Tigers DH Victor Martinez congratulates Miguel Cabrera after Cabrera's two-run homer in the fourth inning of Game 5. The homer was first extra-base hit in the postseason. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — Finally, Tigers fans, you can exhale, but just for one day, before the Tigers and Red Sox kick off what’s sure to be an excellent American League Championship Series on Saturday night at Fenway Park.
First, a quick look back at the gritty, gutsy effort we just saw from the Tigers against the perennially hard-luck A’s.
News: Miguel Cabrera finally arrived, with his first home run this postseason.
Views: You just have to wonder if Cabrera, upon arriving in the batter’s box in the fourth inning, didn’t think his eyes were playing some tricks on him. An honest-to-goodness base runner actually was on in front of him, after all. Hasn’t happened much this series, not with the struggles of Austin Jackson (Division Series-record 13 Ks) and Torii Hunter. (.158)
But, Hunter opened the fourth with a sharp single up in the middle, and young Sonny Gray, the A’s choice — and the correct one, for sure — to start the do-or-die Game 5 made his first mistake of the series.
Cabrera has been nothing but a singles threat since injuring the groin weeks ago; pitchers, wisely, have worked to his weakness. They’ve constantly worked him down, or down and away, with a steady stream of fastballs and change-ups. And you need the hips and lower body to be in working order to do major damage on those. That’s the reason, by the way, why only two of Cabrera’s 27 hits entering Thursday night had gone for extra bases.
Gray, so awesome in Game 2, found himself nibbling early in Game 5. He wasn’t as aggressive in the zone. His curveball wasn’t sharp. Eventually, he was going to make a mistake — and it happened against Cabrera, when Gray came up and in with a fastball. The location allowed Cabrera to swing with all arms and hands, and he smashed the pitch high and deep over the fence in left field for a 2-0 lead against a guy who undressed the Tigers five days earlier.
It was Cabrera’s second home run since Aug. 27, a credit to pitchers mostly sticking to a plan. Gray, though, strayed — and paid dearly for it.
News: Justin Verlander flirted with the third no-hitter in playoff history, a club whose membership includes only Don Larsen and Roy Halladay.
Views: The bid ended on Yoenis Cespedes’ two-out single in the seventh inning. If there was a guy you’d expect to break up the bid, it’d be him — or scorching Coco Crisp.
It’s funny, after Cespedes smashed his single, TBS announcer Dennis Eckersley made the comment, twice in fact, that Verlander couldn’t care less about throwing a no-hitter.
Not sure how much time Eck has spent with Verlander, but I would guess, by that comment, it’s somewhere in the five-seconds-or-less range.
Verlander is as fierce a competitor as we’ve seen, and while, yes, the Tigers success in the postseason far trumps his own achievements, something about a playoff no-hitter would’ve been so sweet, especially after this season, in which he was up and down. Fans were crying for him to be in the bullpen for the playoffs, for crying out loud. How about now?
That’s his second masterpiece in a row in Game 5 of the ALDS, and it extends his scoreless streak to 281⁄3 innings, dating to the regular season.
It’s almost like Verlander looked at the first 5½ months of the regular season as extended spring training as he pored over and broke down more footage than Spielberg, with the singular goal to be ready for the postseason and prime-time.
Whatever the plan, it’s worked to — as Thursday showed — near-perfection.
News: Several Tigers stepped up to get the team to a third consecutive American League Championship Series.
Views: And if you were to pick an MVP — baseball doesn’t, officially, until the next round — there would be a bevy of choices. Max Scherzer and Verlander (who, by the way, now are in line to starts Games 2, 3, 6 and 7 against the Red Sox) would be two fine ones. Victor Martinez would certainly be another.
But I’d side, just barely, with Jhonny Peralta, the disgraced shortstop who re-emerged from a 50-game suspension just in time to help salvage a Tigers season that, simply, couldn’t end after one round of playoffs.
It was, remember, his one swing in Game 4, for a three-run homer, that woke this team from its month-long slumber.
Now, after this team was all but left for dead following a Game 3 loss at home — in which, Peralta, by the way, also had a two-run single — they’re as alive as ever. And, boy, they’ll need to be if they’re to slay the giant, the mighty Red Sox.