Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray put on a show on the mound in Oakland just five days ago, and the two will square off again in the decisive Game 5 at 8:07 p.m. Thursday to decide who goes on to face the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.
The Detroit Tigers’ MVP-winning pitcher struck out 11 and walked only one batter in seven scoreless innings against the Oakland Athletics in Game 2 of the series, but was outlasted by the A’s younger starter.
Gray, 23, allowed just four hits in eight innings pitched and left plenty of Tigers’ hitters looking baffled.
Oakland chose Gray over veteran pitcher and Game 1 starter Bartolo Colon. The Tigers used their Game 1 starter, Max Scherzer, in relief in Game 4. So using Verlander makes sense. It was an interesting choice by Bob Melvin to call on the much younger and more inexperienced pitcher in the decisive Game 5.
The Tigers hitters have to figure out a way to get to Gray early — something they were unable to do in Game 2. Gray was able to cruise through the early innings and save his deadly curveball for the later innings. Don Kelly had two of the Tigers’ four hits that day, with the other two split between Miguel Cabrera and Jose Iglesias. Considering Cabrera’s lack of power lately, it’s probably going to take more than four hits to put runs, or a run for that matter, on the board.
Verlander stepped up to the plate his first start of the playoffs, and he has more postseason experience to fall back on. He’s even experienced more of the raucous crowds of O.co Coliseum in the postseason than Gray has.
The Tigers have to force Gray to throw them strikes and can’t chase him. His curveball can buckle knees and mess with a hitter’s timing. They have to be willing to take what the pitcher gives them and not try to do too much. Otherwise they’ll have trouble on offense like they did just five days ago, but it will have much larger implications.