OAKLAND, Calif. – Already an ace and MVP, Justin Verlander proved to be the Detroit Tigers’ ultimate closer, too.
Verlander struck out 11 in a four-hitter, pitching Detroit into a second straight A.L. championship series – a day after Jose Valverde failed to hold a ninth-inning lead – with a 6-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the decisive Game 5 of their division series Thursday night.
Verlander tossed his first career postseason shutout and complete game with a 122-pitch masterpiece.
“He had a look in his eye today,” manager Jim Leyland said. “A complete-game look in his eye.”
The Tigers will face either the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles, tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5 today in New York. Game 1 of the ALCS is scheduled for Saturday.
Verlander, the reigning A.L. Cy Young Award winner and MVP, was so sharp nobody in the bullpen ever got up to throw. He struck out 22 in his wins on both ends of this nail-biting series.
After squandering two chances to clinch the series, including blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead in Game 4, Leyland left it all up to Verlander just as he said he would.
“I think it’s one of those things I expected to go nine innings,” Verlander said. “In this situation, in a Game 5, I wanted to go all the way.”
Austin Jackson hit an RBI double in the third and a run-scoring single as the Tigers added on in a four-run seventh. Prince Fielder hit an RBI single.
The Tigers are on to another ALCS despite getting just one RBI all series from Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera – on a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch, no less. Booed by the yellow towel-waving sellout crowd of 36,393 each time he stepped into the batter’s box. Cabrera finished the series 5 for 20.
Leyland all but called Verlander’s latest gem.
“Justin Verlander’s a pretty tough chore for anybody,” Leyland said.
The Detroit skipper gave the ball to his 17-game winner and said beforehand the Tigers would likely win or lose with the hard-throwing right-hander on the mound.
Verlander became the fifth pitcher to start a winner-take-all playoff game the year after winning the Cy Young – and the first to win. In all four previous instances, that pitcher’s team lost the game: Steve Carlton (1981 Phillies), David Cone (1995 Yankees), Barry Zito (2003 Athletics), and Roy Halladay (2011 Phillies).
Verlander followed up an 11-strikeout outing in Detroit’s 3-1 Game 1 win Saturday at Comerica Park with another overpowering performance in his 10th postseason start. He improved to 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA in three postseason starts against the A’s and also upped his career mark to 5-4 with 2.15 ERA in 10 starts at the Coliseum.
Oakland struck out 50 times in a series of swings and misses.