Tigers 6, Athletics 0
OAKLAND, Calif. - Justin Verlander struck out 11 in a four-hitter to send the Detroit Tigers back to the AL championship series, beating the Oakland Athletics, 6-0, in the decisive Game 5 of their division series Thursday night.
After squandering two chances to clinch the series, including blowing a two-run ninth-inning lead in Game 4, Verlander became Detroit's ultimate closer.
The Tigers will face either the New York Yankees or Baltimore Orioles, tied at 2-all heading into their Game 5 on Friday night in New York. Game 1 of the ALCS is scheduled for Saturday.
Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and MVP, was so sharp nobody in the bullpen ever got up to throw. He struck out 22 in his wins on both ends of this nail-biting series.
Nationals 2, Cardinals 1
WASHINGTON - Lance Lynn needed only a few words to describe a 13-pitch at-bat.
"Three-two heater. He beat me."
There were more questions for the St. Louis Cardinals reliever, of course, but the answers were more or less the same. He went mano-a-mano with Jayson Werth in the bottom of the ninth inning of a playoffs game, losing the battle when the Washington leadoff hitter put the baker's dozen offering off the back wall of the visitor's dugout beyond left field.
"Everyone in the stadium knew what I was throwing there," Lynn said. "Tip your cap to him. The guy can play, and he beat me."
The Nationals' 2-1 win Thursday in Game 4 kept the Cardinals from clinching the NL division series, and now there will be a decisive Game 5 in Washington on Friday. It'll be hard to top this one - with Werth going strike, strike, ball, ball, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, ball and foul before launching the hit that had him circling the bases, tossing his helmet high and leaping into a pile of teammates at home plate.
"He battled that whole at-bat, and I was making good pitches, making my pitches, and you know, he won," Lynn said. "It was just a matter of time. I was challenging him, and he was up for it."
It's the kind of the playoff moment all at Nationals Park will remember for a long time. The tension was building with each of the 13 pitches, the sellout crowd ready to explode.
"I guess for the pitcher and the hitter, the pressure on them have to be unbelievable," Cardinals star Carlos Beltran said. "Because Werth is battling, and our pitcher's trying to get him out. He ended up winning that battle right there, but we have one more day."
The Cardinals wasted a stellar effort by Kyle Lohse, who allowed just two hits over seven innings with five strikeouts and a walk, his only miscue coming on Adam LaRoche's dead-center homer in the second.
Mitchell Boggs handled the eighth, and rookie manager Mike Matheny opted to go with Lynn — a starter relegated to the bullpen for this series — rather than closer Jason Motte with the score tied in the ninth.
"If we were at home, it would have been a very easy decision to bring in Motte," Matheny said. "We are looking at a team that had every save of our season by Jason Motte, and we take a lead there at any point (in extra innings), you're asking one of our guys, especially one of our young guys, who have never been in that situation to come in and close out a game, and that's a lot to ask.
"Had a lot of confidence in Lance. He came in throwing the ball well. Werth just put together a very good at-bat."
The Cardinals had scored a combined 20 runs in Games 2 and 3, but they managed only one unearned tally against Nationals starter Ross Detwiler. Pete Kozma circled the bases in the second inning by way of a walk, a sacrifice bunt, a booted grounder by shortstop Ian Desmond and a sacrifice fly.
Detwiler allowed three hits over six innings - the type of performance Washington needed after Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Edwin Jackson were far from their best in Games 1-3.
It got worse for the Cardinals against the Nationals' relievers. Zimmerman, the Game 2 loser, struck out the side in the seventh in his first career relief appearance, and Tyler Clippard also notched three Ks in the eighth. Drew Storen got two more strikeouts in the ninth before Desmond ended the inning with a nice, stumble-to-the-ground catch of a deep popup by pinch hitter Matt Carpenter.
Although St. Louis is a wild-card team facing the club with the best record in baseball in the regular season, the intangibles should belong to the visitors Friday. While nearly to a man — Werth being an exception — the young Nationals are new to this sort of thing, the Cardinals have quite the postseason pedigree: Over the past two years, St. Louis is 5-0 in games where it faces elimination, including must-have victories in Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers.
"We've got a lot of veterans in this clubhouse that have been in big spots before and have lost games and know how to bounce back," second baseman Daniel Descalso said. "We've done a good job of that lately, and we're going to try to do it again tomorrow."
On the mound will be Adam Wainwright, a 14-game winner who was a spectator during last year's title run while recovering from elbow reconstruction surgery.
