On Thursday night, the Detroit Tigers moved onto the next round of the playoffs after defeating the Oakland Athletics in game five of the series by a score of 3-0. The victory sealed off the series, and once again for the second consecutive year, it was the Tigers, not the Athletics, moving onto the next round. A match up against the Boston Red Sox was waiting in the wings for either team.
Going into this series both teams had, of course, a sense of familiarity with each other, considering that both sides played each other in this round of the playoffs just the year prior. It was once again going to be a series of match ups, close games, and well-played baseball, which it was, by both teams.
In game one, Max Scherzer got the ball for the Tigers and Bartolo Colon for the Athletics. The game was all Tigers with Detroit taking a 3 run lead in the first inning with runs scored by Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, and Victor Martinez. Colon did not look comfortable in the first inning, but soon settled in, going six innings in the process. Scherzer on the other hand, came out in perfect form from the moment he threw the first pitch until the end of the seventh inning when he was taken out of the game. During his time on the mound, Scherzer struck out eleven batters, and his only hiccup was a two-run home run off the bat of Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh inning, his final inning of pitching. Drew Smyly would record the first two outs of the eighth before handing the ball of to Joaquin Benoit who recorded the save. Detroit won game one by a score of 3-2.
Game two would feature a duel of ace against future ace as Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray exchanged strike for strike. Gray, who was making his first playoff start and career start against the Detroit Tigers, struck out nine batters over the course of eight innings while keeping the Tigers off the scoreboard. On the other side, Verlander, who against the Athletics comes into his usual form, striking out eleven batters over the course of seven innings while not giving up a run as well. It would be in the bottom of the ninth inning that the break through would take place as Stephen Vogt hit a single to left, driving in Yoenis Cespedes for the winning run, and ending the game at 1-0. Grant Balfour would get the win for the A’s, and more importantly, the series was now tied.
Shifting gears to Detroit for games three and four, we would see once again the back and forth nature of this series. In game three, the bats of the Athletics would come alive against Anibal Sanchez, who was the regular season AL ERA champion. Sanchez would hurl 4.1 innings as the bats of Oakland came alive with Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, and Seth Smith launching balls into the Detroit sky. Moss and Smith’s home runs were back-to-back, with Smith’s being the one that forced Sanchez out of the game. In the ninth inning, benches briefly cleared as a Victor Martinez and Grant Balfour got into a brief verbal scuffle. The A’s won game three by a score of 6-3, and took a 2-1 series lead.
Game four was Oakland’s best chance to take the series, and it would be a squandered chance that would allow for the focus to shift back to Detroit. By the end of the fifth inning, the A’s had a 3-0 lead. In the bottom of the inning, the Tigers responded with three runs coming of the bat of Jhonny Peralta, which put Detroit back in the game. The hit also put an end to Dan Straily‘s no- hitter and then shut out, and also sunk Oakland’s chances as well. On the other side Doug Fister would not be saddled with the loss. In the seventh inning of the game, the A’s took the lead again, but in the bottom half of the inning, the Tigers pounced once more with a Jeffrey Maier-esque home run off the bat of Victor Martinez. He got a lot of help from the Detroit faithful in right field. That was followed by a lofty base hit from Austin Jackson to bring Andy Dirks in to bring the lead to 5-4. Detroit would go on to win the game 8-6. Joaquin Benoit gave up two runs in the ninth inning before striking out Seth Smith with men on base. Max Scherzer got the win in a two inning relief appearance for Detroit, and the series shifted back to Oakland for game five.
Game five would see a rematch of game two as the A’s made the decision to start Sonny Gray instead of Bartolo Colon. For Detroit, the decision was the same as it was last year, give the ball to Justin Verlander for game five. It would be that game five would not be an exact replay of game two for the Athletics as Gray was meddling in between consistency and inconsistency. He would only last five innings as a Miguel Cabrera two-run home run in the fourth, followed by comeback hit by Prince Fielder in the fifth inning which took Gray out of the game. Verlander on the other hand, picked up where he left off in game two. He continued his torrid pace against Oakland which included flirting with a no-hitter until the seventh inning. Over the course of his eight innings, Verlander struck out ten batters before handing the ball off to Joaquin Benoit for the save. Once again, it was a close one as the A’s tried to get a rally started in the ninth inning, but by then it was too late. The final score from the game was 3-0 as Detroit took the series three games to two.
If there was an MVP for this series, it would most assuredly be Justin Verlander, who over the course of two starts, finished with an ERA of 0.00, 21 K’s, and a series clinching win. For what had been a mediocre season and talks of the decline of Justin Verlander, this series proved that this talk was all false. He is still a top-tier pitcher. Two honorable mentions would be Max Scherzer for his two series wins, one as a starter and the other as a reliever in a clutch appearance, and Victor Martinez who had a clutch series at the plate.
On another note, Justin Verlander’s mastery of the Athletics in now historic, as he holds the postseason record for a scoreless innings streak against one particular team. Verlander’s streak against the A’s is at 30, the pitcher who he passed was Christy Mathewson of the New York Giants, who held the previous record at 28, which is also surprising as it was against the Athletics who then played in Philadelphia.
For Oakland, it is once again back to the drawing board for next season, who are still in pursuit of getting over that seemingly giant hump that is the American League Division series. They will be back. There really isn’t doubt in my mind that they won’t be. For Detroit, their attention now shifts to the American League Championship Series match up against the Boston Red Sox and the return trip to the World Series. As much at this series was fun to watch, the next one will most likely be even better.