By Ashley Dunkak
COMERICA PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Pitching the deciding game of the American League Division Series in Oakland, keeping the season of the vaunted Detroit Tigers alive, performing under pressure – all this is nothing new to Justin Verlander.
After all, he did it very well almost exactly a year ago, holding the A’s scoreless and striking out 11 through nine innings.
Now, since the Tigers elected to use All-Star Game starter and 21-game winner Max Scherzer in the bullpen Tuesday, Verlander gets an opportunity to recreate his stellar Game 5 outing from 2012.
It may be a familiar situation, but that does not diminish the significance for Verlander.
“You don’t pretend,” Verlander said. “It’s not just another game. 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.
“You can’t treat it just like another game,” Verlander added. “It’s a little bit different. There is more to it.”
Before the playoffs began, Tigers manager Jim Leyland named Scherzer the Game 1 starter and said he also planned to throw Scherzer in Game 5. Because of the two-two-one series format, however, either Scherzer or Verlander could have pitched Game 5 on normal rest. Since Detroit used Scherzer out of the bullpen Tuesday to help win Game 4 and extend the series, however, Verlander will lead the final charge for the Tigers.
Trying to live up to the outlandish expectations that came with winning the 2011 Cy Young and MVP and finishing second in Cy Young voting in 2012, Verlander had a comparatively rough season. A lack of consistency frustrated him to some extent throughout the year, but lately, he has settled down.
“It’s been some of the adjustments I made – well, one of maybe a thousand that I tried to make this year,” Verlander said. “It was definitely a grind this year. Then you know it reached a point where I realized it was going to take a while. It wasn’t going to be one thing that I had to fix.
“I set a date for myself that I needed to be ready at all costs for the postseason,” Verlander continued. “The last month of the season, I think I found some things that really benefited me, my location, just my stuff in general. I felt like I pitched better, especially in the last three, four starts.”
He certainly pitched well in Game 2 of the ALDS, which took place Saturday. Verlander held the A’s scoreless in his seven innings of work, allowing four hits, walking one and recording 11 strikeouts.
Between that performance, Verlander’s overall history and his improved outings in September, the Tigers have plenty of reasons to be confident about using him in the deciding game of the series.
“I didn’t know what anybody had planned or what the plans were coming in, but I knew there was a chance,” Verlander said. “So just threw my bullpen on my normal day and prepared as best I could.”
If Verlander can replicate his 2012 performance in Oakland, perhaps an aggravating season could have a more satisfying ending after all.