OAKLAND -- Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland was forced to burn his No. 1 starting pitcher to keep his season alive. Even so, Detroit is in good shape for the winner-take-all Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Thursday in Oakland.
Justin Verlander will start against the A's after Max Scherzer, originally scheduled to pitch Game 5, was needed in relief Tuesday night. The Tigers rallied for an 8-6 victory over the Athletics at Comerica Park to take Game 4 and 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."
Oakland has not announced whether Bartolo Colon or fellow right-hander Sonny Gray will start Game 5.
Colon lost Game 1, allowing three runs in six innings. Gray, a rookie, matched Verlander pitch for pitch in Game 2, working eight scoreless innings in a no-decision.
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."