Before game five of the ALCS, Detroit Tigers skipper Jim Leyland said, “Truthfully, I want to try to get through this game today with (Justin) Verlander and (Phil) Coke.” That was exactly how the cards played out in the Tigers’ 7-5 victory over the Texas Rangers, reducing their series deficit to 3-2 and sending the series back to Texas for game six on Saturday.
Leyland said closer Jose Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit were “unavailable” for game five after both worked the previous three days. It wasn’t easy for Leyland, as he stood at the bottom step nervously watching his ace toss a career-high 133 pitches. Undoubtedly, Leyland was weary of using Verlander into the eighth inning, but for the Tigers, it paid off. Leyland’s only viable option out of the pen also paid off — Coke went 1.2 innings, giving up a run on two hits and earning his first postseason save.
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The feeling around Detroit was somber after Wednesday’s Nelson Cruz Show ended the Tigers’ hopes at tying the series. But as Brandon Inge said during a pregame interview with 97.1 FM The Ticket, “We’re actually extremely motivated right now. … I think we play our best baseball when our backs are against the wall.” Inge knows the feeling well. After being designated for assignment in July and reluctantly packing his bags for triple-A Toledo, he smashed a solo homer in his first game back at Comerica Park.
The Tigers set a club postseason record with four home runs in game five — solo shots from Alex Avila, Delmon Young and Ryan Raburn before Young broke the record with his sixth-inning, two-run bomb into the home bullpen. A much-needed contribution also came when Victor Martinez tripled in a run in a sixth-inning rally in which the Tigers’ first four batters hit for a natural cycle — single, double, triple and home run in order by consecutive batters — a major-league postseason first, according to STATS LLC. Detroit managed to hold off the Rangers after another home run by Nelson Cruz and a ninth-inning RBI single by Michael Young.
The Tigers needed a win, and they got it. Unfortunately, their backs still are against the wall, and they only have one Justin Verlander. Time will tell if Inge’s statement holds true. One thing that is positively true — the Tigers’ backs most definitely will be against the wall in game six Saturday night in Arlington.