Verlander sends A’s home with lockdown Game 5

O.CO COLISEUM — In a pitching rematch of Game Two, the Detroit Tigers and Justin Verlander outgunned the Oakland A’s and Sonny Gray to win Game 5 3-0 and advance to the American League Championship Series.

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Sonny Gray was good, Justin Verlander was practically unhittable, and a big blow off the bat of Miguel Cabrera put an end to the A’s season.

Both starting pitchers began by facing the minimum through the first three innings. But the Detroit offense, which finally came alive in Game 4, continued its power surge in the top of the fourth.

With one out, Torii Hunter singled before Cabrera launched his first home run of the postseason over the wall in left field to put the Tigers on top 2-0.

Two-out singles to Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta followed by a walk to Alex Avila loaded the bases, but Gray was able to get out of the inning without further damage.

The Tigers added an insurance run against Gray in the sixth. After allowing singles to Martinez and Peralta to lead off the inning, Dan Otero came in to relieve the rookie right-hander.

Otero induced ground balls from Avila and Omar Infante, but Alberto Callaspo was unable to turn a double play on the Infante grounder, allowing Martinez to come home to stretch the lead to 3-0.

In the biggest start of his young career, Gray (0-1) threw 98 pitches – 53 for strikes – in five-plus innings, allowing six hits, three runs, four walks, and striking out three.

Gray says that getting the nod for the start didn’t mean anything without a win.

“We lost…If we would have won, it could mean something, but it didn’t. It’s a game we lost, and it ended our seasons. There’s nothing really to take away other than that.”

Despite the frustrating loss, he left the mound to 46,959 chanting,

“Son-ny! Son-ny!”

The future is bright for Oakland’s young starter.

On the other side of the rubber, Verlander (1-0) showed why he was the American League Cy Young and MVP winner two years ago. He took a perfect game into the sixth inning and a no-hitter into the seventh before Yoenis Cespedes singled with two outs. Cespedes now has a hit in all ten of his postseason games.

An eighth-inning single by Josh Reddick was the only other hit Verlander allowed. He threw 111 pitches over eight shut-out innings, walking one and striking out ten.

Verlander started preparing for the Game Five as soon as he woke up.

“You know, it’s just you, and you know a big game is coming. I wake up and the only thing I’m thinking about is my game plan and visualizing and executing. Obviously, once you get to the park, it goes into a different mode. All the nerves and angst start to build…and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got to hone it and use it to your advantage.

And he did just that. It was Verlander’s fifth playoff game with at least ten strikeouts, and he has now tossed 30 shut-out postseason innings against Oakland.

In his last 31 October innings against the A’s, he’s allowed one run and 43 strikeouts. For Detroit, it was the fourth time in this five-game series that their starting pitcher managed a quality start.

In what was possibly his final appearance as an Athletic, Grant Balfour pitched a 1-2-3 top of the ninth before the biggest chance for the Oakland offense came in the bottom of the inning.

With two outs, Jed Lowrie laced a double off of Joaquin Benoit, then Benoit hit Cespedes with a pitch to put runners on first and second for the first time all night.

But the Tigers’ closer got Seth Smith to fly out to right, clinching an ALDS victory over the A’s for the second straight year.

For Oakland, it was an all-too-familiar tale. Oakland struck out 57 times over the course of the series, a new playoff record. They’re now 1-12 in potential clinching games in the postseason dating back to the 1990 ALCS.

Despite the disappointing outcome, the A’s can take away a lot of positives from the 2013 season. They saw the development of several young players – Gray, Stephen Vogt, A.J. Griffin – that’ll carry over success for many seasons to come.

Bob Melvin summed it up best after the game.

“Our guys are frustrated with the way the game went and with some of the at-bats, but again, we still have a lot to be proud of. We expected to go a little father than this this year, but at the end of the day, we did have a great season.”

And they’ll be back for more in 2014.


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