(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Have you heard the phrase do or die used yet? Well, that's what happens when Game 5 rolls around in the American League Division Series. The Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics will square off at 8:07 tonight in northern California (TBS), with the winner advancing to play the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS.
Some of our experts tell you what to expect tonight:
Tigers 4, Oakland 2: These win-or-else situations are much easier to predict in the NFL and NBA, where momentum and location matter more than in baseball.
The Tigers should win Game 5 because history's on their side. They've won their last two Game 5s in the ALDS - both on the road. They have Justin Verlander returning to the site of his greatest pitching triumph - and this is a man who already had two no-hitters on his resume prior to shutting out Oakland on four hits in the Tigers' 6-0 Game 5 clincher last year.
That night probably is still weighing on the A's minds, as well as the knowledge that Verlander has blanked them for the 16 playoff innings they have faced him at the Oakland Coliseum the last two years.
The A's are fighting against history. They're 1-11 in potential postseason series-winning games since 2000. They're also 1-7 in their last eight playoff series.
I'm picking the Tigers because I think they've learned something from Game 2 against Oakland starter Sonny Gray. The Tigers made it easy for the rookie to overpower them through eight shutout innings. They were overanxious. They must exhibit more patience at the plate tonight. Work the counts a little more and make the rookie make tougher pitches than he did in Game 2.
And that must start in the first inning. Even if the Tigers don't score a run in their opening swings, if they can force Gray to throw 20 or more pitches in that first inning, it would indicate that they're much better prepared for the young man than previously.
A's 4, Tigers 3: It's hard to keep beating the same team in the playoffs every year. So there is that. It's even harder to return a year later with the same pitcher under the same circumstances ... and win again. So there is that, too.
How unlikely is it that we return to Oakland for a Game 5 to watch Justin Verlander try to save the season almost exactly a year later? Well, I'm sure there is an equation to figure that out. There is no algebra, however, to tell you what will happen tonight. Thankfully, you've got me.
And I have no idea.
But here's my best guess: That A's rookie starter, Sonny Gray, won't shut out the Tigers as he did in Game 2, but also that Verlander won't blank Oakland, as he did a year ago. That Coco Crisp will reach base but not every time he steps into the box, that Torii Hunter will break from his mini-slump, that Victor Martinez finds a gap, that Miguel Cabrera does, too, but doesn't make it to second base.
I see a 3-3 game into the ninth before Oakland squeaks across a run to finally beat the Tigers. After that, I see lots of complaining. There shouldn't be. The A's are a very good team, good enough to be one run better.
Tigers 2, A's 1: The game starts off with Sonny Gray pitching fantastically against the Tigers. Nobody can hit his nasty curveball. But Justin Verlander is matching the youngster, pitch-for-pitch. Verlander has his old swagger back. And his scruffy beard. And his pinpoint control.
Through five innings, it's a perfect game. Both ways. At one point, Victor Martinez is standing in the batter's box and screams, "What did you say to me?"
Gray screams back, "Nothing sir. I just wanted your autograph. You used to be my favorite player on Xbox!"
The drama is incredible because this looks like one of the greatest pitching duels in playoff history.
But Coco Crisp breaks up the perfect game in the seventh inning with a single past Miguel Cabrera. And yes, it's a play Miggy could have made before the injury. The ball rolls into leftfield, and Jhonny Peralta tries to track it down, but it looks like he is running in slow motion and he takes a serpentine route to the ball. Crisp spots the mistake and scampers to second. On the next pitch, Crisp steals third. Then Crisp scores on a perfectly executed suicide squeez down the third baseline, and Cabrera is too slow to make the play.
In the ninth inning, Martinez singles to break up Gray's no-hitter. Up comes Peralta. The guy who was suspended for 50 games. The guy who flubbed the play in leftfield. The guy who is playing in this game only because of his bat. And he jacks a two-run homer, as the Tigers take the lead. Joaquin Benoit comes in relief. He loads the bases, as half of Detroit passes out from the stress. But he gets out of it and the Tigers win.
A's 3, Tigers 2: My left brain is telling me not to pick against Justin Verlander. My right brain is telling me not to pick against Justin Verlander. My friend Joe, last night, told me not to pick against Justin Verlander.
But my gut is telling me to pick against Justin Verlander.
The A's will win. They will win the game, 3-2, they will win the series, 3-2, and they will win it in much the same fashion they won Game 2 at the O.co Coliseum.
Verlander will pitch solidly but not spectacularly. Oakland will string together enough hits to score runs off of the Tigers' righty, and their workmanlike approaches at the plate will pay off and get him out of the game after the sixth inning.
A's rookie Sonny Gray will pitch solidly but not spectacularly. The Tigers will score against him - they won't look like rookies facing a veteran like they did in Game 2 - and his high pitch count will get him out much sooner than it did in that game.
It will be a close game late, and it's close games that the A's are built to win.
The A's will score the winning run against the Tigers' bullpen, the Tigers won't score any runs off the A's bullpen, and their inability to manufacture runs late will once again loom large as (insert batter here) pops out in a hitter's count with two outs and two runners on against Oakland closer Grant Balfour in the ninth inning.
The struggling Josh Donaldson will get a big hit, the struggling Prince Fielder will not get that big hit, and another year of the Tigers' World Series window of opportunity will be lost.
My friend Joe thinks I am wrong.
Detroit Free Press