"Of course I wish we would have won tonight, but you know what? This is every pitcher's dream, I would say," said Wainwright, who pitched well in Game 1 of this series but didn't get the decision. "Every competitor's dream is to go in huge moments like that, so I look forward to the challenge."
Giants 6, Reds 4
CINCINNATI - Not just any comeback would get San Francisco back to playing for a pennant. It would take one of Giant proportions.
And Buster Posey believed it could happen. Even after the Giants left the West Coast down two games, the National League batting champion insisted his team could pull it off, despite the long odds.
With one swing, he got everyone else believing it, too.
Posey hit the third grand slam in Giants' postseason history on Thursday, and San Francisco pulled off an unprecedented revival, moving into the championship series with a 6-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
"You don't want to be in a lose-and-you're-out scenario," reliever Jeremy Affeldt said, wearing a brace on his left wrist so he didn't hurt it in the champagne-flavored clubhouse celebration. "We've been in that situation for three days. We're probably going to sleep well tonight."
They'll play either Washington or St. Louis for the NL pennant, Sunday, not caring at all who they face.
"We could go up against anybody at any time," shortstop Brandon Crawford said. "Being down, 2-0, and coming back and winning three at their place, it's an unbelievable feeling."
Game 1 of the NL championship series will be Sunday, either in Washington against the Nationals or in San Francisco vs. the Cardinals. In the meantime, the Giants will stay in Cincinnati until their next opponent is determined Friday night when the Cards and Nats play Game 5.
The Giants became the first NL team to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the division series, which began in 1995. Major League Baseball's changed playoff format this season allowed them to become the first to take a best-of-five by winning the last three on the road.
Posey's second career grand slam off Mat Latos put the Giants up, 6-0, in the fifth and sparked a joyous scrum in the San Francisco dugout. The ball smacked off the front of the upper deck in left field, just above Latos' name on the video board.
For the first time in the series, the Giants could exhale.
"I don't think anybody gave up," Posey said.
Will Clark, in the 1989 NLCS, and Chuck Hiller, in the 1962 World Series, hit the other Giants slams in the postseason.
Matt Cain and the bullpen held on, with more help from Posey. The All-Star catcher threw out Jay Bruce at third base to snuff out a sixth-inning rally that cut it to 6-3. The Giants had a pair of diving catches that preserved the lead in the eighth.
There was more drama in the ninth. Ryan Ludwick singled home a run off Sergio Romo. With two runners aboard, Romo fanned Scott Rolen to end it.
The Giants raised their arms, hugged and huddled by the side of the mound, bouncing in unison.
"It was a spectacular moment," outfielder Hunter Pence said.
In Cincinnati, the home-field meltdown had a sickeningly familiar feeling. The Reds haven't won a home playoff game in 17 years. After taking the first two on the West Coast, all they needed was one more at home, where they hadn't dropped three straight all season.
"You get tired of the disappointments, but then you get over it," manager Dusty Baker said. "It hurts big-time."
Once Posey connected, the Reds were the ones facing a steep comeback. They've never overcome a six-run deficit in the playoffs, according to STATS LLC.
Couldn't do it this time, either.
"Buster Posey's swing was a series-changer," said Reds star Joey Votto, standing on second base when the game ended. "That made it very difficult to come back. You know they're going to throw the kitchen sink at us."
The Giants never trailed in any of their three postseason series when they won it all in 2010. They beat the Braves, 3-1, in the division series, knocked out the Phillies, 4-2, for the NL title, then took four of five from Texas for their sixth World Series title and their first since they moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958.
They really had to scramble this season to get another shot at it.
The bullpen took a huge hit when closer Brian Wilson blew out his elbow, and that was just the start. All-Star game MVP Melky Cabrera got a 50-game suspension in August after a positive testosterone test, taking a .346 hitter out of their lineup. The Giants have decided not to bring him back, even though he's eligible to return for the NL championship series.
Two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum pitched so poorly - 15 losses - that he got relegated to the bullpen for the division series.
And don't forget that Posey was coming off a broken leg that wiped out most of his 2011 season, making a great comeback of his own.
"Unreal," Romo said, with champagne dripping off his scraggly beard. "That guy's definitely the MVP of our team. We believe he's the MVP of the league. We wouldn't be here without him, that's for dang sure. He's the one that's been the face of the team all season long. What a great story with all he's been through last year."
The Reds won't forget the first inning of the series, when everything changed. Ace Johnny Cueto pulled muscles in his right side and had to leave the game. He wound up getting dropped from the playoff roster because of the injury.
