(Reuters) - Detroit ace Justin Verlander was close to pitch-perfect as the Tigers advanced to the American League Championship Series with a 6-0 rout of the Oakland Athletics in their Game Five decider on Thursday.
The reigning Cy Young winner allowed just four hits while striking out 11 in a complete-game gem as Detroit used a four-run seventh inning to wrap up the best-of-five division series.
Verlander was mobbed by his ecstatic team mates in front of a sellout crowd at the Coliseum after Seth Smith grounded out to end the game.
“This is a really tough place to play,” a grinning Verlander told reporters. “Oakland played great but we won. We have had our backs against the wall all year but we are playing our best baseball now when it matters.”
Verlander, who won Game One of the series and has 19 wins this season, was especially pleased with his change-up pitch.
”I saw pretty early it was pretty good,“ he said. ”With as many left-handers as they have in this lineup, I was hoping it would be good.
“I could tell with Coco (Crisp) that he saw a fastball in my hand and he took a bad swing the first time I threw it so I knew from there on it would be pretty good.”
Detroit manager Jim Leyland applauded Verlander’s performance.
“He’s a pretty good matchup for anybody when he is right,” Leyland said. “He was determined. He had a complete game look in his eye. And we were thankful to get that. And we got some big hits.”
The Tigers, who won the opening two games at home before the A’s rallied to tie the series in front of their yellow towel-waving fans, booked a spot in the ALCS for the second year in a row.
They will play the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles in a best-of-seven series starting on Saturday for a place in the World Series.
After two scoreless innings on Thursday, Detroit’s Austin Jackson doubled on a line drive to left-center for Omar Infante to score in the top of the third.
Jackson stole second base, then advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Quintin Berry before scoring on a wild pitch by A’s starter Jarrod Parker to make it 2-0.
The Tigers put the game away in the top of the seventh, singles from Jhonny Peralta, Infante, Jackson and Berry undoing 6 1/3 innings of sterling work by Parker before he exited.
The 23-year-old Parker, making his second career postseason start in five days, was tagged with the loss after allowing seven hits and four runs.
”We felt like Parker was really good, too,“ Oakland manager Bob Melvin. ”They nicked him up, got a couple of pitches up, scored a couple of runs off him early.
”But when Verlander gets on a roll like he was today, especially once he gets into his rhythm ... it’s tough to stop him.
“It’s like a locomotive going at a high speed. He was tough to deal with. Unfortunately he had really good stuff tonight and carried it all the way through tonight.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by John O'Brien/Peter Rutherford