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Verlander delivers when Tigers need him the most

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor


Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Everyone is going to be talking about Detroit's big inning on Thursday and the fortuitous bounce that probably saved their season for at least another day.

But it is what happened in the top half of that inning that really allowed the Tigers to head back to Arlington for a Game 6 and, of course, they have their future American League Cy Young Award winning right-hander Justin Verlander to thank for it.

With the score knotted at two the Rangers had Verlander on the ropes after a fifth inning that saw him throw 34 pitches. Following two well placed hits by Mike Napoli and David Murphy, Mitch Moreland walked to load the bases with one out. Then Verlander, like he has been doing all season long, came through and got Ian Kinsler to ground into an inning-ending double play.

"Fastball down and in, broken-bat roller ground ball to Brandon (Inge)," Verlander said. "Basically, exactly how I would have drawn it up. Couldn't have worked out any better."

Verlander hasn't looked like himself in this postseason. Whether he's gassed or more likely hasn't really been able to get into a rhythm because of the weather, who knows? But for whatever reason he hasn't resembled the pitcher who won 24 games this past season.

On Thursday, though, when the Tigers needed him the most. He delivered. Detroit manager Jim Leyland stated before the game that his plan was to use Verlander then lefty reliever Phil Coke, because his two top bullpen arms Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde were unavailable. Basically he needed his horse to go and Verlander responded, as he threw 133 pitches in 7 1/3 innings.

"That's one of the best pitchers in the game right now," said Miguel Cabrera. "He dominated the whole year. He knows how to pitch in that situation. That's Justin Verlander."

Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander hasn't resembled the pitcher who won 24 games this past season.
Verlander was far from perfect in Game 5, but he was great when he needed to be as the Rangers were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position off him and twice failed to get runners home from third base with fewer than two outs.

"We felt like we had him on the ropes," outfielder David Murphy said. "We piled up some tough at-bats; we just couldn't get it done."

Of course after Verlander got Kinsler to hit into the double play the Tigers delivered in their home half with four runs with the help of a lucky bounce.

After Ryan Raburn singled to lead off the bottom of the inning, Cabrera ripped a shot down the third base line that looked as if could be a double-play ball. But the ball hit the outside corner of third base closest to home plate and skipped away from Adrian Beltre and into left field to score Raburn from first base and give the Tigers a 3-2 lead.

"I have that bag in my office right now," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life. I can promise you."

Victor Martinez then followed with a triple to deep right field, away from a diving Cruz, and Delmon Young hit his second homer off C.J. Wilson, a two-run blast to left field that made it 6-2.

It was the first time in postseason history that four players on a team hit for the cycle in succession in a game.

"They caught a break," said Rangers manager Ron Washington. "That's what I thought."

Who knows what would have happened, though, had Verlander not been able to wiggle out of that jam. We'll never know, but I'd be willing to bet there would be a lot of bleary-eyed Rangers and fans in Texas today.

But Verlander did deliver and the Tigers live to see another day.

And you better believe if this series winds up going to a Game 7 that Verlander will be ready to go in that one.

"I'll be ready to go next time, whether that's Game 7 out of the bullpen or Game 1 of the World Series," Verlander said. "Hopefully it's Game 1 of the World Series, but whenever skip needs me, I'm ready."

LOOK AHEAD TO GAME 6

The American League Championship Series will shift back to Arlington on Saturday for Game 6, as Texas will send left-hander Derek Holland to the hill to face Tigers righty Max Scherzer in a rematch of Game 2.

Holland was awful in that contest, as he allowed three runs and four hits, while walking four batters in just 2 2/3 innings. His offense bailed him out, though, as he escaped without a decision in the Rangers' extra-inning win.

"You have to give it to our bullpen," Holland said. "But I'm very frustrated with how I performed. I didn't execute my pitches. I couldn't get my fastball down and that's a big thing. If you can't throw your fastball, you're not going to stay in there very long."

Holland was 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA in the regular season and was 10-1 with a 2.77 ERA over his final 15 starts.

"I felt real good coming in," Holland said. "I didn't notice any troubles with my fastballs. It was just one of those things that it came up and I couldn't get it to go back down."

Scherzer didn't factor in the decision of that Game 2 assignment either, as he allowed three runs and six hits in six innings.

"You just know they're really, really good," Scherzer said. "I don't think we have to go too deep into that. Their offense is really potent. It just comes down to me knowing them, them knowing me, and going out there to execute pitches. That's all I can do."

Scherzer, a 15-game winner in the regular season, has now faced the Rangers seven times including his start earlier in the week and is a perfect 3-0 against them.

He'll be given the task of having to slow down Cruz, who hit his LCS record fifth home run in Thursday's loss. His 11 RBI in this round have also tied the record set Boston's David Ortiz against the Yankees in 2004 and Tampa Bay's B.J. Upton in '08 against the Red Sox.

Cruz is becoming somewhat of a modern-day Mr. October, as he totaled six homers and 11 RBI in 16 playoff games last year for the Rangers.

"This is very special," Cruz said on Thursday. "There have been a lot of great players who have played in the playoffs. It's incredible to me that my name is now part of baseball history."

New York's Reggie Jackson (1978 WS), Philadelphia's Chase Utley (2009 WS), Seattle's Ken Griffey Jr. (1995 ALDS), and the Rangers' Juan Gonzalez (1996 ALDS) are the only other players to belt five home runs in a single postseason series.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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