Justin Verlander saved the Tigers' season Thursday night with another stellar performance against the Rangers in Game 5 of the ALCS.
DETROIT -- One moment, Justin Verlander and the Tigers were on the verge of watching their season slip away.
After a double play and a lucky bounce, they were headed back to Texas.
Verlander helped save Detroit's season with a gutsy effort and the Tigers hit for a sudden cycle to break away in a 7-5 victory Thursday that cut the Rangers' lead to 3-2 in the AL championship series.
Delmon Young hit two of Detroit's four homers and Miguel Cabrera had a tiebreaking double in the sixth inning -- thanks to a bizarre bounce off third base.
"I have that bag in my office right now. And that will be in my memorabilia room at some point in my life, I can promise you," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
After building a five-run cushion, Detroit held on despite Nelson Cruz's record fifth home run of the series. With closer Jose Valverde unavailable for the Tigers, Texas cut it to 7-5 in the ninth and had Cruz on deck when Phil Coke retired Mike Napoli on a game-ending groundout with two runners on.
Coke got five outs for his first career postseason save.
"Cokie came through for us," Leyland said. "A little different situation for him obviously, but he was up to the challenge."
The Rangers get another chance to reach the World Series for the second straight season in Game 6 Saturday night at home. Derek Holland will start for Texas against Max Scherzer.
A swift turn of events in the sixth helped Detroit pull ahead. The Tigers turned a bases-loaded double play to keep the score tied at 2, then opened the bottom half with a single, double, triple and homer -- in order -- to take a 6-2 lead.
It was the first time four consecutive batters on one team hit for a "natural" cycle in a postseason game, according to STATS LLC.
The Rangers were the ones who seemed on the verge of breaking the game open in the sixth, loading the bases with one out. But then Ian Kinsler hit a grounder right to third baseman Brandon Inge, who merely had to step on the bag and throw to first for a double play.
"We had him right there in the sixth. He got out of it," Texas manager Ron Washington said. "We missed a home run by inches, and they opened the game up by inches. Got a groundball double play, hits the bag, and from that point on, you know, boom, bam. Put up four runs."
Ryan Raburn led off the bottom half with a single, and what looked to be a routine grounder by Cabrera bounced high off third base and down the line, putting Detroit ahead 3-2.
"We were lucky, but we need lucky times right now," Cabrera said. "Hopefully we're lucky Saturday."
Victor Martinez followed with a rare triple down the right-field line, scoring another run, and Young added a two-run homer.
Raburn homered in the seventh to make it 7-2.
After using Valverde and Joaquin Benoit for three straight days, Leyland announced before Game 5 that neither reliever would be available. He was hoping to make it through the day with just Verlander and Coke, and that's exactly what happened.
"Well, it's what we said before the game. So it gave everybody a chance to get all their second-guessing ready about it," Leyland said. "That's just the way it had to be today. We talked about it before the game and we did exactly what we felt we had to do to give ourselves any chance to win the series."
Verlander allowed four runs and eight hits in 7 1-3 innings, throwing a career-high 133 pitches. He struck out eight and walked three.
"I want the ball. I want to go as deep as possible," Verlander said. "It was a battle for me, all night."
Verlander reached 100 mph on the stadium radar gun with pitch No. 133. Cruz, however, caught up to that fastball and sent it down the left-field line for a two-run homer, chasing Verlander and setting a record for homers in a league championship series.
"He struck me out twice with curveballs, so I was glad he threw me a fastball, even if it was 100 (mph)," Cruz said. "I think I might have had streaks like this in the minors, maybe, but I've never hit this many homers this fast in the majors."
Cruz became the fifth player to hit five homers in a postseason series. Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr., Juan Gonzalez and Chase Utley were the others.
Verlander left the game after Cruz's homer, raising his glove to acknowledge the cheering fans.
"I don't like to do that in the middle of a ballgame, but when they show their support that way, you can't help but give them a little tip of the cap or a wave or something," Verlander said. "They've been tremendous all year."
After winning 24 games and leading the American League in ERA and strikeouts, Verlander hadn't had much of a chance to shine this postseason. Two of his first three playoff starts were ended early by rain delays.
He didn't have to worry about that Thursday. Game 5 began under a cloudy sky with the sun peeking through over Comerica Park, and the threatening sky later didn't amount to anything until a misty rain began to fall over the field -- after the game was over.
This time, the Rangers were Verlander's biggest obstacle. With two strikes on Kinsler in the first, Verlander went to his sweeping breaking ball, and the Texas second baseman pulled it to left field for a double. After going to third on a groundout by Elvis Andrus, Kinsler came home on Josh Hamilton's sacrifice fly to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.
"I kind of haven't had my rhythm," Verlander said.
Texas starter C.J. Wilson was sharp at the start, retiring his first seven batters.
