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 American League Division Series against the Athletics. And Detroit will have Verlander, who pitched a four-hit shutout in the 2012 clincher, on the mound again tonight.
"Well, you don't pretend. It's not just another game," Verlander said after the Tigers evened the series with an 8-6 win Tuesday at Comerica Park. "The season is on the line. It was on the line for us (Tuesday), too. This whole season, the way we battled and played as a team, comes down to one game, may the best team win. You can't treat it just like another game. It's a little bit different. There is more to it."
The A's will counter with rookie Sonny Gray against Verlander again after the two put on a pitching show Saturday night at the Coliseum.
"(Gray is) a little bit of a bulldog; he's scared of nothing," manager Bob Melvin said.
Melvin said he doesn't know how he might use, if at all, Game 1 loser Bartolo Colon, who is "willing to do anything."
"I'm not really sure how I'm going to handle that yet," Melvin said.
Verlander dominated a pitcher's duel with Gray in Game 2, though he had nothing to show for it in a 1-0 loss. He 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 that Cy Young Award favorite Max Scherzer more than earned the nod. Now Verlander gets the ball for his most meaningful start this year: to extend the season.
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. We took that shot, and hey, both teams are going to have a good pitcher going" tonight.
Both clubs chose to use Wednesday as a full day off without onfield workouts after two long flights in four days.
Whom to start was quite a choice for 2012 AL manager of the year Bob Melvin, whose team is trying to avoid having its season end at Detroit's hands for the third time in as many postseasons. The A's were swept by the Tigers in the 2006 AL Championship Series.
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 centerfielder 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."