Justin Verlander topped his dazzling performance in Game 5 of last year’s American League Division Series, eliminating the A’s with eight innings of two-hit ball at the O.co Coliseum on Thursday.
As the Detroit Tigers advanced to the American League Championship Series with a 3-0 win in Game 5, Verlander extended his scoreless innings streak against the A’s in postseason competition to 30 frames.
“I’ve faced Verlander a lot of times in my career and this is the best I’ve seen him before,” Josh Donaldson said.
Verlander tossed a four-hit, complete-game shutout against the A’s in Game 5 of last year year’s ALDS. He hasn’t surrendered a postseason run to the A’s since Coco Crisp led off Game 1 of last year’s series with a home run.
The Tigers’ right-hander carried a no hitter into the seventh, but Yoenis Cespedes broke up the bid, driving a single up the middle with two outs. He was perfect through 6¹⁄³ innings before Josh Reddick drew a walk.
“He was being him,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said when asked about Verlander’s performance. “He was mixing his pitches, locating his fastball up, down — never really coming over the middle of the plate.”
Verlander fanned 10 batters, throwing 110 pitches through eight innings. The A’s struck out 57 times in the series.
“We weren’t getting very good swings on him,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “I thought when it started to get darker we would get better swings, but he kept throwing fastballs.”
The A’s brought the tying run to the plate with two outs in the ninth after Jed Lowrie reached base on a double and Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit hit Cespedes with a pitch on a 1-2 count. But Seth Smith brought the series to an end, flying out to right field.
As the Tigers celebrated on the pitcher’s mound, the crowd continued to chant “Let’s Go Oakland.”
“They’re awesome,” Donaldson said of the fans. “They were there for us until the end as you could see. It stinks that we couldn’t get the job done for them.”
A’s pitcher Sonny Gray started up where he left off in Game 2, retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced. But the rookie ran into trouble in the fourth when Miguel Cabrera, who’s battling a groin injury, recorded his first extra-base hit of the series, sending an inside fastball over the wall in left field with Torii Hunter aboard.
“I was trying to go in and just missed,” Gray said. “It came back over the plate. [Against] good hitters like that, you can’t do that.”
Gray then loaded up the bases before escaping the inning by inducing a ground ball to short from Omar Infante.
The Tigers eventually chased Gray out of the game in the sixth, leading off the inning with back-to-back singles from Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. Infante stretched the Tigers’ lead to 3-0, scoring Martinez on a fielder’s choice to third. Gray surrendered three earned runs on six hits and four walks over five innings of work.
“I obviously wasn’t as smooth,” Gray said. “Fastball command as a starting pitching is key for every game and tonight I was just up.”
But Vogt said Gray was “just as good as advertised.”
“One bad pitch to Cabrera — that was it,” he said.
A’s inability to close out an ALDS series surfaces again
With another Game 5 loss, the A’s could be considered the Chicago Cubs of the American League Division Series.
The A’s are now 0-6 in ALDS Game 5’s dating back to their 7-5 loss to the New York Yankees on Oct. 8, 2000.
The club is also 1-12 in ALDS series-clinching games. In addition to the 2000 defeat, the A’s lost three series-clinching games to the Yankees in 2001, two to the Minnesota Twins in 2002 and three to the Boston Red Sox in 2003. In the last two years, they dropped three more series-clinching games to the Detroit Tigers.
The franchise’s lone series-clinching win in ALDS play was an 8-3 victory over the Twins on Oct. 6, 2006 with the A’s leading the best-of-five game series 2-0.
When asked what the A’s needed to do to get over the hump and advance to the American League Championship Series, third baseman Josh Donaldson said: “I don’t know — not play Detroit again?”
Despite the loss, A’s manager Bob Melvin said his team should be proud of its performance this year.
“We expected to go a little father than this, this year,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we did have a great season.”