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The Detroit Tigers are still alive after staving off elimination in Game 5 of the ALCS, preventing the Texas Rangers from booking a World Series ticket, at least for the moment. The Rangers still hold a 3-2 series advantage, and now head back to Texas with two chances to close out the ALCS and earn a trip back to the World Series for the second-straight year.
Over at Bless You Boys, the mood following the game was optimistic. A Game 5 win kept the Tigers alive, and gives them a chance as the series heads back to Texas.
With their backs to the wall, the Tigers responded. Maybe it isn't too little, too late. Sure the odds are still long, but rallying back to win a series you trail 3-1 has been done before. Hey, even the 1968 World Series winning Tigers had to do that. But they won. So why not, right?
Maybe the real key play was having no rain delay. Detroit's lost 4 games this post season, and 3 came after a game delayed (or suspended) by rain. Let's hope it's dry in Texas.
No rain, an outburst by the Tigers' bats in the sixth and a glimmer of hope for Detroit. Not a bad evening for Tigers' fans.
The Rangers and Tigers are off on Friday before getting back at it on Saturday in Game 6 of the ALCS.
In the bottom of the sixth, with the score tied at two in Game 5 of the ALCS, Miguel Cabrera put a ball in play toward the bag at third, only to see it hit the base and bounce over Adrian Beltre's head for a double. What could have been a double-play became a go-ahead RBI double, and sparked an offensive outburst that propelled the Detroit Tigers to a 7-5 win over the Texas Rangers.
Think that lucky bounce and the base Cabrera hit have any significance for the Tigers? Of course it does, manager Jim Leyland said after the game.
"I have that bag in my office right now. And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life, I can promise you," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Be honest: a base would be a cool piece of memorabilia, no matter what sentimental value it held.
Cabrera added the same sentiment about the Tigers' luck in Game 5, and hopes it will carry over.
"We were lucky, but we need lucky times right now," Cabrera said. "Hopefully we're lucky Saturday."
The double was the second part of a cycle by the Tigers' hitters, who recorded a single, double, triple and home run in order during the bottom of the sixth. By the time Detroit was done, it had a 6-2 lead, and went on to survive a Texas rally to stay alive in the ALCS.
The Tigers won Game 5 with the help of two home runs from Delmon Young and strong pitching from Justin Verlander.
Before today, Justin Verlander had never thrown more than 132 pitches in one game.
Today, he threw 133 pitches.
His 133rd pitch was 100 miles an hour. Nelson Cruz's fifth postseason home run went the other direction, even harder.
What's perhaps most astounding is that Cruz was so locked in that he almost pulled the ball foul. But instead his titanic blast -- all his blasts seem titanic, lately -- glanced off the fair pole for a homer, which knocked Verlander out of the game in the top of the eighth inning, and made the score Tigers 7, Rangers 4.
Usually a three-run lead would seem completely safe and this one probably is. But with Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde supposedly unavailable to manager Jim Leyland, there might yet be some drama in this one. Phil Coke's in now, to face the left-handed hitters. And in the ninth we're probably going to see Ryan Perry, who gave up a walk-off grand slam in Game 2.
And pile on, he has! Kind of. A little.
The Tigers surged ahead of the Rangers with a four-run sixth. Justin Verlander returned to the mound for the top of the seventh despite an elevated pitch count, and he went 1-2-3 through the Rangers' 2-3-4. His hardest pitch of the inning was 92 miles per hour, which might be alarming, but it's also entirely possible that Verlander deliberately took something off with a comfortable lead.
So it was 6-2 Detroit going into the bottom of the seventh, where Koji Uehara came on in relief of C.J. Wilson. Uehara picked up a strikeout - Austin Jackson's fourth in four at bats - but then Uehara did his new thing, which is allowing home runs. Ryan Raburn blasted a first-pitch outside fastball over the right-center fence for a solo shot that turned a good lead into a more good lead.
That homer was the third that Uehara has allowed in these playoffs, in three appearances.
7-2 Detroit going to the eighth, and...and Justin Verlander is still pitching. Despite having thrown 123 pitches. This is different.
I'm not a pitch-count fascist, nor am I a velocity junkie, but this makes me wary:
At the start of the inning, Justin Verlander had thrown 115 pitches. He's also stared the seventh throwing 91 m.p.h. fastballs. Not saying that the causation/correlation is airtight, but it's just a little worrisome.
Of course, after typing that, he retired the side on 10 pitches. The risk of sending Verlander out for the seventh? Wearing him down for the rest of the playoffs, which isn't an issue if the Tigers don't win this game. The reward for sending him out for the seventh? Not seeing Brad Penny pitch for the first time in over two weeks.
