OAKLAND, Calif. – These decisive Game 5s sure are becoming familiar for Justin Verlander.
Just like last October in Oakland, the Tigers have been pushed to a winner-take-all fifth game in their AL division series against the Athletics. And Detroit will have Verlander on the mound again Thursday night after he pitched a four-hit shutout in the 2012 clincher.
“You can’t treat it just like another game,” Verlander said. “It’s a little bit different. There is more to it.”
The A’s will counter with rookie Sonny Gray against Verlander again after they put on a pitching show Saturday in Oakland.
“He’s a little bit of a bulldog, he’s scared of nothing,” Manager Bob Melvin said, noting Gray’s experience on the stage.
Melvin said he doesn’t know how he might use, if at all, 18-game winner and Game 1 loser Bartolo Colon, who is “willing to do anything.”
Verlander dominated in a thrilling pitcher’s duel with Gray, though he had nothing to show for it in a 1-0 loss.
Verlander is riding a 22-inning postseason scoreless streak against the A’s, and has 33 strikeouts over the past three playoff matchups with Oakland, 11 in each outing.
Not that the A’s are counting.
“He’s been beaten before, it can happen again,” third baseman Josh Donaldson said.
Verlander acknowledged it would have been great to pitch the playoff opener, while also noting 21-game winner Max Scherzer more than earned the nod. Now Verlander gets the ball for his most meaningful start this year — to extend the season Thursday night.
With Scherzer pitching in relief Tuesday, Verlander became the automatic Game 5 choice for Manager Jim Leyland.
“I don’t want to sit here and tell you we planned on doing it but it was an option,” Leyland said. “It worked out good for us. We took our best shot and we had to because we were behind the 8-ball a little bit.”
Both clubs chose to use Wednesday as a full day off without on-field workouts after two long flights in four days.
Who to start was quite a choice for Melvin, the 2012 AL Manager of the Year whose team is trying to avoid having the season end at the hands of Detroit as it did last year.
The AL West champion A’s know what’s at stake — and realize full well the challenge of facing Verlander again. Last fall’s frustrating finish is still fresh for everybody.
“Going to go out there like we always do,” leadoff hitter and center fielder Coco Crisp said. “He’s a great competitor and we’re a competitive team. We’re going out there to go out and beat him.”