Dominant Justin Verlander propels Tigers to ALCS
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OAKLAND, Calif. - -- By the time Justin Verlander was tired, it didn't matter. Not to the Detroit Tigers, who had enough of his near-perfection to win another playoff series. Not to the Oakland A's, who saw too much of him again.
Verlander didn't allow a baserunner until a one-out walk in the sixth and didn't allow a hit until a two-out single in the seventh Thursday night, pitching Detroit to a 3-0 win over the A's in Game 5 of their best-of-five American League Division Series.
"I'm pitching the way I'm supposed to," said Verlander, who was erratic at times during the regular season. "I worked my butt off all year to try and get myself where I needed to be. I feel it finally paid off at the end of the year."
A year ago, Verlander, who won the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011, beat the A's, 6-0, in Game 5 of the ALDS. This time he extended his two-year postseason scoreless streak against Oakland to 30 innings. In ALDS play against the A's the past two seasons, he allowed one run and 13 hits in 31 innings, walked seven and struck out 43.
Oakland is 0-7 in the ALDS since 2000, with two of those series defeats by the Yankees, in 2000 and 2001.
The Tigers, beaten in the 2012 World Series by the Giants, will face the Red Sox in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series beginning Saturday in Boston.
"He is back in good rhythm," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Verlander, who struck out 10 in eight innings. "He was locked in tonight. He did it here last year. He's done it on several occasions, and he did again."
When asked before the game who he had in the bullpen, Leyland joked "Verlander." But he did bring in Joaquin Benoit for the ninth even though Verlander had allowed only two hits and one walk.
"We checked with him," Leyland said. "He was really tired after the eighth and felt like he could go back out. But I said no. He felt like he could go out but couldn't get out of a jam."
Sonny Gray, the A's 23-year-old rookie, retired the first 10 Tigers he faced before Torii Hunter singled and Miguel Cabrera homered. The way Verlander was working, that was the game, and the crowd of 46,949 at O.co Coliseum sensed it early on.
"We weren't getting very good swings on him," A's manager Bob Melvin said.
Actually, the A's had few good swings against any of the Tigers pitchers. They struck out 57 times in the five games.
"Our fans were waiting for a reason to get into a frenzy," Melvin said. "Two balls in a row and you could hear them plenty. Surprising how many fastballs he threw that we swung through, because we're a very good fastball-hitting team."
They weren't in either of the two games against Verlander, though.
"Sometimes," Leyland said, "a guy can really pitch well against a certain team and five days later against somebody else get knocked around. But when this guy has it going, he pitches well against everybody."
The A's know how well he pitches against them.
"Our guys are frustrated by the way the game went," Melvin said, "but again, we still have a lot to be proud of.
"We expected to go a little farther than this this year. A little more disappointing this year certainly than it was last year. But the Tigers have quality starters and a couple guys that can finish it off in the bullpen."