Detroit Tigers have to win Game 5 in ALDS

By Rob Parker - Sports Columnist
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DETROIT - It's all set up for the Tigers.

They have to beat the A's out in Oakland tonight in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.

They have to beat the A's in order to advance to the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in four games.

More importantly, if the Tigers don't beat the A's, they will be considered failures in 2013, a huge disappointment.

Even though the A's won more games than the Tigers in the regular season and have the fifth and deciding game at home, the Tigers were the favorite to make it to the World Series for the second straight season.

And granted Miguel Cabrera is playing hurt. Still, most believed they still would have enough to win this series without so much trouble.

In Thursday night's do or die game, the Tigers, despite all their struggles in this first round, have a huge advantage on paper.

Former Cy Young and MVP Justin Verlander is starting against A's rookie Sonny Gray.

Granted, Gray matched Verlander's seven scoreless innings when the two faced each other in Game 2, a game the A's won in the bottom of the ninth, 1-0.

But Verlander has owned the A's of late. Currently, JV has a 22-inning postseason scoreless streak against the A's. He's also struck out 33 A's in last three postseason starts vs. Oakland.

And last year, don't forget, he owned the A's in the biggest game of the season. It was almost exactly a year ago, actually Oct. 11, 2012, when JV disappointed A's fans, pitching a four-hit shutout in a 6-0 win in Game 5 of the ALDS. It moved the Tigers to the ALCS.

The Tigers have to feel confident that the same will happen here after they saved their season with an 8-6 victory Tuesday night at Comerica Park to tie the best-of-five series.

"It's not just another game," said Verlander, who had a rocky regular season, to say the least. "The season is on the line."

 The A's - who are a woeful 1-11 in their last 12 series-clinching games - claimed they don't believe they are doomed once again against Verlander and the Tigers.

For the record, the Tigers beat them last year in the ALDS and in 2006, the Tigers swept them in the ALCS. Both of those years, the Tigers made in to the World Series.

"He's been beaten before, it can happen again," A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said about Verlander.

Added Coco Crisp added, "He's a great competitor and we're a competitive team. We're going to go out there and beat him."

One reason the A's have to feel they have a shot even though JV has dominated them is Gray, who pitched eight scoreless innings, allowing just four hits, three were infield hits on Saturday night. He also had nine strikeouts and walked just two.

Gray was picked over veteran and 18-game winner Bartolo Colon to pitch the biggest game of the season for Oakland.

Gray's performance last Saturday night got everyone's attention, including the Tigers who have struggled scoring, except in Game 4. Before that, they had scored just six runs in the previous three. Worse, they had scored in just two innings in the 27 innings covering the first three games.

Gray is a hard-thrower who didn't back down to the Tigers. That's why the A's believe they will finally get over the hump and beat the Tigers in an elimination game.

"He's a lil' bit of a bulldog, he's not scared of anything," A's manager Bob Melvin said of Gray.

For the Tigers, it's about this year and next. If they lose to the A's, with the 29th payroll in MLB, there will definitely be changes next season.

The Tigers were supposed to finally win the World Series for the first time in 1984. Instead, it's an all-or-nothing date in Oakland that can wreck their season.

The Tigers have to win Game 5.

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