It is winner-take-all at O.co Coliseum tonight as the Detroit Tigers take on the Oakland Athletics in Game 5 of the ALDS.
The contest will conclude a baseball-filled Thursday that will have featured one game from every Division Series.
Last night, the A's pulled off yet another come-from-behind victory, a specialty of theirs this season, to force a deciding Game 5. Coco Crisp capped the rally with a walk-off single in the ninth inning off Detroit closer Jose Valverde.
Valverde's struggles this season have been well-documented and his blown save has further drawn the ire of Tigers fans. In his toughest moment, though, Valverde is not alone.
"We all have his back," catcher Gerald Laird told the Associated Press after the game. "There's not one guy we blame on this team."
"He's our guy, and that's just the way it is," Leyland, who found himself defending Valverde a day earlier, said after the game. "Certainly I feel comfortable with Jose coming in in that situation. Tonight he just didn't get the job done."
What's happened in the past is now just that—the past. Valverde and the Tigers must forget about last night's loss and focus on finishing what they came within three outs of accomplishing yesterday.
Likewise, the Athletics cannot be caught up in the drama and emotion of their comeback win. There's still another game to play.
This is crunch time and, while baseball is a team sport, there is always one guy who stands up and makes a name for himself.
Who will it be tonight?
Tigers: Justin Verlander
A gut reaction might make you say the Detroit offense—which ranked 11th overall in the MLB (h/t ESPN) in runs scored but has yet to really flex its muscles—needs to step up. Maybe you'll say the bullpen—which was ranked in the middle of the pack with its collective ERA but ranks last among the remaining teams in the postseason (h/t ESPN)—needs to step up.
No. Tonight, if anyone steps up and takes this game over for the Tigers, it will be Justin Verlander.
Tigers fans were hoping that they could seal the deal last night and save Verlander's start for the opening game of the next round, but it didn't work out that way.
Verlander will take the rubber tonight hoping to send the Tigers through to the next round in their quest for the World Series.
Sounds easy enough for the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP, right?
Unfortunately, history isn't on Verlander's side. While he's been an ace in the regular season, his great pitching numbers haven't translated to the postseason.
Sure, the sample size is relatively small, but a postseason ERA just under five is not becoming of Verlander's talent.
His first start against Oakland in this series was more Verlander-like. Tonight, we'll see which starts are anomalies. We'll see which Verlander shows up.
Whatever the case, this is Verlander's game. It's his moment to step up and take over.
Athletics: Josh Reddick
What has worked so well for the Athletics this season is the team camaraderie and chemistry that is pretty evident when you watch the team play or hear the players speak about each other.
It might come as a shock to them, then, that someone would need to step up and be the main guy. It hasn't been like that all season, why should it be that way now?
You know the cliche, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
They may have a point too. For as good as they've been as a team, no one player shined above the rest.
No A's player was among the league leaders in the major categories. Again, that's not meant to knock the A's; several players have had strong seasons. It's more a testament to their team play.
Now, though, that doesn't matter. The postseason, especially a deciding game like this one, is a whole different ballgame (pardon the pun).
These are the games that define players, and tonight, the player who needs a defining moment is Josh Reddick.
Deemed expendable by the Red Sox, Reddick was traded to Oakland as part of the deal for closer Andrew Bailey.
Reddick broke out this year for his best statistical performance; though his career is still young, he showed the Red Sox exactly the type of player they thought they had drafted.
So far this postseason, though, Reddick has been a non-factor. Oakland fans are hoping that his single to start the rally last night is a sign that his hitting is coming back to form.
For their sake, let's hope that's true. If they're looking for, or needing, someone to step up tonight, it has to be Reddick.
He is a known professional wrestling fan. So, to paraphrase former professional wrestling champion Vader:
Tonight, it's time. It's time. It's Reddick Time.