Road to the World Series: Oct. 11, 2013

Road to the World Series: Oct. 11, 2013

Road to the World Series: Oct. 11, 2013

It was a different year, but the ending looked awfully familiar in Oakland on Thursday night.

For the second time in as many seasons, a Justin Verlander gem in Game 5 propelled the Detroit Tigers into the American League Championship Series and sent the Oakland A's headed for an earlier-than-expected offseason.

The 2013 Road to the World Series has narrowed down to four teams, with both LCS matchups now set. In the National League, the Dodgers will open their set against the Cardinals on Friday night at 8:30 ET on TBS, while the Tigers will open the ALCS on Saturday at 8 p.m. in Boston.

But following their third consecutive ALDS triumph, the Tigers had some celebrating to do before looking ahead.

Turns out it was the tried-and-true formula of Verlander and Miguel Cabrera that worked once again on Thursday night. Cabrera launched his first home run of the playoffs in the top of the fourth inning, giving the Tigers a 2-0 lead they would never relinquish.

ALDS

After that, Verlander owned the night, becoming the first pitcher in history to last at least eight innings and allow two or fewer hits in a winner-take-all playoff game.

"Obviously it's something that you dream about as a kid," Verlander said. "It's a win-or-go-home. You visualize when you're 10 years old in your backyard, Game 5, Game 7 -- gotta win. It's pretty exciting to have gone out there twice in that scenario and done a good job."

"Good job" might be the understatement of the year. Verlander carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning and ended the night with 10 K's over eight two-hit frames.

But then again, considering what Verlander has done to the A's in the playoffs over the past two years, Thursday's performance was pretty much par for the course.

Thursday's win pits the Tigers against the Red Sox in the ALCS, which sees the two historic franchises meeting in the postseason for the first time.

"If you watch the Red Sox, they have a tough club," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the victory. "[Dustin] Pedroia, [Jacoby] Ellsbury, Jonny Gomes, [David Ortiz]. I'm not saying they're tougher than Oakland. I'm saying they're a more veteran team. Oakland is a younger club."

Detroit and Boston squared off seven times during the regular season, with the Tigers winning four, but their most recent meeting -- three games in Boston in early September -- saw the Sox take two of three, including a 20-4 beatdown in the series finale.

Oakland, meanwhile, will have the offseason to rue missed opportunities in Games 4 and 5. But despite the loss, the 2013 season was a success for the A's, who won a second consecutive AL West title and silenced hordes of doubters that had called their '12 season a fluke.

"We still have a lot to be proud of," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We expected to go a little farther than this this year, but at the end of the day, we did have a great season -- a little more disappointing this year, certainly, than it was last year."

The Tigers are headed to their third consecutive ALCS. They lost to Texas in six games in 2011, before sweeping the Yankees last season, only to be swept by San Francisco in the World Series.

Of the four teams remaining in the playoffs, it's the Tigers who are in the midst of the longest World Series drought. But, if Detroit can post a few more performances like it did on Thursday, the club will soon be partying like it's 1984.

***

The Road to the World Series enters its penultimate phase on Friday night as the NLCS begins in St. Louis.

The Dodgers have been waiting patiently since they wrapped up their thrilling NL Division Series with a 4-3 victory over the Braves in Game 4 on Monday night. Juan Uribe's two-run homer in the eighth inning gave the Dodgers a lead, and closer Kenley Jansen shut the door a half-inning later.

St. Louis needed a fifth game to knock off the upstart Pirates, but ace Adam Wainwright tossed a complete game in the clincher, earning the victory in a 6-1 triumph. The Cardinals were also aided by a go-ahead two-run homer from their third baseman, David Freese, who continues to add to his October resume.

"It's going to be a blast," Freese said. "It's going to be fun. St. Louis and L.A., going at it. Obviously, they're a great team. ... It's going to be huge. It's going to be a lot of fun."

With both teams having used their respective aces in each NLDS clincher, it'll be the Dodgers' Zack Greinke and the Cardinals' Joe Kelly getting the ball for Game 1.

