DETROIT -- We walk the thin line between everyday existence and euphoria -- or, conversely, between dullness and disaster -- any given moment on any given day. The fates can be compensatory or cruel, depending on the time, the weather, your luck, whatever. Just ask anybody who met the love of their life by being in the wrong place at the right time or got hit by a bus by standing in the right place at the wrong time. Perhaps that's one of the many reasons we love baseball, a sport that illustrates the inches separating two extremes as well, or better, than any other.
And never better than in October. The final score of Thursday's Game 5 of the American League Championship Series reads 7-5 in favor of the Detroit Tigers, who forced a return to the deep heart of Texas behind a decent, not dominant, 133-pitch outing from staff ace and potential AL Most Valuable Player Justin Verlander, some big blasts, and yes, a load of luck. The kind of luck that had largely eluded them as they fell into a 3-1 hole in the best-of-seven set. One always must be careful when introducing the luck discussion into such matters, especially within earshot of frazzled, frenetic fans -- and there are never any shortage of them this time of year. But it undoubtedly plays its part, sometimes to critical acclaim. And that was certainly the case in Game 5 -- a game in which an inanimate object proved clutch, a seemingly unfortunate injury proved positive and a slight tick on the radar gun proved, well, not so slight at all. "Tonight, their backs were against the wall," Ron Washington said of the Tigers. "They did what they had to do. Catching a break, included." This wasn't Washington's way of slighting the opponent, because respect has run rampant on both sides in this series. But he was telling it like it was, because, in a game of inches, the Tigers routinely, sometimes oddly, found themselves on the right side of that line. Look at what happened in the fifth, just after the Rangers tied it up at 2 on a Josh Hamilton RBI single. With two on, two outs and Adrian Beltre at the plate, Verlander reared back and uncorked a first-pitch fastball at 102 mph. The right-handed-hitting Beltre connected, and the ball sailed deep to the opposite field. "Once I saw it in the air, it was plenty fair," Verlander said. "Then it started hooking pretty hard. You're obviously praying for it to hook or slice, and it was slicing." And it sliced its way foul. Just foul. So think about that 102. Few can deliver a pitch of such prominence, and even fewer can do so with their 94th pitch of the evening, as Verlander had done. Had that pitch been ever so slightly slower, Beltre's swing is just slightly more ahead of the ball and it flies just slightly more fair. "I looked up and saw it was 102," Verlander said. "I said, 'Thank God it wasn't 101.'" Inches. Look at what happened in the sixth. The Rangers threatened again in the top of the inning. The bases were loaded with one out, and Ian Kinsler, who had been so patient in his previous at-bats, went after Verlander's first-pitch offering and smacked a hard grounder to third. Right at Brandon Inge. Double play. Inning over. But in the bottom of the inning, with Ryan Raburn aboard and one out, Miguel Cabrera smoked a grounder off C.J. Wilson that headed in that same direction. Only this time, the ball found a fellow inanimate friend along the way in the form of the third-base bag. And it struck that bag with such force that it bolted up and over the head of Beltre, who surely would have turned the double play otherwise. "The ball was right at me," Beltre said. "There was no doubt it was going to be a double play." Instead, with the ball scooting into the outfield, Cabrera had brought home the go-ahead run with a double. And the third-base bag got more camera time than a Hollywood starlet. "I have that bag in my office right now," Jim Leyland said with a smile. "And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life, I can promise you." Inches. Thus erupted a big inning. Victor Martinez followed Cabrera's double with a triple to the right-field corner -- a triple that barely, by inches, eluded the outstretched glove of a diving Nelson Cruz to bring home another run. And then Delmon Young, who had hit a solo shot earlier in the game, delivered a two-run blast that capped the four-run outburst and gave Detroit a 6-2 lead. Remember why Young is even on the roster? It's because Magglio Ordonez re-fractured his ankle at some point in the rain-soaked affair that was Game 1, cutting his season short. Young was supposed to be rested for this round because of an oblique issue. Instead, he delivered three huge RBIs in an elimination game. So maybe that can be classified as a lucky break, too -- this time in a literal sense. "Since Magglio went down, I came back on and it took me a while to get going," Young said. "But I was glad to get going when we needed it." All these breaks afforded the Tigers a rare bit of breathing room, and they needed it when this one got hairy late. The Tigers held on, and they live to tell the tale because of a certain amount of skill-- and yes, a certain amount of luck. That's how baseball can be. That's how life can be. Every step of the way, we walk the line.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.