DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers may be weary and sore, unlucky and undermanned, but they are not yet done. Not by a long shot.
Facing elimination Thursday in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, they rode their horse most of the way and then hopped on a cycle to get to the finish line in a 7-5 win over the Texas Rangers, forcing a Game 6 Saturday in Arlington.
“If you see the injuries and just how hard these guys are playing, how can you not be satisfied with this?” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. “Would I rather be up 3-2? Yes. But I have no problems no matter how this turns out. We’re going to keep playing.”
With a more or less empty bullpen, Leyland admitted before the game that the Tigers would go as far as Justin Verlander was able to carry them Thursday. Verlander responded with a 133-pitch performance, taking the Tigers into the eighth inning.
“(Verlander) did what he needed to do and that was just stay out there,” said Texas manager Ron Washington. “Jim made it pretty clear that Verlander’s job was to take them as far as he could. He took them 71/3 innings ... 133 pitches, or whatever it was. That’s why he’s a horse.”
Three or four of the Tigers regulars are staying in the lineup with a variety of injuries that would probably sideline them under less demanding circumstances.
“We’re tough and we’re playing our hearts out,” Leyland said. “I couldn’t be prouder of a team. They’re playing hurt, and it’s amazing.”
Locked in a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning, Verlander’s teammates hit for a natural cycle to blow the doors off Texas starter C.J. Wilson.
Ryan Raburn, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Delmon Young, in that order, hit a single, a double, a triple and a home run to give Verlander a four-run cushion.
For Young, who is nursing a sore oblique muscle, it was his second home run of the game. Raburn and catcher Alex Avila also hit home runs as the Tigers hit four home runs for the first time ever in a postseason contest.
The Rangers rallied for two runs in the eighth to knock Verlander out of the game and then had the tying runs on base against reliever Phil Coke when Mike Napoli grounded out to end the game.
Verlander ended up allowing eight hits and four runs but his gift of rest to all the key members of the bullpen except for Coke was immeasurable.
Leyland had said that under no circumstances would he allow his setup man, Joaquin Benoit and his closer, Jose Valverde even to warm up in this game.
Texas turned a leadoff double in the first by Ian Kinsler into a 1-0 lead on Hamilton’s sacrifice fly to centre.
Avila tied the game with a one-out home run in the third, Detroit’s first hit off Wilson.
Tigers took the lead an inning later on a two-out Delmon Young homer.
Texas tied it again in the fifth on a Kinsler walk and singles by Elvis Andrus and Hamilton. Hamilton’s weak liner glanced off centrefielder Austin Jackson’s glove, allowing Kinsler to score. Of almost equal concern as the game-tying run was the fact that Verlander used up 33 pitches in the inning, putting him at 96 pitches through five innings.
After the Rangers loaded the bases in the top of the sixth, Verlander turned them away with a double-play ball.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers, who have been unlucky in their three losses, caught a break and turned it into a huge inning. After Raburn singled to lead off, Cabrera hit a ball to third base that had a chance to be a double-play, but the ball hit the front of the bag and bounced over third baseman Beltre’s head for an RBI double.
When Martinez’s liner to right got by a diving rightfielder Nelson Cruz for an RBI triple, Delmon Young delivered, swatting his fourth home run of these playoffs, a two-run shot, to give Detroit a commanding 6-2 advantage.
Detroit’s big inning seemed to revive Verlander who had allowed six baserunners the previous two innings. He took out the Rangers in order in the seventh, using just 10 pitches to do it.
“You look up at the board after five innings and you’re already up over 100 (pitches),” said Verlander, “and it’s not looking good. But in the sixth and seventh I kind of found my rhythm, got some quick outs, which allowed me to go back out in the eighth and eat up as many innings as I could.”
In the eighth, Nelson Cruz hit his fifth homer in this series to cut the Detroit lead to three and chase Verlander. In the ninth, Michael Young drove in Hamilton for Texas’ fifth run and Beltre walked right behind him but that’s where the rally ended when Napoli grounded out to end the game.