Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland took one look at right-hander Justin Verlander before Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Oakland A's on Thursday and knew his team was in good shape.
"I can usually tell by the look on his face and his demeanor before the game if he's locked in, and he was locked in tonight," Leyland said.
Was he ever.
Verlander pitched eight shutout innings and Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run home run as the Tigers clinched the ALDS with a 3-0 victory at the O.co Coliseum.
The Tigers advanced to the AL Championship Series for the third straight year and will face the Boston Red Sox. Game 1 is Saturday night at Fenway Park.
For the second straight season, Verlander beat the A's in a Game 5 of the ALDS at Oakland. Last year he threw a four-hit shutout, striking out 11 and walking one in a 6-0 Tigers win.
This time he allowed just two hits over eight innings while striking out 10 and walking one.
"I just go out there when my team needs me most," Verlander said. "It's something you dream about as a kid."
Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit allowed a two-out double to Jed Lowrie in the ninth then hit Yoenis Cespedes with a pitch, but he retired Seth Smith on a fly ball to right field for the third out and the save.
The A's, who have won back-to-back AL West titles, fell to 1-12 in their past 13 potential postseason series clinching games, all in the ALDS. They lost Game 5 in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012 and now, 2013.
In back-to-back Game 5 losses, the A's had no answer for Verlander.
"Our fans are just waiting for a reason to get into a frenzy," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We just needed baserunners and our fans would get into it and pull us like they did last year. We just weren't able to get any consistency going except the last inning where if we ran into one we could potentially tie the game.
"Our guys are frustrated with the way the game went and some of the at-bats, but, again, we still have a lot to be proud of. 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."
Verlander retired the first 16 batters he faced before Josh Reddick ended his perfect-game bid with a walk with one out in the sixth. But Verlander retired Stephen Vogt on a deep fly to right-center and Coco Crisp on a soft fly to left.
A's left fielder Yoenis Cespedes broke up Verlander's bid for his first postseason no-hitter with a two-out single in the seventh. Facing a 1-0 count, Cespedes grounded Verlander's 95 mph, outside fastball to center field. Verlander struck out Smith on a nasty curveball for the third out. Reddick lined a two-out single to center in the eighth, but Verlander struck out Vogt.
A's rookie Sonny Gray took the loss, allowing three runs on six hits, including Cabrera's homer, over five innings. He walked four -- one of those intentional -- struck out three and suffered a broken left thumb on a Prince Fielder comebacker in the fifth.
Verlander and Gray met in a rematch of their Game 2 duel at Oakland. Neither pitcher figured in the decision Saturday, but Gray, making his postseason debut, threw eight shutout innings and struck out nine in a 1-0 A's victory. Verlander struck out 11 and pitched seven scoreless innings.
"He pitched fine tonight," Melvin said of Gray. "His ball-strike ratio was a little off for him. Therefore he couldn't get deeper in the game. At the end of the day he basically just gives up a home run to Miguel Cabrera. When he did get in jams, he ended up making pitches to get himself out of it. He pitched fine tonight. When you don't score a run and you only get a couple of hits or whatever it was, you have to be perfect."
After going scoreless against Gray for 11 straight innings, the Tigers finally broke through to score twice in the fourth. Torii Hunter broke up Gray's no-hitter, grounding a single to center with one out, and Cabrera launched a 1-0 fastball over the left field fence to make it 2-0.
"To me, he's a great pitcher," Cabrera said of Gray. "The first time we saw him he pitched an excellent game. We were able to be patient (Thursday), to swing at our pitch."
The Tigers added a run in the sixth to make it 3-0.
Verlander improved to 4-0 in five career postseason starts against the A's.
NOTES: Peralta, who started Games 3 and 4 in left field, returned to shortstop, his natural position, for Game 5, pushing Jose Iglesias to the bench. Don Kelly started in left field. Peralta entered Game 5 batting .375 (3-for-8) with five RBIs, a double and a three-run homer, which he hit in Detroit's 8-6 win in Game 4. ... Oakland 2B Alberto Callaspo made his first start of the series, replacing Eric Sogard, who 0-for-9 in the first four games. ... Former A's right-hander Dave Stewart, the MVP of the 1989 World Series, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.