It wasn’t classic Justin Verlander, was it?
Well, we really haven’t seen that Verlander in several starts now. The lights out, will-he-throw-a-no-hitter Verlander hasn’t been present in quite some time. That Verlander has been replaced by a gutsy, grind-it-out version.
Which is fine; it’s all about giving your team a chance to win. And that’s what JV did in Game 5, despite some anxious moments. The final pitching line wasn’t magnificent, but it was good enough.
He threw too many pitches on a night when Jim Leyland’s bullpen was taxed, but if anyone can exceed his normal pitch count and thrive, it’s Verlander.
Still, 134 pitches was above and beyond, which true aces sometimes need to do, especially in the playoffs.
How about that sixth inning?
Finally the Tigers caught a couple breaks.
It started in the Rangers’ half, when they loaded the bases with one out in a tie game, 2-2. You could hear a pin drop in Comerica Park. It was as if the fans were seeing the Tigers’ season flash before their eyes.
Then, after walking No. 9 hitter Mitch Moreland on four pitches, Verlander, with one more pitch, got out of everything. Ian Kinsler slapped a ground ball to Brandon Inge, who stepped on third base—a bag that would play a big role minutes later—and threw to first to complete the inning-ending twin killing.
In the bottom half, Miguel Cabrera must have won a big stuffed teddy bear, for he skipped one off the third base bag, like it was a carnival midway game. It went for a run-scoring double. Victor Martinez tripled, when his drive to right eluded Nelson Cruz.
Then Delmon Young homered. In a flash, the game switched from looking like the Rangers might break it open, to the Tigers breaking it open with a natural cycle: Single, double, triple, homer. Just like that, they led 6-2.
The game seemed over. Did you think so?
Not on your life. Even with Verlander on the mound. The Rangers’ lineup is relentless; frankly, it scares me more than that of the New York Yankees.
I was fully prepared for the game to come down to a hairy finish, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Leyland’s bullpen was spent. He said before the game that he hoped to go with Verlander and Phil Coke and that was it. But Brad Penny was warming up. Did you think Penny might get tabbed for an inning?
Actually, yes. Penny was warming in the Tigers half of the sixth. After they extended the lead to 6-2, I thought Leyland might sit Verlander down. You know, to perhaps make JV available for relief in a potential Game 7. Penny for the seventh, then Coke for the eighth and ninth.
But Leyland stuck with Verlander for 134 pitches and into the eighth inning. I guess he meant what he said before the game.
Delmon Young hit two homers. Not bad for a guy who Detroit News columnist Terry Foster said shouldn’t be playing at all due to his injured oblique, huh?
That’s what makes sports such great theater. Frankly, I really can’t blame Foster for writing that. Young did look like he was laboring in Game 4—both at the plate and in the field.
But Game 5 was another day. In Foster’s piece, he quoted Leyland as saying he was not about to remove Young from Game 4 because, “He’s my No. 3 hitter.”
Actually, Young has been Leyland’s No. 5 hitter lately, but we got the drift.
Young was back in the lineup for Game 5 and he delivered.
And how about Alex Avila, who had a home run?
I was actually tracking the game at that point on the Internet. When I saw the score change to 1-1, I immediately clicked on the play-by-play to see how the Tigers tied it. When I saw that Avila had slammed a homer, I was flabbergasted.
But I was also ecstatic. If anyone needed a pick-me-up, it was Avila. This may not be what catapults him out of his funk, but at least he got to feel good about himself after one at-bat.
Just another reason why this series has been unpredictable and kind of wacky.
Why is Nelson Cruz suddenly Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson rolled into one?
Sometimes this happens in the post-season—guys get inexplicably hot. Or, in Cruz’s case, nuclear meltdown kind of hot.
He has five homers in five games in this series. Clearly, he’s the ALCS MVP—maybe even if the Rangers lose it.
Again, as I pointed out before, Cruz had one hit in the four-game ALDS against Tampa Bay. Before the ALCS began, baseball people—and the Rangers—were openly concerned whether Cruz was going to find his stroke.
OK, let’s bottom line this. Can the Tigers pull this off?
You asked me that—sort of—after Game 4. I said a three-game winning streak was hard to fathom. Now, just because the Tigers won Game 5, doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind.
It will take two outstanding pitching performances from Max Scherzer and Doug Fister in order for the Tigers to complete the comeback. The Rangers lineup is deep, multi-faceted and filled with power. They won 96 games for a reason.
I’m inclined to say the Rangers will prevail. The Tigers are just too beat up, and the Rangers bullpen is the better of the two, by a smidge.
But just remember that I did say there would be a Game 6.
(Come back here in the hours after every Tigers post-season game to read me answer the “Burning Questions”)