The A’s finally encountered the one hurdle too tough to overcome in this surprising season: Justin Verlander.
The A’s struck out 11 times against last year’s AL Cy Young winner and MVP and were unable to complete an improbable comeback in the AL Division Series, losing Game 5 to the Detroit Tigers 6-0 on Thursday night.
Oakland overcame losses in the first two games of the best-of-five series and a two-run deficit in the ninth inning of Game 4 to force the decisive game against the Tigers.
Verlander was sharp from the start, allowing just three baserunners in the first seven innings. The two hits and one walk all came with two outs as the A’s never really threatened Verlander.
Yoenis Cespedes was stranded after his double in the first, Brandon Moss was out trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt following his walk in the second and Derek Norris struck out swinging on a 98 mph fastball after Moss’ two-out single in the fifth.
Jarrod Parker, one of a record three rookie pitchers to start in this series, pitched well again but proved to be no match for Verlander for a second time this series. After being hurt by his own error in a Game 1 loss, it was two wild pitches in a two-run third that helped do in Parker this time.
Omar Infante led off the inning with a single and advanced on a wild pitch. Austin Jackson followed with an RBI double and went to third on Quintin Berry’s sacrifice. Jackson scored on a second wild pitch, giving Detroit a 2-0 lead.
Parker left with runners on first and third with one out in the seventh and sat in the dugout with a towel draped over his head in frustration. That only grew deeper when the bullpen those two runners and two others to score that inning to make it 6-0.
The A’s were never even supposed to be in this position after trading top starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill and closer Andrew Bailey in the offseason as they were building for the future.
That future came quicker than anyone expected as Oakland overcame a major league-low payroll of $59.5 million to beat out the big-spending Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels for the AL West title. They wrapped up that title with a three-game sweep of Texas in the final regular season series, bringing a rare excitement and intensity to an out-of-date stadium that has struggled to attract fans in recent years.
That carried over to the postseason as the A’s staved off elimination the previous two nights, including the dramatic comeback from two runs down in the ninth inning Wednesday to force Game 5.