Latos pulled them through that opening game, pitching in relief on short rest for a 5-2 win. Latos came to Cincinnati from the Padres at a high price - pitcher Edinson Volquez and three former high draft picks - and with a clear purpose in the offseason. He was expected to take them to the next level.
The right-hander allowed three hits through the first four innings, then fell apart in the fifth. Crawford had an RBI triple and scored on rookie shortstop Zack Cozart's error. A four-pitch walk and a single loaded the bases for Posey.
As soon as he connected, Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan stood and turned away, unable to watch the ball head for the seats.
Cincinnati's 17-year history of playoff futility was about to go on.
Orioles 2, Yankees 1 (13 innings)
NEW YORK - With midnight approaching, the Baltimore Orioles' bats awoke one more time.
Now they have a last shot to finally overtake the New York Yankees.
J.J. Hardy hit an RBI double in the 13th inning and Baltimore bounced back from a demoralizing loss to outlast the Yankees, 2-1, Thursday night, forcing a deciding Game 5 in the AL division series.
After splitting 22 games this year, it all comes down this: a winner-take-all game for a spot in the AL championship series against Detroit.
Game 1 winner CC Sabathia was set to pitch the deciding game for the Yankees against Jason Hammel.
The Orioles were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position until Hardy doubled off David Phelps with one out to score Manny Machado, who had doubled.
Phelps had relieved in the 12th after Joba Chamberlain was hit by a flying broken bat, forcing him to leave with a bruised right elbow.
Jim Johnson bounced back from allowing Raul Ibanez's pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning Wednesday to earn his second save in the series with a perfect 13th.
Hours after learning Joe Girardi had kept quiet that his father died last Saturday, the Yankees couldn't rally late. This time, Girardi called upon Eric Chavez to pinch hit for slumping Alex Rodriguez. He lined out to third base to end it.
Baltimore's win pushed all four division series to five games for the first time since the round began in 1995.
The Orioles have been pursuing the Yankees all season, cutting a 10-game deficit in July to zero in early September. Baltimore and New York were tied 10 times atop the East in the final month but the Yankees wrapped up the division on the final night of the regular season.
After dropping Game 1 , the Orioles rebounded with another one-run win in a season in which they had the best record in the majors in such games at 29-9. But they lost in stunning fashion in 12 innings Wednesday night, when Ibanez homered twice in his two at-bats after pinch-hitting for Rodriguez.
The team that caught the Yankees in September didn't rattle, though.
They came right back Thursday for their first win in extras against the Yankees this year. They also lost twice to New York in extra innings before going on a run of 16 straight wins after the ninth inning.
It wasn't easy, though. Nate McLouth homered off Phil Hughes to start the fifth, but Baltimore wasted three shots with a runner on third base in the first four innings. They struggled against New York's bullpen.
Matt Wieters knocked Chamberlain out of the game with a broken-bat single to lead off the 12th inning that struck his surgically repaired right elbow. Fans sat silent as Chamberlain bent over in pain. He was checked out by trainer Steve Donahue and Girardi.
Chamberlain tested the elbow with three pitches before walking off the field. X-rays were negative.
Many of the Orioles gathered near their bat rack in the dugout for an impromptu cheer before the 13th and Machado then led off with a double.
One out later, Hardy hit a one-bouncer off the wall in left field for his first RBI of the series.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter professed confidence in the 51-save Johnson before the game. He backed it up by calling on him — the seventh Baltimore reliever — for his fourth appearance of the series. He lost the opener after giving up five runs in the ninth and sandwiched saves around his trying homer to Ibanez.
The Yankees held a moment of silence for Girardi's dad, Jerry, who died Saturday at 81 and had a long bout with Alzheimer's. Joe Girardi stood alone in front of the Yankees dugout and wiped his eyes afterward. He blew a kiss to someone in the stands, then fist bumped several coaches and players.
Facing elimination for the second time this postseason, Showalter turned again to Joe Saunders. Acquired by Baltimore on Aug. 26 from Arizona, Saunders pitched 5 2-3 innings of one-run ball in the wild-card win over Texas.
He was just as crafty against New York, engaging with Phil Hughes in a duel of who could get out of the tougher jam.
The Yankees put a runner on in every inning against Saunders but failed to scored until the sixth.
Derek Jeter lined an outside pitch to right field for a leadoff double in sixth, showing no ill effects of a bruised left foot that kept him from playing shortstop in the postseason for the first time in his career.
He advanced on Ichiro Suzuki's sacrifice and scored on Robinson Cano's grounder to second. Showalter then lifted Saunders for right-hander Tommy Hunter to face Rodriguez. A-Rod struck out to loud boos and tossed his bat.