Ground balls to third base.
Usually, that means a ground ball to the third baseman.
Top of the sixth inning, the Rangers loaded the bases with just one out. Justin Verlander had thrown a lot of pitches already, and didn't seem sharp. You had to figure he was just one line drive away from giving the Rangers the lead and getting knocked out of the game.
Instead, Ian Kinsler hit a ground ball toward third base, where third baseman Brandon Inge snagged the ball, touched the base, and fired across the diamond for the inning-ending, rally-killing, and (perhaps) game-saving double play.
Bottom of the sixth inning, game still tied 2-2, the Tigers got their leadoff man aboard. Miguel Cabrera hit a ground ball toward third base, which was good for the Rangers because Adrian Beltre guards third base like a hungry cur guards a lamb chop, and Beltre was already salivating, thinking about the double play he was about to turn.
Except this ground ball wasn't just toward third base; it skipped off the front corner of the actual base and bounced well over Beltre's head for a double.
Which opened the gates. Victor Martinez drove a liner down the right-field line, and wound up on third base when Nelson Cruz dove and missed. That made it 4-2. And then of course Delmon Young hit a home run, because all Delmon Young does in October is hit home runs. That made it Tigers 6, Rangers 2. Which is where stayed, because Wilson remained in the game and, after a walk, struck out Alex Avila and retired Ramon Santiago.
All those questions about the Tigers' bullpen? Now they seem mostly moot. And all because of a couple of ground balls toward third base. Meanwhile, C.J. Wilson might have cost himself a fair amount of money this afternoon.
When we left you, the Rangers had just tied the Tigers 2-2 in the top of the fifth. Texas was making Justin Verlander work, and even though they didn't have the lead, they probably felt more confident than their opponents.
The Tigers didn't do anything to answer. The bottom of the fifth lasted a batter past the minimum, but that was just because of Ramon Santiago's two-out single, and Austin Jackson ended the frame by striking out for the third time in three at bats.
That took us to the top of the sixth, and the top of the sixth was hairier than Justin Verlander's forearms. Mike Napoli led off with a sinking liner to center, and though Austin Jackson charged and got himself into position, the ball glanced off of his glove and dropped...for a single, and not an error. Scoring!
Following a strikeout of Nelson Cruz, Verlander allowed David Murphy to poke a curveball into the right-center gap for a double that put two runners in scoring position with one out. Verlander then walked Mitch Moreland, and the Rangers had the bases loaded for the top of the order.
One sensed that the game, and the series, was about to be decided. Ian Kinsler would find some way to bring in at least one run, and then the Rangers' pitching staff would keep the Tigers at bay. Wrote Jon Morosi:
Kinsler grounded the first pitch right to Brandon Inge. Inge stepped on third, then threw to first. Presto! 2-2, bottom six.
Justin Verlander just might be the most valuable player on the Tigers, depending on how you feel about Miguel Cabrera and positional adjustments, but he isn't invincible. In the top of the fifth, Verlander walked Ian Kinsler with one out. Then Elvis Andrus singled, putting runners on first and second with Josh Hamilton coming up.
Hamilton turned the fastball around for a solid single, tying the game at 2-2. So Verlander isn't invincible.
But he should be, dang it. How do you hit a 99-m.p.h. fastball? How do you hit one of those, especially when he throws a plus-curve and plus-change too? How can you make the decision to swing and execute a good swing in the split-second it takes for a pitch to go from Verlander's hand to the time you've committed to a swing?
Be Josh Hamilton, I guess. It'll never cease to amaze me. That's probably why these guys make more than $10 per hour to do what they do.
After Hamilton's single, Verlander still had trouble to wriggle out of. There was a runner on third with one out, but Verlander struck out Michael Young on a sequence of fantastic pitches, which is sort of Verlander's thing. Adrian Beltre had an excellent at-bat, though, missing a home run by ten feet when it sailed foul, and sending one to the warning track for the final out of the inning.
Tim McCarver, upon Super Slo-Motion of Justin Verlander throwing a change-up:
Whenever that ring finger becomes involved, then that means change-up. Ring fingers are for rings. And for shaking hands. And for change-ups.
I don't even know what that means. Usually, I can at least guess.
How would you feel today, if you were the manager of the Minnesota Twins?
Or the general manager of the Twins?
Or a passionate fan of the Twins?
Delmon Young opened the 2011 season as a Minnesota Twins.
The Twins were favored to win another American League Central title.
Instead they finished last, and Delmon Young was one of the bigger reasons they finished last.
Young spent more than four months with the Twins, and given 305 at-bats he hit four home runs.
In August, the Twins waived Delmon Young. The Tigers, for some unknown reason -- they already had a righty-hitting outfielder, in Ryan Raburn -- signed Young after nearly every other team in the American League passed.
He's got 29 at-bats in the postseason, and has hit four home runs.
The Twins finished in last place. The Tigers are just a few breaks away from going to the World Series.
How would you feel today?
I've personally given the Tigers some flak for bringing Delmon Young back as quickly as they did. Young isn't a great player at the best of times, and when he's hurt, he's even worse. Or at least, he looks even worse. But playing Delmon Young just paid off in a big way in the bottom of the fourth.
First, the top of the fourth. The score was 1-1 going into the top of the fourth, and it was 1-1 coming out of the top of the fourth. Good job by Detroit, right? Overall, sure, but they did have some issues. Justin Verlander retired the first two batters he faced on four pitches. Then he walked Mike Napoli on eight. Nelson Cruz followed with a grounder to second, but Ramon Santiago couldn't make the clean play, and Cruz reached. Verlander got David Murphy to pop out to end the inning, but he wound up throwing more pitches in that scoreless inning than he or Jim Leyland would've liked.
Now for the bottom half. Miguel Cabrera walked to lead off, and was promptly erased by a double play. No matter - with two outs and none on, Delmon Young turned on a first-pitch fastball and launched a solo shot out to left-center. That made it 2-1 Tigers, and that's where we remain going to the fifth. A 2-1 lead, thanks to a pair of home runs from the walking wounded.
Buster Olney just tweeted thus:
As C.J. Wilson pitches this postseason, you'd have to think his performance could swing his FA price by $25-30 million,one way or the other.
First thought: Nah.
Second thought: C'mon.
Third thought: ... okay, maybe.
It would be insane for a GM to put that kind of stock in a handful of starts. Assuming he signs for five years -- which seems to be the standard for a second-tier rotation leader -- that would mean that the difference between C.J. Wilson, Postseason Dynamo, and C.J. Wilson, Guy Postseason Flameout would be $6 million a year.
Fourth thought: Well, when you put it like that, it does seem a bit silly. If Wilson's a $12 million-per-year guy in September, he's not an $18 million-per-year guy with a good October. Or if he's a $15 million guy in September, he's not a $9 million guy with a bad couple of playoff starts.
But while the numbers are a little askew, the idea isn't. How Wilson pitches this postseason will make a difference with his contract, and the difference will be in the millions. I always feel nervous for those people who have to shoot a half-court shot to win $50,000 or a new car. I guess I should feel like that with every pitch Wilson throws for the rest of the playoffs.
Well, we're not worrying much about Justin Verlander any more. After a tricky first inning in which he gave up two doubles and a run, he's cruised through the second and third innings and would have cruised even more in the third if Alex Avilla hadn't let a perfectly thrown strikeout pitch go between his legs.
We were worrying even less about C.J. Wilson.
Wilson, who gave up way too many home runs in Game 1 of the Division Series and way too many walks in Game 1 of the League Championship Series, had given up nothing today in Game 5.
Until the third, when Alex Avila -- the only left-handed hitter in the Tigers' lineup -- got a fastball over the plate and drove it the opposite way a long way, carrying the left-field fence by a few feet.
This was a redemptive blow for Avila, who entered Game 5 with two hits, both of them singles, in 33 postseason at-bats. Tim McCarver says Avila's tired, and maybe he is. Jim Leyland doesn't like any of his other options behind the plate, so it's been Avila or bust.
Ramón Santiago followed Avila with a soft grounder for a single, which turned into a Little League double when Elvis Andrus's throw skipped past Mitch Moreland at first base. Wilson recovered to strike out Austin Jackson (for the second time in three innings), and escaped the inning by retiring Ryan Raburn on a fly to deep right.
After three innings, it's now Tigers 1, Rangers 1.
After allowing a two-strike double on a hanging curve in the first inning, throwing 18 pitches and giving up a run, Justin Verlander threw eight pitches to get out of the second inning. He looked quite verlandian while doing it, too.
The problem is that C.J. Wilson looks like the Jekyll Wilson, as he's throwing strikes and getting ahead of hitters. Through two innings, he hasn't allowed a base runner. I don't like to engage too much in the other National Pastime -- bashing Tim McCarver -- but sometimes it's unavoidable.
McCarver, when talking about Wilson, said it was good to see his velocity up (it's been between 91 and 94 so far) from his last start, and that it was probably because of the adrenaline that comes with the clinching game of the ALCS.
You know, as opposed to the first game of the ALCS.
