Almost the way Jim Leyland drew it up.
According to the Tigers’ manager, Justin Verlander was going deep into Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday, and Phil Coke would finish up.
What about Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde?
“I’m not pitching either one of them,” Leyland said. “Valverde’s going to say that he’s OK, but I’m not pitching him. We’re going to get somebody hurt if we’re not careful. We’ve got a guy that saved 51 games in a row, and you’ve got an option on him. I mean, people can bark, but they’re pitching on fumes and heart right now.”
What that means is that following Detroit’s 7-4 win over Texas and a day off Friday, Leyland will have his two back-end relievers operating on two days of rest.
Well earned, too, after both worked three games in three days. Benoit had 63 pitches in four innings while Valverde had 61 in 4 1/3. Leyland also named Al Alburquerque as a pitcher not available Thursday.
Verlander worked 7 1/3 innings, allowing eight hits and four runs while throwing a season-high 133 pitches. Coke went the last 1 2/3 innings. Maybe that was so Leyland’s pre-game prophecy wouldn’t come true.
Coke, Leyland said, could work two innings “if he has to. I hope he doesn’t have to. If he has to, we’re probably not going to win.”
So Detroit will go to Texas having Leyland’s No. 3 and No. 2 starters, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister, lined up for the sixth and possible seventh game.
“One game at a time, that’s the only focus you can have,” Verlander said. “We won Game 5 in New York, that was a must-win game. This was a must-win game. We have two more going into Texas, we’ve got our guys going, Max and Doug.”
Leyland has consistently laid out his postseason plans to the public ahead of time. Most have regarded when Verlander would pitch.
“It’s what we said before the game so it gave everybody a chance to get their second-guessing ready about it,” Leyland said. “That’s just the way it had to be. We talked about it before the game and did exactly what we felt we had to do to give ourselves any chance to win the series.”
Four home runs and a fortuitous bounce off the third base bag combined with the pitching to put Detroit on a plane for a Saturday night game in Texas.
“What I like the most about this is I know the Texas Rangers respect us and we respect the Texas Rangers,” Leyland said. “I know they believe we’re a good club, a really good club. And we know that they’re a really good club.
“If you see the injuries and everything and the way these guys are playing, how could you not be satisfied with this? I have no problems no matter how this turns out. But we’re going to keep playing. We’ve done that all along.”
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