The Tigers still have a long way to go. If they want to get to the World Series, they'll have to win two straight games in Texas, where the Rangers haven't lost two straight in a couple of months.
But if they do it -- if they somehow run the table for the rest of the ALCS -- Miguel Cabrera's sixth-inning double will be the symbol of the series. The Detroit Tigers took Game 5 of the ALCS, hitting C.J. Wilson hard and defeating the Texas Rangers, 7-5. And it was an inanimate object that opened the door.
Ryan Raburn opened the sixth inning with a solid single to left field. Then Cabrera hit a sharp grounder that Adrian Beltre was waiting for behind the third-base bag. He was there, pounding his mitt and feeling bored because Adrian Beltre can make plays like that with his mouth, spitting the ball out like Snoopy. It was probably going to be a double play, and the tie was going to lurch forward into the late innings, with the top two bullpen arms for the Tigers unavailable to pitch.
But the ball hit the bag and popped three feet over Beltre's head. Would it have been a double play? It was Cabrera running, mind you, and he runs like he's trying to shoplift an anvil. It almost certainly would have been no one on and two outs. Instead the hit went for a double to score Rayburn, break a 2-2 tie, and put a runner in scoring position with no one out. What should have been rallycide was instead hot rally action.
After Rayburn's single and Cabrera's double, Victor Martinez hit a triple and Delmon Young hit a home run, his second of the game. So nice and orderly, those Tigers. The natural team cycle put the Tigers up 6-2, and though C.J. Wilson would eventually get out of the inning after a line-drive out and a walk, that was more than enough for the Tigers.
The short, unfair recap of Justin Verlander's start: He didn't get a quality start. Four earned runs. Them's the breaks. The first run came in the first inning, with Ian Kinsler doubling off a hanging curve on a 1-2 pitch, and coming around to score on a Josh Hamilton sac fly. The second scored in the fifth inning, after a Kinsler walk and two singles. The third and fourth runs scored on a Nelson Cruz homer in the seventh that ricocheted of the left-field fair pole that cut the lead to 7-4. It was the last pitch Verlander threw.
Other than the runs, though, it was a typical Verlander start. He had control, for the most part. He struck hitters out. He looked acely more often than not.
It was a curious decision, though, to keep Verlander in with a five-run lead and a pitch count over 130, but this is the last game he'll pitch until either next Wednesday or next March. Considering he was limited to 82 pitches in Game 1 of the ALCS, and that Jim Leyland already proclaimed Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit unavailable for today's game, it made a certain amount of sense.
C.J. Wilson started strong, but the Tigers broke through in the third with an opposite-field homer from Alex Avila. A solo home run from postseason monster Delmon Young tied the game at 2-2. That set up the fateful sixth inning, which Wilson got to participate in for its entirety.
It was a curious thing when the Tigers went out of their way to get a hurt Delmon Young in the lineup. Young wasn't even on the roster to start the ALCS. But it looks like he has something to add -- something more than he's added to his last two teams, for sure. And behind Young, Verlander, and a well-placed third-base bag, the Tigers still have a shot at the American League Pennant.