It started with a lucky bounce and ended with the Tigers knocking around C.J. Wilson to stave off elimination and force a Game 6 with a 7-5 victory.
Texas missed a big opportunity to break the game open with the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning, as Ian Kinsler helped Justin Verlander wriggle out of a jam by grounding the first pitch he saw to third base for an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the inning Miguel Cabrera’s grounder to third base looked likely to become a double play as well, but instead the ball hit the bag and bounced over Adrian Beltre’s head for a run-scoring double. And then the floodgates opened, as Victor Martinez tripled past a diving Nelson Cruz in right field and Delmon Young crushed his second homer of the game–and fifth of the postseason.
Two ground balls to third base in the same inning having such wildly different outcomes may ultimately have decided the game, although things also would have been much different had Beltre not narrowly missed a three-run homer that would have given the Rangers a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning. Twice during the same at-bat, in fact, as his opposite-field drive off Verlander’s triple-digit fastball went foul by a few feet and then his 400-foot blast to straightaway center field came up just short of the wall.
Even with those breaks going Detroit’s way things still got interesting when Verlander coughed up a two-run homer to Cruz on his 133rd pitch and then again when Phil Coke allowed the tying run to reach base in the ninth inning. Jim Leyland said before the game that setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde were unavailable after pitching in three straight games and he was true to his word, sticking with Coke even against the right-handed middle of the Rangers’ lineup as righties Brad Penny and Ryan Perry threw in the bullpen.
It worked–just barely–and now the highly entertaining ALCS is headed back to Texas. And the Tigers may want to bring third base with them or at least vote the bag a full playoff share.