Tigers vs. A's: Score, Grades and Analysis for ALDS Game 5

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2013

In the words of poet laureate/action star Tugg Speedman, here we go again...again.

That has to be how the Oakland Athletics are feeling after they were bounced out of the postseason for the third straight time by the Detroit Tigers. Having knocked out Oakland in the 2006 ALCS and 2012 ALDS, Detroit made it a trifecta.

It prevailed, 3-0, in Game 5 of the ALDS, largely on the back of Justin Verlander, who was fantastic.

The Associated Press (via ESPN.com) provided the ace's perspective on his performance:

"It felt good out there," Verlander said. "It's the first time in a while my changeup's been really good. Obviously this lineup with a bunch of left-handed hitters that was a big pitch for me."

As they say, you don't tug on Superman's cape. Perhaps these fans would like to take back their taunting of Verlander before the game, via CBSSports.com's Scott Miller.

He sat down the first 16 batters he faced, a streak which was broken up in the bottom of the sixth inning, when he walked Josh Reddick. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, the A's finally got a hit, courtesy of Yoenis Cespedes.

Verlander pitched eight innings, striking out 10, walking one batter and allowing two hits. 

This is what postseason baseball is all about. You want each team's biggest stars to step up when the lights are on bright, and that's exactly what Verlander did.

ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick evoked the name of Bob Gibson to describe how dominant the Tigers starter was. The praise doesn't get much higher than that.

Joaquin Benoit came on in the ninth and earned the save. Things got a little dicey, as Seth Smith stepped to the plate as the tying run, but the baseball gods just had to add drama to a game that was largely devoid of it.

A part of Moneyball focuses on Billy Beane explaining the crooked inning and how one short offensive outburst can change the whole game. If you don't have any idea what he's talking about, just check out the top of the fourth inning, because that's when Game 5 turned irrevocably toward the Tigers.

With one out in the inning, Torii Hunter singled to center field. Then up stepped the human wrecking ball that is Miguel Cabrera. Between a slump and injuries, Cabrera has been struggling for the past month or so. He hasn't looked himself and doesn't appear to be moving well, which is something for a player as immobile as the reigning MVP.

It only took one swing of the bat for Cabrera to prove reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. Sonny Gray tried to challenge him with a fastball, and he sent it into the seats for a two-run home run.

He needs just one more run batted in to tie the Tigers' record for postseason RBIs, via ESPN Stats and Info.

To put this homer into a larger context, Cabrera had just two extra-base hits in September, as noted by USA Today's Bob Nightengale.

The trouble was just starting for Gray. After Prince Fielder grounded out, Gray gave up two hits and a walk to load the bases with two outs. Fortunately for Oakland, Omar Infante grounded out to end the inning.

ESPN's Buster Olney saw the early problems for Gray, as the pitcher was far too reliant on his fastball.

While a major disaster had been averted, Detroit had done enough damage to sink the A's. Few times has a two-run deficit seemed so gargantuan; that's how well Verlander was pitching.

In order to dig the knife in a little more, Detroit added another in the top of the sixth.

After allowing singles to the first two batters of the inning, Gray was relieved by Dan Otero. While he was able to get Alex Avila to ground into a fielder's choice, that put Victor Martinez on third. He came home on another fielder's choice to get the Tigers out to a 3-0 lead.

Give a lot of credit to the A's fans in attendance at the O.co Coliseum. Any time the their team looked to have found an opening, they did their best to try and rattle Verlander and push Oakland's hitters over the hump.

It was to no avail. Each and every time there was a sliver of hope, Verlander was there to slam the door shut.

Key Player Grades

Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers: A+

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers pitches against the Detroit Tigers during Game Five of the American League Division Series at O.co Coliseum on October 10, 2013 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Curt Schilling put it best.

Verlander was filthy on Thursday night. You can legitimately say he was unhittable. All of his pitches had movement, and he was careful so as not to rely too heavily on one pitch and become predictable.

ESPN tweeted out how monstrous the task was for Oakland hitters.

It's times like these that you have to sit back in awe of the pitcher Verlander is. Short of playing the other eight positions, he couldn't have possibly done more to ensure the Tigers would advance.

Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers: A

Cabrera only got one hit in this game, but he made it count. That's exactly what you want your stars to do. Cabrera didn't shy away from the situation.

It goes to show you just how great a hitter he is. Although he doesn't look anything close to 100 percent, he can turn a game with just one at-bat.

With that two-run home run, the Tigers were able to get out on the front foot. It was a huge victory in the sense that it gave Verlander a two-run lead and forced the Athletics to have to put together a string of hits to take the lead back. Oakland couldn't just sneak in run and rely on the pitching to carry it through.

A's pitchers did a great job of handling Cabrera in this series, but the likely MVP capitalized on the one mistake that Gray made. 

Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics: B-

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 10:  Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics walks off outfield the field in the fourth inning against the Detroit Tigers during Game Five of the American League Division Series at O.co Coliseum on October 10, 2013 in Oakland, Califo
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

You can't be too hard on Gray. He's 23 years old and made just 10 starts in the regular season. However, he was good when he needed to be perfect. He deviated way too far from the margin of error against a pitcher like Verlander.

By the numbers, Gray went five innings, giving up three earned runs on six hits, striking out three and walking four.

Oakland fans should take solace in the fact that Gray looks to be the kind of ace this team has been lacking for years. With this experience under his belt, he should become an ace in the coming years.

Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics: D

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 05:  Josh Donaldson #20 of the Oakland Athletics hits a single to center field in the fourth inning against Justin Verlander #35 of the Detroit Tigers during Game Two of the American League Division Series at O.co Coliseum on October
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Donaldson was Oakland's best offensive player during the regular season. He led the team in batting average, runs batted in and on-base percentage. He was also third in home runs.

You never would have guessed as much after watching his performance in the ALDS. Throughout the series, Donaldson didn't have a multi-hit game or drive in a single run. He finished 3-for-21. 

With his offense, Donaldson could have sparked a rally in this game. Instead, he symbolized the entire Athletics lineup, as he went out with a mere whimper.

What's Next?

The Tigers will travel to Boston for Game 1 of the ALCS. The Red Sox had the best record in the American League, so they've got home-field advantage in the series. Game 1 will be Saturday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m. ET.


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