OAKLAND, Calif. – These decisive Game 5s sure are becoming familiar for Justin Verlander.
Just like last October in Oakland, the Tigers have been pushed to a winner-take-all fifth game in their A.L. division series against the Athletics. Detroit will have Verlander on the mound again tonight after he pitched a four-hit shutout in the 2012 clincher.
“Well, you don’t pretend. It’s not just another game,” Verlander said after the Tigers evened the series with an 8-6 win Tuesday at Comerica Park. “The season is on the line. It was on the line for us tonight, too. This whole season, the way we battled and played as a team, comes down to one game, may the best team win. You can’t treat it just like another game. It’s a little bit different. There is more to it.”
The A’s will counter with rookie Sonny Gray against Verlander again after they put on a pitching show Saturday night at the Coliseum.
“He’s a little bit of a bulldog, he’s scared of nothing,” manager Bob Melvin said, noting Gray’s experience on the big stage just last Saturday.
Melvin said he doesn’t know how he might use, if at all, 18-game winner and Game 1 loser Bartolo Colon, who is “willing to do anything.”
“I’m not really sure how I’m going to handle that yet,” Melvin said.
Verlander dominated in a thrilling pitcher’s duel with Gray, though he had nothing to show for it in a 1-0 loss.
Verlander is riding a 22-inning postseason scoreless streak against the A’s, and has 33 strikeouts over the past three playoff matchups with Oakland, 11 in each outing.
Not that the A’s are counting.
“He’s been beaten before, it can happen again,” third baseman Josh Donaldson said.
Verlander acknowledged it would have been great to pitch the playoff opener, while also noting 21-game winner Max Scherzer more than earned the nod. Now, Verlander gets the ball for his most meaningful start this year.
With Scherzer pitching in relief Tuesday, Verlander became the automatic choice for manager Jim Leyland.
“I don’t want to sit here and tell you we planned on doing it, but it was an option,” Leyland said.
Both clubs chose to use Wednesday as a full day off without on-field workouts after two long flights in four days.