OAKLAND, Calif. — Justin Verlander struck out 11 in a four-hitter to send the Tigers back to the American League Championship Series, beating the Athletics 6-0 in the decisive Game 5 of their division series Thursday night.
After squandering two chances to clinch the series, including blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead in Game 4 on Wednesday, Verlander became Detroit's ultimate closer.
The Tigers face either the Yankees or Orioles, tied at 2 heading into their Game 5 today in New York. Game 1 of the ALCS is scheduled for Saturday.
Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP, was so sharp nobody in the bullpen ever got up to throw. He struck out 22 in his wins on both ends of the nail-biting series.
With the season at stake for both teams, Austin Jackson lined a double off the wall in left-center to score Omar Infante in the second inning. Jackson then stole second, advanced to third on Quintin Berry's bunt and scored on Jarrod Parker's second wild pitch to quiet a yellow-towel twirling crowd announced at 36,393 in a sold-out Oakland Coliseum.
Verlander allowed baserunners in three of the first six innings but never lost his grip. He was at his dominating best, working quickly and overpowering hitters, looking every bit like Detroit's ace.
Oakland had struck out 47 times in the series, the most of any postseason matchup in franchise history that lasted five games. The previous most was 42 in the 1974 World Series against the Dodgers.
The A's were trying to become the ninth team to win a best-of-five series after losing the first two games.
Verlander struck out Coco Crisp and Stephen Drew before Yoenis Cespedes doubled to the left-center gap in the first. Then Seth Smith, who hit a tying two-run double in the ninth to lead the A's back in Game 4, hit a weak grounder back to Verlander on the first pitch.
In the second, Brandon Moss drew a two-out walk. After catcher Alex Avila briefly lost a pitch that Verlander bounced in the dirt, he threw out Moss trying to take second.
Wild pitches proved to be Parker's only major blemishes.
Infante singled leading off the first, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Jackson's double. After Jackson moved over on Berry's bunt, Parker threw a wild pitch that got by catcher Derek Norris to hand Detroit a 2-0 lead.
The last A's pitcher to throw two wild pitches in a postseason game was Dan Haren in a Game 4 loss in the ALCS against Detroit on Oct. 14, 2006.