Look closely in the baseball dictionary under "ace." There's a picture of Justin Verlander. Detroit's best pitcher put on a show Thursday night in clinching its AL Division Series against Oakland, throwing a four-hit shutout in which he fanned 11 to set a Division Series record with 22 strikeouts in his two starts. The 6-0 win sent the Tigers into the same clubhouse in which it celebrated the AL Central Division clinching party last year to spray some alcohol-free champagne around and get ready for an early Friday flight home so they could find out who and where they were going to start the AL Championship Series on Saturday. If it's the New York Yankees, Detroit goes to New York. If it's the Orioles, Detroit will stay at home to face Baltimore in the first two games. The Tigers professed to have no preference, as all good athletes have been taught to say, and the numbers suggest that's not a bad course to take. Detroit split six games with Baltimore and was 4-6 against the Yankees but eliminated New York in the divisional round a year ago. "We're a team," Verlander said. "We've had our backs against the wall all year. We're playing our best baseball now when it matters." Verlander can't pitch the opener, as he did in the divisional round, and manager Jim Leyland hasn't announced his rotation. But it probably will have Doug Fister pitching Saturday and Max Scherzer on Sunday. Verlander would pitch Tuesday and Anibal Sanchez on Wednesday. "We got this far," Leyland said. "We had to work hard to do it. We had to work to win the division. We certainly had to work hard to win this series. "I've said since April I like our club. And I still like our club. We're going to get ready for another really, really tough opponent, no matter who it is." Of the five baserunners Verlander allowed, one was taken off trying to advance on a short wild pitch. He ended up throwing 122 pitches. "He was better than great," Scherzer gushed. "That was one of the best performances I've ever seen. He was on top of everything. All of his pitches. He kept them completely off balance. "We came through clutch with our offense. For him to be able to deliver a performance like this when we need him, there's nothing better." "As good as this team is, this Oakland team," Leyland said, "Justin Verlander is a pretty tough chore for anybody. Certainly they don't have anything to be ashamed of."
- Justin Verlander
- Max Scherzer