Also of note: Wilson was throwing between 91 and 94 in Game 1. Other than that, his velocity is probably up from all the adrenaline. That famous Game 5 adrenaline.
Shortly after Ian Kinsler led off Game 5 with a double, Joe Buck intoned:
I don't know if you caught the stat -- we just flashed it up for a moment -- but the last four starts for Verlander compared to the previous four, the numbers are pretty drastic.
Last four: 1-1, 5.85 ERA, .241 opponents' batting average
Previous four: 4-0, 1.59 ERA, .190
Ah, television: Never one to let misleading statistics pass without comment...
Let's go through those last four starts.
Kinsler wound up scoring in the first inning, and Verlander gave up another double later. I'm not sure he's at his best right now. I'm pretty sure he remains, even after all the innings and all the pitches he's thrown this season, one of the American League's better pitchers.
Meanwhile, C.J. Wilson's pitching in the bottom of the second and it's still Rangers 1, Tigers 0.
Before Thursday's Game 5, Jim Leyland said that Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde are unavailable, and that he was hoping to ride Justin Verlander and Phil Coke to victory. He still might be able to do that, but this wasn't the start that he wanted.
Ian Kinsler ripped Verlander's fourth pitch of the game - a curveball over the center of the plate - into left field for a leadoff double. He moved to third base when Elvis Andrus failed to get a couple bunts down and grounded to second instead. And then Kinsler scored when Josh Hamilton sent a liner into center, where it was caught, but caught too deeply to throw out Kinsler at home.
Verlander threw 18 pitches, which isn't a ton, but he needs to find a groove. For his sake, and for the season's sake. One shouldn't expect the Tigers to score a bunch against C.J. Wilson and the Texas bullpen.
And it doesn't just look like it in a "hey are you guys brothers?" kind of way. It looks like it in a "hey you guys are obviously identical twins!" kind of way. Identical lineup!
In Game 1, this was the lineup that scored three runs in four innings off Justin Verlander, so there's really no reason for Ron Washington to not go back to the well. Granted, it also then scored zero runs in four innings off Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Ryan Perry, but Verlander's the big adversary today.
Maybe you think Nelson Cruz is being disrespected, still batting seventh despite all his playoff heroics. Well, to you I say - Nelson Cruz probably doesn't feel disrespected himself. That would be a weird thing, for Nelson Cruz to feel disrespected. He probably feels happy. He has done quite a lot. It's hard to feel both happy and disrespected. Cruz understands that Washington's just sticking with what's worked.
Mitch Moreland's back in there despite a slump, and despite having hit into what was at the time a soul-crushing double play in Game 2. Moreland should be back in there. Against a righty like Verlander, Moreland is forever the better option than Yorvit Torrealba.
Another lefty on the mound for Texas, another lefty-mashing lineup for the Tigers:
Austin Jackson - CF
Ryan Raburn - RF
Miguel Cabrera - 1B
Victor Martinez# - DH
Delmon Young - LF
Jhonny Peralta - SS
Brandon Inge - 3B
Alex Avila* - C
Ramon Santiago# - 2B
Same hitters, different order. Brandon Inge's home run yesterday, combined with a left-hander on the mound, moves him up to sixth in the order. The aching joints and platoon splits of Alex Avila move him down to eighth. Ramon Santiago is in at second, which is pretty much a given with Carlos Guillen still rehabilitating his calf injury.
What sort of small-sample nonsense will we hear today?
Wow, it looks like Miguel Cabrera hits Wilson pretty well. Who'd've thunk it? Ryan Raburn has video game numbers against Wilson, so expect that to continue in the exact same way. And poor, hitless Avila. He strikes out in exactly 50% of his plate appearances against Wilson. This doesn't bode well.
Leyland said last night that Valverde and Benoit were working on heart and fumes…and today, he says they won’t pitch.
“Heart And Fumes” could be the name of a rock band, but Leyland is obviously saying they’re out of gas. Valverde, in particular, has to be exhausted — he’s been in three consecutive games with a total of 61 pitches thrown. It showed Wednesday night when Valverde gave up a run-scoring single to Mike Napoli and a three-run homer to Nelson Cruz that put the game away for the Rangers.
Benoit has also thrown in the same three games and threw 34 pitches Wednesday night. He kept the Tigers in the game, only to see Valverde lose it.
Leyland hopes to get through today with Verlander and Coke.
Verlander & Coke. Could be one of those late-1960s rock duos, right? Coke. That’s Phil Coke. What were you thinking?
Justin Verlander will try to send the ALCS back to Texas as the Tigers attempt to crawl back from a 3-1 series deficit.