By: Jamie Samuelsen
For most of the season, Tiger fans worried about Justin Verlander.
For most of the season, the Tiger ace insisted that everything was fine.
On Thursday night, the fans can now officially say that they believe him.
Verlander delivered an outing for the ages, going eight innings and allowing just two hits as the Tigers beat the A’s 3-0 in Game 5 of the ALDS to advance to the ALCS for the third consecutive year. It’s the first time a team has achieved such a ‘three-peat’ since the 1998-2001 Yankees. Those Yankees won three titles in that span. The Tigers now move on to face the Red Sox as they chase their first crown since 1984.
And that chase seems much more probable thanks to the dominance of Verlander. JV retired the first 16 he faced before allowing a one-out walk to Josh Reddick in the sixth. He finished with ten strikeouts and basically outpitched himself from a year ago when he threw a four-hit shutout against the A’s in Game 5 of the ALDS in Oakland. Jim Leyland chose to pull Verlander after the eighth as his pitch count reached 111. Closer Joaquin Benoit allowed two base runners in the ninth, but picked up the save.
The chase also seems more probable thanks to the fact that Miguel Cabrera showed everyone in baseball that he still has some power in that weary body. Cabrera blasted a two-run homer in the fourth off A’s starter Sonny Gray that gave the Tigers the lead that they’d never relinquish. They added a run in the sixth when A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson muffed a throw on a double-play ball off the bat of Omar Infante that allowed Victor Martinez to score from third.
For weeks, we knew that Cabrera was in pain. We saw him labor around the bases when he tried to stretch his singles into doubles. And we heard that his injuries had sapped him of his power given the fact that he hit just one home run since August 26th. But when Gray put a 1-0 fastball on the inside half of the plate, Cabrera left no doubt that a ton of power still exists in that frame. He launched a moon shot over the left field wall and whatever pressure existed on the Tigers shoulders quickly transferred over to the A’s dugout.
But the story of this night was Verlander who was simply at the top of his powers. With a travel day tomorrow, manager Jim Leyland will most likely start Anibal Sanchez in Game 1 of the ALCS on Saturday night in Boston and come back with Max Scherzer in Game 2 on Sunday. That would leave Verlander to start Game 3 next Tuesday afternoon at Comerica Park on his normal four days of rest. And if that series with the Red Sox were to go seven games, guess who would start Game 7? Verlander.
Leyland named Verlander his Game 2 starter to honor the job that Scherzer had done all year, but also to leave himself the option to go with Verlander if the series were to go five games. I won’t say that Leyland got his wish. But he sure planned things out properly. And in the process, he rediscovered his ace.
The Tigers were the Vegas favorites to win the World Series for much of the season largely because of their starting pitching. With Verlander back to being Verlander, those odds suddenly look a lot more promising.