Score and situation: Behind their ace Justin Verlander and a big night from their offense, the Detroit Tigers avoided blowing a 2-0 series lead with a 6-0 win over the Oakland A's on Thursday night. The win victory clinches their second straight appearance ALCS.
Leading lads: Justin Verlander was every bit the reigning American League MVP and Cy Young we expected him to be. He went the distance for Detroit, holding the A's to four hits while striking out 11.
Lead-off man Austin Jackson set the tone for Detroit offensively. He doubled home Omar Infante with the game's first run in the third inning, and then came home on a wild pitch to give Detroit a 2-0 lead. Later, he was a catalyst in Detroit's four-run seventh inning when he drove home Jhonny Peralta. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder also picked up RBIs that inning. Infante finished the night with two hits and two runs scored.
Head hangers: Jarrod Parker kept the A's around the first six innings by allowing only two runs. Unfortunately, he ran out of gas in the seventh and received no help from his bullpen as Ryan Cook allowed two inherited runners to score and then two runs of his own to put the game out of reach. Cook, who was Oakland's lone representative in this all-star game, finished the ALDS with an ugly 8.10 ERA.
Stephen Drew enjoyed a decent comeback season after breaking his ankle in 2011, but it ended on a sour note Thursday night. Against Verlander, Drew struck out swinging in all four of his at-bats. Josh Reddick, Josh Donaldson and Derek Norris each struck out twice.
Key play: Both of Austin Jackson's hits deserve consideration as they sparked Detroit's offense to their most productive game in the series. I would also nominate Brandon Moss' second inning base running error because, well, any base runner against Justin Verlander is precious. It happened after Moss was walked with two outs. He attempted to move up a pitch in the dirt that squirted away from Alex Avila but the Tigers catcher recovered to toss him out.
Interesting stat: With his 11 strikeouts, Justin Verlander joins Cliff Lee as the only two pitchers to throw back-to-back 11 strikeout games in the same postseason.
What they'll be talking about: The brilliance of Justin Verlander will lead many discussions. You'll probably hear it reiterated how critical the Game 4 loss was to Detroit since it forced them to use Verlander in Oakland and not in Game 1 of the ALCS. What we shouldn't hear about, though, is the new playoff format. Despite losing the first two games on the road, Oakland had the decisive Game 5 right where they wanted it and couldn't advance.
What's next: As mentioned above, the Tigers advanced to their second consecutive ALCS and will await the winner of the Baltimore Orioles-New York Yankees that will be decided in Game 5 on Friday in New York. With the ALCS scheduled to begin on Saturday night, it'll be a quick turnaround for one of those teams, while Detroit at least gets a day of physical rest. Doug Fister will be their likely starting pitcher in Game 1.