Tigers’ fortunes hinge on Justin Verlander

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Justin Verlander’s Game 1 start against the A’s was easily the best of his postseason career. In allowing one run  over seven innings, he picked up his fourth win in nine starts and lowered his October ERA from 5.57 to 4.96.

Now one wonders if he might need to be even better in Thursday’s decisive Game 5.

The Tigers simply aren’t doing much scoring. They’ve totaled 11 runs while splitting the first four games against the A’s. Three of those came on Oakland errors. In all, they’ve had eight extra-base hits, which is the same number the Giants had against the Reds on Wednesday alone.

Add to that the fact that the eighth and ninth inning guys have been a mess. Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde have combined to allow five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings in the series. They also amassed a 5.59 ERA in 27 1/3 innings during September.

Ideally, Verlander will just go the full nine in outdueling rookie Jarrod Parker. He’s never done it in the postseason, but he had six complete games during the regular season this year.

Anything less and the Tigers are in big trouble. It seems nearly unfathomable that the A’s will rough up Verlander, but as we’ve seen the last two days, they don’t need to do much scoring to win.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).