Kelly wasn't in the Cardinals' Opening Day rotation, but he certainly earned Friday's assignment. In 15 starts after joining the rotation in July, Kelly went 9-3 with a 2.28 ERA.

"I was just coming to the park and working my tail off and making sure when I got my chance that I was definitely ready for it," said Kelly, who allowed two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings at Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Greinke, meanwhile, is coming off a similarly dominant second half in which he posted a 1.85 ERA, though he picked up the loss in Game 2 at Atlanta.

The two clubs worked out on Thursday afternoon at Busch Stadium, and Dodgers rookie right fielder Yasiel Puig took a second to admire St. Louis' Gateway Arch.

But the biggest story surrounding the Los Angeles outfield during Thursday's workout day was the health of center fielder Andre Ethier, who is nursing an injured left ankle. Ethier worked out on Thursday, tracking down fly balls in the gaps. He figures to have a more prominent role than he did in the NLDS, when he was limited to pinch-hitting.

NLDS

"We feel pretty good that he's definitely going to be able to do more than he was able to do the last series," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We feel like there's going to be a lot more scenarios where Andre is going to be involved."

Exactly what those scenarios are is one of the many questions in an NLCS that figures to provide a thrill a minute on the Road to the World Series.

Friday's NLCS game

Dodgers (Greinke) at Cardinals (Kelly), 8 p.m. ET (TBS) Preview >

2013 MLB POSTSEASON MATCHUPS

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Division Series: Red Sox beat Rays, 3-1 | Tigers beat A's, 3-2
Championship Series: Tigers at Red Sox

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Division Series: Cardinals beat Pirates, 3-2 | Dodgers beat Braves, 3-1
Championship Series: Dodgers at Cardinals

2013 postseason schedule

NL Division Series
Game 1: Cardinals 9, Pirates 1
Game 2: Pirates 7, Cardinals 1
Game 3: Pirates 5, Cardinals 3
Game 4: Cardinals 2, Pirates 1
Game 5: Cardinals 6, Pirates 1, Cardinals win series, 3-2

Game 1: Dodgers 6, Braves 1
Game 2: Braves 4, Dodgers 3
Game 3: Dodgers 13, Braves 6
Game 4: Dodgers 4, Braves 3, Dodgers win series, 3-1

AL Division Series
Game 1: Red Sox 12, Rays 2
Game 2: Red Sox 7, Rays 4
Game 3: Rays 5, Red Sox 4
Game 4: Red Sox 3, Rays 1, Red Sox win series, 3-1

Game 1: Tigers 3, A's 2
Game 2: A's 1, Tigers 0
Game 3: A's 6, Tigers 3
Game 4: Tigers 8, A's 6
Game 5: Tigers 3, A's 0, Tigers win series, 3-2

NL Championship Series (All games on TBS)
Game 1: Dodgers at Cardinals, Friday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 2: Dodgers at Cardinals, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
Game 3: Cardinals at Dodgers, Monday, 8 p.m. ET
Game 4: Cardinals at Dodgers, Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET
*Game 5: Cardinals at Dodgers, Wednesday, 4 p.m. ET
*Game 6: Dodgers at Cardinals, Friday, Oct. 18, 8:30 p.m. ET
*Game 7: Dodgers at Cardinals, Saturday, Oct. 19, 8:30 p.m. ET
* - if necessary

AL Championship Series (All games on FOX)
Game 1: Tigers at Red Sox, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Game 2: Tigers at Red Sox, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET
Game 3: Red Sox at Tigers, Tuesday, 4 p.m. ET
Game 4: Red Sox at Tigers, Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
*Game 5: Red Sox at Tigers, Thursday, Oct. 17, 8 p.m. ET
*Game 6: Tigers at Red Sox, Saturday, Oct. 19, 4:30 p.m. ET^
*Game 7: Tigers at Red Sox, Sunday, Oct. 20, 8 p.m. ET
* - if necessary

^ - game time subject to change

World Series begins: Oct. 23

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.