So this is what they mean by “Just In Time” manufacturing. Or is it simply “Justin Time”? Facing an early exit from the postseason in a hostile environment, Justin Verlander delivered a magisterial pitching performance to send the Detroit Tigers to a scintillating 3-0 win over the Oakland A’s and onto Boston to contend for the American League pennant. The real Miguel Cabrera, who was last spotted sometime in August, returned to vintage form as well in the nick of time, hitting his first home run since September 17th, staking the Tigers to an early lead they refused to relinquish.
Cabrera’s homer came in the fourth inning after a single by Torii Hunter. Young Oakland pitcher Sonny Gray, the meteorological paradox, left a fastball up on the inside of the plate and the reigning AL MVP didn’t miss it, sending it beyond the left field fence. Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes added some drama to the play, as he appeared to be comfortably tracking the ball as he neared the wall. The sense of relief in the Tiger camp was palpable as teammates dizzily swarmed Hunter and Cabrera upon their return to the dugout. The Tigers added another run in the sixth, as a fielder’s choice ground ball by Omar Infante brought in Victor Martinez, who had three singles on the night.
Considering the stakes at hand and the glare of the national spotlight, Verlander’s pitching performance was beyond masterful. He lost a perfect game in the sixth inning by walking Josh Reddick and a no-hitter in the seventh when he gave up a solid single to Cespedes. He yielded another two-out single in the eighth before fanning Stephen Vogt for his tenth strikeout. As he walked off the mound, speculation immediately began as to whether Verlander would return for the ninth inning. He had thrown 111 pitches, a considerable number, but has exceeded that pitch count numerous times in his storied career. After a brief discussion with manager Jim Leyland in the dugout, it was clear Verlander’s night was over.
Closer Joaquin Benoit assumed the reins in the ninth and got the nettlesome Coco Crisp to ground out. He followed that up by striking out a swinging Josh Donaldson. Looking good, right? Not so fast, my friend. Jed Lowrie promptly doubled to left and Benoit hit Cespedes on a pitch that rode too far inside. DH Seth Smith, representing the tying run, strode to the plate. The never-say-die A’s, having authored many dramatic come-from-behind rallies throughout the year, were still alive. Benoit, however, had different thoughts and on a 2-0 count induced Smith to loft a soft fly ball to right which landed harmlessly in Torii Hunter’s glove, igniting yet another champagne-a-thon in the Tiger clubhouse.