OAKLAND -- With right-hander Justin Verlander on the mound in a "do or die" Game 5 of their American League Division Series against the A's at 9:30 ET Thursday night on TNT, the Tigers are pretty well situated.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player was dominant in a 3-1 victory in Game 1 on Saturday night at Comerica Park, and he's the pitcher the Tigers certainly would like to have on the mound a night after having a series-clinching win slip through their fingers. It will be a rematch against Oakland rookie right-hander Jarrod Parker.
"I'm going to try to treat it like just another start, kind of like the last start, as much as I can," Verlander said after the A's came back to stun Tigers closer Jose Valverde with three runs in the ninth to win Game 4 of the best-of-five series, 4-3. "Obviously, it's a big game for us. This team has been resilient and we allowed ourselves to be in this position.
"We won the first two games at home. You know it's not easy to play here. We put ourselves in position where we need to win just one. Whatever game that is it doesn't matter. So hopefully it's the fifth one."
Verlander set the Tigers off on the right paw by whiffing 11 hitters in Game 1, matching the mark he set in a victory over the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS a year ago. The Tigers also were pressed to win that series in five games.
Verlander is the only Major Leaguer to record double-digit strikeouts in a postseason game since Tim Lincecum whiffed 10 Rangers in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series, helping the Giants close out their first world championship since 1954.
Key stat: Held the A's to one run on three hits in seven innings in Game 1
Key stat: Gave up two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in Game 1
At Oakland Coliseum
2012: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.29 ERA Career: 9 GS, 4-4, 2.47 ERA
2012: 15 GS, 6-5, 2.61 ERA Career: 15 GS, 6-5, 2.61 ERA
Against this opponent
2012: 2 GS, 2-0, 0.69 ERA Career: 13 GS, 7-5, 2.38 ERA
2012: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.18 ERA Career: 1 GS, 0-1, 3.18 ERA
Loves to face: Cliff Pennington, 0-for-13, 5 K Hates to face: Coco Crisp, 8-for-22, 2 2B, 3 RBIs
Loves to face: Prince Fielder, 0-for-6 Hates to face: Miguel Cabrera, 2-for-5
Why he'll win: Has allowed two runs in 20 innings vs. Oakland this season
Why he'll win: A's stole all the momentum with Wednesday's walk-off win
Pitcher beware: Has a 3.57 road ERA this year compared to 1.65 ERA at home
Pitcher beware: Hss made one postseason start and never started a do-or-die game
Bottom line: Finish it off, pop the champagne and move on to the ALCS
Bottom line: It's improbable, but not impossible
"They're all important, but you have to win when Justin's on the mound. That's the bottom line," said Alex Avila, the Tigers catcher who homered in Game 1.
A's center fielder Coco Crisp opened that game with a homer off Verlander, who seemed beatable in the early going, but the A's stranded five baserunners during the first five innings.
A's manager Bob Melvin used the tactic of making Verlander work deep into counts. He tossed 90 pitches through five innings.
"There's more than one way to try to beat a good starting pitcher," Melvin said. "You don't always have to beat him. If you can wear him down, again, run the pitch count up, and try to get him out of the game sooner than later, stay with him. That has a little bit of effect, too. Trying to get a starter early in the game before he gets in his rhythm is another way. You don't necessarily have to beat that particular starter to win a game."
In the end, the tactic didn't lead to a win. Verlander grew stronger as the game went on. He struck out five consecutive Oakland batters -- all three in the sixth and the first two in the seventh -- leaving after 121 pitches with only three hits allowed.
"There are a lot of teams that try to do that with him," Melvin said about trying to work the count on Verlander. "The problem is that he'll throw 130 pitches in a game. Even if you get his pitch count up there, it doesn't mean he's going to come out of the game at 100 or 105 pitches. He's a tough customer."
Verlander has been on one of his patented runs. He gave up two earned runs over 28 innings in his final four starts of the season, including six scoreless innings on five hits with five strikeouts on Sept. 19 against the A's at Comerica Park. He won AL Pitcher of the Month honors for September as a result, and he played no small role in Detroit's second consecutive Al Central title.
That streak is now three earned runs over 35 innings in his last five starts, heading into Thursday night.
Verlander, though, has no intention of stopping there. The Tigers lost the AL Championship Series in six games to the Rangers in 2011, and there is certainly a sense of unfinished business.
"I want to win a World Series. I don't care what I do," Verlander said. "I think, obviously, I want to be a big part if we do win the World Series, but I don't care if I give up five if we score six and win. Who cares? If we score two, I'd like to give up zero."
In Game 1, the Tigers scored three and Verlander allowed one. Close enough. Game 5 beckons.
"Obviously, it's win or go home," Verlander said. "But I'm not going to try to do anything more than I've done all year."