The Detroit Tigers clung on to their dream of reaching the World Series by beating the Texas Rangers 7-5 in a must-win game.
The Tigers narrowed the gap in the best-of-seven American League championship series to 3-2. The winner of the series will face the National League champion in the World Series.
Delmon Young hit two of Detroit’s four homers and Miguel Cabrera sparked a sixth-inning surge when his tiebreaking double deflected off the outer corner of third base deep into the outfield.
“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,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
Young capped the four-run sixth with a three-run homer for the Tigers. Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander got the win, but he also received help from Phil Coke who worked the final five outs.
Coke got Rangers slugger Mike Napoli out on a game-ending groundout, leaving two runners stranded.
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.
“I want the ball. I want to go as deep as possible,” Verlander said. “It was a battle for me, all night.”
With star closer Jose Valverde unavailable for Detroit, Texas trimmed the deficit to 7-5 in the ninth inning. Cruz was on deck when Coke got Napoli out for his first career playoff save.
“Cokie came through for us,” Leyland said. “A little different situation for him obviously, but he was up to the challenge.”
The Tigers surged in the sixth to take the lead. Detroit turned a bases-loaded double play to keep the score tied at 2, then opened the bottom half of the sixth with a single, double, triple and homer — in order — to take a 6-2 lead.
It marked the first time four consecutive batters on one team hit for a “natural” cycle in a MLB playoff game.
Verlander was still throwing strong late in the game but Nelson Cruz caught one of his fastballs and blasted it down the left-field line for a two-run homer. The homer run marked the end of the night for Verlander and set a record for homers in a semi-final 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 playoff series. Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey, Juan Gonzalez and Chase Utley were the others.
Verlander received a huge ovation when he left the game, raising his glove in appreciation.
“I don’t like to do that in the middle of a ballgame, but when they show their support that way, you can’t help but give them a little tip of the cap or a wave or something,” Verlander said. “They’ve been tremendous all year.”
The Rangers get another chance to reach the World Series for the second straight season when they host game six on Saturday in Dallas.
“We were lucky, but we need lucky times right now,” Cabrera said. “Hopefully we’re lucky Saturday.”