Coco Crisp hits a triple in his first at-bat of a 4-for-5 night for the A's in Game 4. Justin Verlander must contain their spark plug Thursday night. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one ...
The powerhouse Tigers and the resilient A’s are getting ready to play a winner-take-all Game 5 at the O.co Coliseum, where Detroit sends Justin Verlander to the mound with the order to save the season.
Ah, yes, so nice, they’re doing it twice.
The Tigers prevailed a year ago (actually, 364 days ago), in the exact situation.
What will happen Thursday night? Nothing is certain, though if we’ve learned anything from the first four games, fans of both teams are in for a treat.
Here are five keys to a Tigers victory:
1. Top can't flop
Offenses always turn to the top of the order to light the fire, but it’s really important Tigers leadoff man Austin Jackson and No. 2, Torii Hunter, are on the bases a bunch. With Miguel Cabrera hurting more than fans know, he’s essentially a singles hitter, so Jackson and Hunter need to reach a whole lot more than they have, which, through four games, is six times in 31 appearances.
2. Keep scoring
The Tigers, too often, score early, then act content, rest on that total — and it too often burns them. It nearly did in Game 1, when they scored three in the first inning, zip after that, and won by one. They need to keep battling and grinding all nine innings, like they did in Game 4, when they scored in three innings. The add-on runs late, too, proved monstrous when Joaquin Benoit struggled in the ninth.
3. Contain Crisp
Justin Verlander has owned this lineup the 23 innings he’s faced it in the playoffs. And if there’s one guy he has to stop, it’s A’s leadoff maestro Coco Crisp. So far, the Tigers haven’t done it. He’s reached base 10 times this series in 17 appearances. The Tigers, thus, are very fortunate he a) has stolen one base, and b) has scored four runs. If he reaches another four times Thursday night, that’ll be a big problem.
4. Don't skimp on defense
Expect Jhonny Peralta to play left again, as his bat (five RBIs the last two games) is too valuable to be sitting idly on the bench. But with a one- or two-run lead in the middle to late innings, Jim Leyland can’t hesitate to turn to his defensive lineup — Don Kelly or Andy Dirks in left field, and Ramon Santiago in for Miguel Cabrera at third. Issues at both positions cost the team Game 3.
5. Close the door
There’s a chance this series comes down to Joaquin Benoit, who wasn’t even the Tigers closer until late June after the Jose Valverde reboot failed. There is a heap of pressure on Benoit, who’s a playoff vet, but not as a closer. He struggled to close out Game 4, and the A’s also got to him in the 2012 ALDS. Can he silence them with that nasty change-up when it matters most?