Melvin: When you don't score the pitcher has to be perfect
Justin Verlander's final Game 5 stat line: 8 IP, 0 ER, 2 H, BB, 10 K, WIN (USA TODAY IMAGES)
DETROIT – Nothing spells heartbreak for the Oakland A’s quite like Justin Verlander in October.
For the second straight year, the Detroit Tigers right-hander took the Coliseum mound, spun his Game 5 dominance and sent the A’s packing for the offseason. Verlander blanked Oakland over eight innings and Detroit beat Oakland 3-0 in the deciding game of the American League Division Series.
His outing fell a day shy of the one-year anniversary of his shutout in last year’s Game 5 of the ALDS at the Coliseum, when he threw a four-hitter. This time he allowed just two hits over eight innings, struck out 10 and walked one, taking a perfect game into the sixth and a no-hitter into the seventh.
Verlander moved to 4-0 in five postseason starts against the A’s and ran his playoff scoreless streak against Oakland to 30 innings. He’s allowed just five runs and struck out 49 in 36 1/3 innings against the A’s in his postseason career.
Looking at the bigger picture, the A’s couldn’t exorcise their Game 5 demons that extend back more than a decade. They are 0-6 in the fifth game of the ALDS dating back to 2000. They are now 1-12 in their past 13 potential series-clinching games.
When the A’s ponder this series over the winter, they’ll likely look back at a Game 4 in which they held 3-0 and 4-3 leads in Detroit and couldn’t close out the series. The Tigers will advance to play the Boston Red Sox in the AL Championship series, which begins Saturday at Fenway Park.
The Tigers scored the only runs they would need on Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer off A’s rookie Sonny Gray in the top of the fourth.
Down 3-0, the A’s put two men on in the ninth against Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit. But Seth Smith, representing the tying run, flied out to right field to end it.
Starting pitching report
Gray came out of the gate blazing, blowing a 96 mile-per-hour fastball to strike out Austin Jackson to start the game. He faced the minimum through three innings, but it became evident pretty quick that Gray didn’t have his Game 2 form.
With Verlander dealing as he was, Gray had little margin for error and he paid for a fourth-inning mistake to Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera turned on a 1-0 fastball left on the inner half of the plate and drove a two-run homer over the left field wall to break a scoreless tie. That marked the first extra base hit of the series for the three-time defending batting champ, who had four singles through four games.
Gray threw 32 pitches in the fourth and didn’t appear long for the game. But Melvin sent him back out for the fifth and he delivered a scoreless inning despite a leadoff walk. After Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta led off the sixth with singles, Melvin came and got the rookie, giving Gray an enthusiastic slap as he walked off the mound.
Verlander’s dominance might deflect some of the second-guessing on whether the A’s should have started veteran Bartolo Colon instead of Gray. The rookie had to be great to match Verlander and he was far from it, but he didn’t pitch the A’s out of the game either.
Dan Otero, Sean Doolittle and Grant Balfour did solid work over the final four innings to keep the game close.
At the plate
The A’s talked of getting runners on base and putting pressure on Verlander. But they simply looked overmatched against the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner. Verlander blew fastballs by them in the mid- to high 90’s and then began dropping a nasty curve ball in for strikes as the game went on.
In the field
The Tigers got their third run in the sixth on a potential double-play ball with runners on the corners and one out. Third baseman Josh Donaldson dove to his left and corralled the ball, but his throw to second bounced, and Alberto Callaspo couldn’t field the ball cleanly to make the throw to first. Otherwise, glove work didn’t factor heavily into the outcome.
A sellout crowd of 46,959 did its best to will the A’s to a victory. Two creative souls showed up with cardboard cut-outs of super model Kate Upton, Verlander’s ex-girlfriend, hoping it would distract him. … Didn’t work.
The A’s will scatter their separate ways and reconvene in February as two-time defending AL West champs, looking for that elusive formula to get past the first playoff round.