After a hard-fought, back-and-forth American League Division Series, the third-seeded Detroit Tigers earned a spot in the AL Championship Series on Thursday night, taking down host Oakland 3-0 in Game 5. Though the teams played pretty evenly matched throughout the series, here are five reasons why the Tigers ultimately triumphed in the decisive final game:
1. Vintage Verlander
For stretches this season, the former AL MVP and Cy Young winner struggled with his command and appeared to have lost some velocity on his high-90s fastball. But Game 5 was the Justin Verlander of old, as he turned in one of the best performances of his storied career. The Tigers’ starter was perfect through five innings, and brought a no-hitter into the seventh. Verlander finished with eight scoreless innings, surrendering only two hits and one walk while striking out 10. The performance was almost identical to his Game 2 gem in which he threw seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and a walk while striking out 11.
"I'm pitching the way I'm supposed to,” Verlander said after Game 5, according to AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley. “I worked my butt off all year to try to get consistent and get myself where I needed to be."
2. Getting Gray
A’s starting pitcher Sonny Gray had, until the fourth inning of Thursday night’s game, been the story of the postseason for the A’s. After striking out nine as part of an eight-inning shutout performance in Game 2, Gray retired the first 10 Tigers he faced on Thursday. But when Miguel Cabrera’s two-run home run off Gray put the Tigers ahead in the fourth, the wheels seemed to fall off for the A’s 23-year-old rookie. After Cabrera’s home run, Gray allowed six Tigers on base over the next 1.2 innings before being pulled with no outs in the sixth.
3. Miggy got it done
For the first time this postseason, ailing AL MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera hit a home run. Though Cabrera’s nagging groin injury had limited the reigning AL Triple Crown winner to only four singles and a .250 batting average though the first four games, Cabrera took advantage of a high fastball by Gray, using his arms to drive the ball over the left field fence. Although Cabrera’s injury will limit his power throughout the postseason, baseball’s best hitter showed he can still capitalize on pitching mistakes, even playing hurt.
4. 4, 5 and 6 hitters on point, again
The three batters after Cabrera weren’t too shabby, either. After hitting a combined .333 (13-for-39) through the series’ first four games, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta finished a combined 6-for-11 in Game 5. Though, of the three, only Martinez scored, the Tigers were knocking on the door for most of the evening, loading the bases with two outs in the fifth and sixth innings, and putting two runners on in the seventh.
5. No Coco
Athletics’ center fielder Coco Crisp had been Moneyball magic through the first four games of the ALDS. Despite going a combined 0-5 in Games 1 and 2, Crisp walked three times, giving him a .375 on-base percentage. In Games 3 and 4, Crisp finished 3-for-4 and 4-for-5 respectively, driving in two runs and scoring four. Entering Game 5 with a .500 batting average and a .556 on base percentage, Crisp did absolutely nothing at the plate, finishing 0-for-4. He still finished the ALDS with a .359 average and .455 on-base percentage, but fell short in both categories when his team needed it most.