Thursday night, Verlander’s next moment could arguably be his biggest. His Tigers are looking at another elimination game, but this one feels much different than others in the recent past. These 2013 Tigers need to win very badly. From owner Mike Ilitch down to plenty of fans, the bitter taste of last October’s World Series failure still lingers, and the only thing that wlll completely wash it away, at this point, is a world championship.
Never has Verlander not been the story during one of his big starts. Right now though, that’s the case, as Detroit’s offense has proven quite woeful during this playoff season. Last time he pitched, Verlander was quietly flawless, matching rookie Sonny Gray strikeout for strikeout, but the Tigers’ hitters were the ones who failed to catch on, and Detroit’s pitching staff was the first to cave, leading to their 1-0 loss in game two. The Tigers managed to score eight runs in game four, but can that feat be duplicated to give Verlander some badly needed support which could lead to a win?
With veteran Bartolo Colon also available, Oakland Athletics’ manager Bob Melvin has decided to set up a redux of game two for Thursday, sending Gray back to the mound and hoping he can dominate the Tigers again. This time, Detroit’s lineup has to be ready the second game around the order. Based on his playoff track record and the fact he’s pitched 1,849 career innings, Verlander himself will assuredly bring his best effort. If Oakland wanted to crack his confidence, they may have missed their chance in game two.
Conversely, Gray, who has only pitched 72 innings in his career, is still quite capable of being rattled considering the pressure packed circumstances he’ll be under. Detroit didn’t pressure him at all in game two, giving up plenty of at-bats and letting chances to score go by the wayside. Considering butterflies will be high, this time, the Tigers must put some early runs on the rookie and let him know they’ll be there all night to hit. Every inning Gray makes it through unscathed, his confidence will grow even more.
By the end of the night, if Detroit should lose, it will likely be the fault of the hitters and another severe lack of run production. The offense is the reason the Tigers are in the predicament of a game five, both because of game four’s positive effort and the lackluster effort of game’s two and three. Considering how things have gone, it’s hard to imagine the series turning on a dime at this point.
In the biggest game of the season, there’s nobody you’d rather give the ball to than Verlander, considering he pitched in exactly the same game a year ago with phenomenal results. Can you say that about Gray? Perhaps, given his effort earlier in the series. That day, though, the story was as much about Detroit’s terrible, unprepared approach at the plate as the 23 year-old who was throwing them the ball.
Can the Tigers finally become the team everyone assumed they would be at the beginning of the season? Considering Verlander is Verlander, Thursday night, in the toughest battle yet, that answer will be decided primarily by the bats, which left Oakland slumbering and must return to the west cost hot.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax