That old saying “familiarity breeds contempt?” Fans of the Oakland A’s know something about that today.
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was astonishing once again in his team’s 3-0 Game 5 win last night at the O.co Colesium in Oakland. Mixing in an array of pitches that ravaged batter-after-batter, Verlander had a perfect game through 6⅓ innings and a took a no hitter-bid into the seventh. We he left the game after the eighth inning, Verlander had struck out ten batters and allowed just two hits over 110 pitches.
“I’ve faced Verlander a lot of times in my career and this is the best I’ve seen him before,” A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson said.
Strong words considering that over the past two postseasons, Verlander has now pitched 30 consecutive scoreless innings across four games against Oakland. Last night’s loss was eerily similar to last year’s ALDS Game 5, in which Verlander recorded his first postseason complete game shutout in a 6-0 Tigers win.
"Obviously it's something that you dream about as a kid,” Verlander said. “It's a win-or-go-home (game), you visualize when you're 10 years old in your backyard, Game 5, Game 7, gotta win. It's pretty exciting to have gone out there twice in that scenario and done a good job."
A’s rookie starter Sonny Gray got the surprise nod over Bartolo Colon, who won a team-leading 18 games during the regular season. But, thanks to a nice strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play to end the second, Gray retired the minimum nine batters through three innings. In the fourth, he would face eight batters, and surrendered the game-deciding two-run homer to slumping superstar Miguel Cabrera.
“I was trying to go in and just missed,” Gray said of his home run pitch. “It came back over the plate. [Against] good hitters like that, you can’t do that.”
Gray didn’t look nearly as sharp as he had in Game 2, finishing in the sixth inning with three earned runs on six hits and four walks.
The knowledge that no one on planet Earth can do much against Verlander when he’s pitching at his finest may help salve the wound Oakland is no doubt feeling today. Despite improbable division championships in back-to-back years, the A’s once again find themselves finished after the ALDS. The team has not won a win-or-go-home game in a best-of-five series since 1973, and is 1-12 in ALDS elimination games.
"Last year we expected to go further," A’s center fielder Coco Crisp said. "This year we expected to go all the way. It's disappointing when you feel that you have all the parts and you don't go where you expect to go."
Josh Donaldson summed it up even more succinctly: When asked what Oakland needed to do to get out of it’s ALDS slump, he replied, “I don’t know — not play Detroit again?”