Justin Verlander's career postseason record is 6-4 with a 3.84 ERA. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit – Aaron Boone has had one of the best seats in the house for a thrilling, dramatic American League Division Series between the Tigers and A’s.
On Tuesday, ahead of flying to Oakland for Game 5 tonight, the ESPN Radio analyst took a little time to break down just what he’s seen so far, and what he expects from yet another Tigers-A’s do-or-die game.
Q. Is this one of the best playoff series you can remember?
A. Yeah, and not a surprise that it’s going five. I think I and most people viewed it as two really good teams, pretty evenly matched. We’ve seen some really good starting pitching, not surprisingly. And the Tigers finally woke up a little bit offensively and got enough yesterday to climb back and pull away in that game.
But both teams have had their challenges offensively. The A’s have hit the ball out of the ballpark, but have struggled to drive in runs with guys on base.
Q. Your take on Jim Leyland bringing in his ace, Max Scherzer, in a tie game in the seventh inning Tuesday night?
A. I thought it was a really great move, a great idea. If there’s one issue where the Tigers are a weakness, it’s just the depth of their setup core. Who do they really trust in those innings? And with the way the series lays out – two off-days – you can bring back Justin Verlander on regular days rest (for Game 5), especially the way he pitched in Game 2. I think it was a brilliant move to use (Scherzer). I think it set up exactly how they hoped.
Max made some huge pitches in some key spots.
Q. Do you think maybe, deep down, Jim Leyland wanted Verlander to pitch Game 5, and thus found a way to use Scherzer in Game 4 to eliminate all question?
A. I don’t think so. I think the circumstances are what they are. They saw an opportunity where they had their two horses would be on full rest going into that game (Game 5). I think the perfect scenario presented itself, and it unfolded how they anticipated it. Max pitched great in Game 1 and pitched great in Game 4 last year, I believe. I thought he was outstanding. And he had a better year than anyone in baseball. I don’t think they were looking for a reason to give it to Verlander.
Q. Are you surprised it took until halfway through Game 4 for the Tigers offense – which was outscored only by the Red Sox in 2013 – to wake up?
A. A little bit. The A’s have dominated them, pitching-wise. The fact that they’ve struggled to that extent up until that point – obviously, Miguel Cabrera is hurt and is not the same guy right now. When the best hitter in baseball is injured and – I don’t want to say a shell of himself – but not a major impact guy, that obviously is not going to affect just that spot in the order, but the overall offense, as well.
Q. The A’s had a decision to make for Game 5: Go with the veteran, Bartolo Colon, or the youngster, Sonny Gray. How would you handicap that decision?
A. It’s a great decision to have. Obviously, Sonny Gray had a dominant performance in Game 2. He was special. The first time getting to see him in person and I came away going, ‘Whoa.’ But I would go Colon. Colon was one of the three, four, five best pitchers in the American League this year, with the exception of struggling a little bit in the first inning with some command issues. He’s a groundball off Daric Barton’s glove from being out of that (first) inning (in Game 1) with only two runs scoring.
He kind of rallied and settled in. You know what you’re going to get from him. I would lean Colon, with obviously all hands on deck, including Sonny.
Q. Does Gray’s inexperience factor into the decision?
A. Not really. I actually wasn’t worried about how would respond in Game 2. I thought he’d pitch well, just all the things I heard about him from a makeup standpoint. I expected him to go out and pitch well, and he surpassed my expectations. I don’t know if his place of experience necessarily plays in. I think he showed that this stage is nothing for him – having an outing like he did when he really had his way with the Tigers lineup.
Q. What do you see happening in Game 5?
A. I think both sides will pitch well. I don’t think we’ll see a ton of offense again. It may be the team, you know, that gets a big home run. Who’s gonna get a big hit or sway things? The way Coco Crisp is playing at the top (of the A’s lineup), he’s locked in the last couple games, especially from the left side. From the A’s standpoint, he looks like he could be a big, big factor.
Q. And, lastly, who’s feeling the most pressure -- the Tigers or the A’s?
A. My first reaction is the Tigers, just because they went to the World Series last year. You know, many of us before the season probably picked them to be the American League representative (again). So I think it would be a real letdown. But the A’s have been in this position a lot over the years, and this particular team was in the same position a year ago, going into a Game 5 against Justin Verlander at home. I don’t think it, in their mind, is any consolation prize, ‘Well, we won the West again and got to go to the postseason.’ I think it’d be extremely disappointing for whoever the loser is going to be.’