DETROIT (AP) – A loss from elimination, the exhausted Detroit Tigers needed another big start from their determined ace.
When Justin Verlander began to struggle, a fluky bounce helped extend their season.
Verlander kept Detroit in the game with a gutsy effort, and Miguel Cabrera put the Tigers ahead with a sixth-inning grounder that hit third base before bouncing down the line for a double. Detroit held on for a 7-5 victory over Texas on Thursday that cut the Rangers’ lead to 3-2 in the AL championship series.
“We were lucky, but we need lucky times right now,” Cabrera said.
The Rangers get another chance to reach the World Series for the second straight season in Game 6 Saturday night in Texas. Derek Holland will start against Detroit’s Max Scherzer.
Cabrera’s hit was part of a sudden cycle in the sixth. The Tigers turned a bases-loaded double play to keep the score tied at 2, then opened the bottom of the inning with a single, double, triple and homer — in order — to take a 6-2 lead.
It was the first time four consecutive batters on one team hit for a “natural” cycle in a postseason game, according to STATS LLC.
After building a five-run cushion, Detroit held on despite Nelson Cruz’s record fifth home run of the series. With closer Jose Valverde unavailable for the Tigers, Texas cut it to 7-5 in the ninth and had Cruz on deck when Phil Coke retired Mike Napoli on a game-ending groundout with two runners on.
Coke got five outs for his first career postseason save.
After using Valverde and Joaquin Benoit for three straight days, Detroit manager Jim Leyland announced before Game 5 that neither reliever would be available. He was hoping to make it through the day with just Verlander and Coke, and that’s exactly what happened.
“Well, it’s what we said before the game. So it gave everybody a chance to get all their second-guessing ready about it,” Leyland said. “That’s just the way it had to be today. We talked about it before the game and we did exactly what we felt we had to do to give ourselves any chance to win the series.”
Delmon Young hit two of Detroit’s four homers.
The Rangers were the ones who seemed on the verge of breaking the game open in the sixth, loading the bases with one out. But then Ian Kinsler hit a grounder right to third baseman Brandon Inge, who merely had to step on the bag and throw to first for a double play.
Ryan Raburn led off the bottom half with a single, and what looked to be a routine grounder by Cabrera bounced high off third base and down the line, putting Detroit ahead 3-2.
“I have that bag in my office right now. And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life, I can promise you,” Leyland said.
Victor Martinez followed with a rare triple down the right-field line, scoring another run, and Young added a two-run homer.
Raburn homered in the seventh to make it 7-2.
Verlander allowed four runs and eight hits in 7 1-3 innings, throwing a career-high 133 pitches. He struck out eight and walked three.
“We talked in the dugout, (pitching coach) Jeff Jones and I, and we were going to 135 pitches. That was it,” Leyland said. “He’s going to rest now. Obviously, if we don’t move on, he’s done, and even if we are fortunate to get to the World Series, we can make an adjustment if we need to, to give him an extra day.”
Verlander reached 100 mph on the stadium radar gun with pitch No. 133. Cruz, however, caught up to that fastball and sent it down the left-field line for a two-run homer, chasing Verlander and setting a record for homers in a league championship series.
“He struck me out twice with curveballs, so I was glad he threw me a fastball, even if it was 100 (mph),” Cruz said. “I think I might have had streaks like this in the minors, maybe, but I’ve never hit this many homers this fast in the majors.”
Cruz became the fifth player to hit five homers in a postseason series. Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez and Chase Utley were the others.
With two strikes on Kinsler in the first, Verlander went to his sweeping breaking ball, and the Texas second baseman pulled it to left field for a double. After going to third on a groundout by Elvis Andrus, Kinsler came home on Josh Hamilton’s sacrifice fly to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
Texas starter C.J. Wilson was sharp at the start, retiring his first seven batters. He allowed six runs and eight hits, striking out five and walking two.
Alex Avila tied it with an opposite-field homer to left in the third. The Detroit catcher has taken a beating behind the plate all year and has had a miserable postseason, going 2 of 33 before the homer.
“This has been a tremendous, tremendous series in my opinion,” Leyland said.
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