A veteran ace and a rookie phenom will face off in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday.
Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, a six-time All-Star and former AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP, will face off against 23-year-old Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray at Oakland's O.co Coliseum.
Oakland manager Bob Melvin selected Gray over 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who was in line to pitch after starting the series opener against Detroit.
Colon lost Game 1, allowing three runs in six innings. Gray matched Verlander pitch for pitch in Game 2, working eight scoreless innings in a no-decision.
"We looked at it from a bunch of different angles," Melvin said Wednesday night. "And the short of it is, it came down to Sonny's last game that he pitched, so that's the route we're going to go."
Melvin added about Gray, "He's a bit of a bulldog, and he's scared of nothing."
Colon will be available out of the bullpen, and Melvin praised his reaction to the news.
"This guy has 18 wins, he's been as consistent as you can be, he's an All-Star, an 18-year veteran, and he made it easy on me," Melvin said. "He said, 'OK, I just want to win.' He definitely could have had a gripe with the decision and I wouldn't have been surprised, but he made it easy."
The Tigers' pitching choice was dictated by Tuesday's game.
Max Scherzer, originally scheduled to pitch Game 5, was needed in relief in Game 4. The Tigers rallied for an 8-6 victory over the Athletics at Comerica Park to even the series at 2-2.
Verlander had a down year -- at least by his standards. He went 13-12 with a 3.46 ERA in 34 starts during the regular season. The right-hander pitched seven shutout innings in Game 2 at Oakland, though the Tigers lost 1-0. He also shut out the Athletics in Game 5 of last year's American League Divisional Series at Oakland.
Leyland brought in Scherzer, who started the All-Star Game in New York and won 20 games in the regular season, to relieve starter Doug Fister to start the top of seventh inning with the scored tied 3-3. The Athletics then went ahead on Coco Crisp's RBI single.
Now the Tigers hope Verlander can get it done in Game 5. Leyland admitted it was a big advantage to know Verlander, the 2011 AL MVP, was in reserve for the series finale if he needed to call on Scherzer in relief.
Verlander was in this very position just last October, when Detroit eliminated the Athletics in the fifth game of the AL Division Series.
"It's not just another game," Verlander said. "The season's on the line. This whole season, the way we've battled, it's come down to just one game. I just pitched there in my last start. I know what to expect a little bit, know what the crowd's going to be like. It's what you dream of as a kid, being on the mound with the game on the line."
Verlander is 3-0 with one no-decision (Game 2) pitching against Oakland in the postseason, including a four-hit shutout in Game 5 a year ago. He was 1-1 versus the A's this year, posting a 3.27 ERA in two regular-season starts.
Over his career, he is 8-6 against Oakland with a 2.48 ERA in 15 starts. He has been able to deliver ace performances when the Tigers need them, even if Scherzer served the No. 1 starter role in Detroit most of this season.
"We took our best shot and we had to because we were behind the 8-ball a little bit," Leyland said of using Scherzer out of the bullpen. "We took that shot, and hey, both teams are going to have a good pitcher going."
The winner of Thursday's game advances to face the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, with Game 1 to be played in Boston on Saturday.
NOTES: 3B Miguel Cabrera reached base for his 28th consecutive postseason game with Detroit when he singled in the fifth Tuesday. Cabrera's physical limitations continue to hurt the Tigers defensively, but manager Leyland said his presence in the lineup is worth the costs on defense. ... CF Coco Crisp continued to torment Detroit, going 4-for-5 Tuesday, leaving him 7-for-14 in the series. "He's in a pretty good grove right now," Leyland said. "He really doesn't miss it when he gets a pitch to hit. We're probably fortunate it's 2-2 because we haven't been able to shut him down." Oakland manager Bob Melvin added, "He's our igniter, no doubt about it, and can do it in a lot of different ways. He is our engine."