Down three games to one, the Tigers had their second "must win" game of the playoffs today. They had their ace pitcher Justin Verlander on the mound, but their two top relievers Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde were unavailable after pitching three straight days including two innings apiece in last night's loss. So it wasn't going to be easy.
Verlander was not his dominant self and wasn't very efficient either throwing 133 pitches in 7 1/3 innings. He allowed 11 base runners and 4 runs, but was very tough pitching his way out of jams. The biggest mess came in the sixth inning. With the score tied at two, the Tigers right hander loaded the bases before inducing Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler to hit into an inning-ending double play.
That sixth inning included a long foul fly to right by Adrian Beltre which missed being a three-run homer by an inch. It looked like the series was over for a brief moment. Instead, Tigers fortunes seemed to change at that point.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers dormant offense finally exploded. Ryan Raburn led off with a sharp single to left. Miguel Cabrera followed with a double which took a high hop off the third-base bag, a rare break for the Tigers in this series. Victor Martinez then tripled into the right field corner past the diving Nelson Cruz. Finally, Delmon Young (who was originally scheduled to miss the whole series with an oblique injury) belted his second homer of the game to left. It was the first "cycle" by a team - Single, double, triple, homer in succession - in post-season history. It was also a 6-2 lead for the Tigers.
The lead would reach 7-2 after a homer by Ryan Raburn in the seventh, but no game is going to be easy in this series. Verlander gave up a Homer to the great Nelson Cruz on his 133rd pitch and yielded to lefty reliever Phil Coke with 7-4 lead with one out in the eighth.
Coke got the last two outs in the eighth, but then gave up a run and three base runners in the ninth. This allowed Mike Napoli to come to plate as the potential go ahead run. Fortunately, Coke got Napoli on a grounder to second ending the game with Babe Cruz on deck.
When asked what happened in the ninth inning, Coke joked: "I was just trying to make it interesting man". I don't know about you guys, but I think this series has been "interesting" enough without that!
Ailing Tigers All Produced Today
Yesterday, I doubted that the Tigers could win three games in a row with three ailing hitters in the line-up - Young and Martinez with oblique strains and Alex Avila with a knee injury. The three of them looked healthy enough today. Along with Young's homers and Martinez's triple mentioned above, Avila also homered for the Tigers first run in the third inning. That bodes well for the remainder of the series.
The other piece of good news was that the Tigers got through their bullpen crisis today. They won without Benoit and Valverde and now both will go into game six on two days rest.