Texas.
”The Detroit Tigers are here for a reason. Tonight their backs were against the wall. They did what they had to do – catching a break included,” Washington said. ”Now we go home. We still feel good about ourselves.”
Notes: Delmon Young has five homers in the AL playoffs. He hit three during the division series against the New York Yankees. … Avila hit only three of his 19 homers during the regular season off left-handers. … There were a few empty seats visible when the teams took the field for the late-afternoon start.