Alex Avila tied it with an opposite-field homer to left in the third. The Detroit catcher has taken a beating behind the plate all year and has had a miserable postseason, going 2 of 33 before the homer.
Young was actually left off Detroit's ALCS roster because of an injury, but he returned before Game 2 after Magglio Ordonez re-fractured his ankle. Young's homer over the fence in left-center gave Detroit a 2-1 lead in the fourth.
Hamilton's RBI single in the fifth tied the game at 2.
"This has been a tremendous, tremendous series in my opinion," Leyland said.
Wilson, a left-hander who has struggled in three playoff starts this year, was done in by Detroit's rally in the sixth and came out after that inning. He allowed six runs and eight hits, striking out five and walking two.
With two outs in the ninth, Hamilton doubled and Michael Young drove him home with a single that made it 7-5. After a walk to Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli grounded into a forceout, sending the series back to Texas.
"The Detroit Tigers are here for a reason. Tonight their backs were against the wall. They did what they had to do -- catching a break included," Washington said. "Now we go home. We still feel good about ourselves."
NOTES: According to STATS, the last pitcher to throw 133 pitches in the playoffs was Mark Prior of the Chicago Cubs, who threw the same number in a 2003 NL division series game against Atlanta. ... Delmon Young has five homers in the AL playoffs. He hit three during the division series against the New York Yankees. ... Avila hit only three of his 19 homers during the regular season off left-handers. ... There were a few empty seats visible when the teams took the field for the late-afternoon start.
ST. LOUIS -- All those clutch hits by Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals disappeared Thursday night.
Randy Wolf flummoxed the Cardinals with pitches that were slow, slower and slowest, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to a 4-2 victory that tied the NL championship series 2-all.
St. Louis scored 22 runs in the first 19 innings of the playoff series, including four in the first inning Wednesday. Though shut out through the rest of the way, the Cardinals held on to win 4-3 in Game 3.
But after solo homers put St. Louis up 2-0 through three innings Thursday, the Cardinals couldn't put anything together. They were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and failed twice to get a man home from third with less than two outs.
Wolf baffled them with a changeup clocked consistently around 65 mph.
"We had a couple of chances to add a run and Wolf made outstanding pitches," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "These are productive guys. He just made really good pitches."
Milwaukee ended an eight-game road losing streak in the postseason dating to the 1982 World Series opener at St. Louis.
Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia faces Zack Greinke for the second time in the series in Game 5 on Friday night. Either way, the best-of-seven NLCS will be decided back at Miller Park.
"It feels good to know that we're at least going to get to go back home," said Ryan Braun, who singled home the go-ahead run in the fifth.
Pujols, who was 6 for 7 with two intentional walks the previous two games, went 1 for 4 with a harmless single in the fifth.
Yadier Molina came up three times with runners in scoring position and made outs each time, grounding out with two on in the third, lining out to center with a man on second for the first out in the sixth and striking out with a runner on second to end the eighth.
Since the first inning of Wednesday's game, the Cardinals are 0 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
Another so-so starting pitching performance didn't help. After solo homers by Matt Holliday in the second and Allen Craig in the third gave St. Louis the lead, Kyle Lohse couldn't hold it, allowing three runs in 4 1-3 innings to take the loss.
Wolf went seven innings for his first postseason win at age 35. He allowed six hits, struck out six and walked one.
The Cardinals couldn't capitalize on their few opportunities. After Holliday's homer they had runners on first and third with one out in the second, but Jon Jay's chopper to first failed to score the run and Lohse struck out.
In the sixth, Holliday led off with a double and went to third on Molina's liner. But Ryan Theriot struck out and Jay flied out to center.
Francisco Rodriguez allowed a hit in the eighth and John Axford finished for his second save of the series and third this postseason.
Jerry Hairston Jr. doubled twice with an RBI and Wolf hit one of the Brewers' five doubles. Braun is batting .471 (16 for 34) in the postseason with two homers and nine RBIs.
The Cardinals needed more heavy duty from their bullpen, too, after Lohse, pitching on 12 days' rest, failed to make it out of the fifth.
Wolf kept the Cardinals off balance with soft tosses and retired 13 of his last 15 hitters in his fourth career postseason start. It was a huge improvement from Game 4 of the NL division series at Arizona in which he allowed seven runs in three innings.
Wolf also struggled in his last two regular-season starts, allowing 10 runs in 11 2-3 innings.
For the fourth straight game, the Cardinals had to lean heavily on their relievers. Lohse sailed through three innings and then allowed three doubles and three runs to his last eight hitters.
St. Louis relievers have worked 17 1-3 innings in the series.
Two of La Russa's moves paid off. Bumped down one spot to fifth, Holliday hit his first postseason homer and doubled.
Craig started in place of Lance Berkman, who was 3 for 32 lifetime against Wolf and had a minor right thigh bruise from getting hit by a pitch in Game 3. Craig's first career postseason homer made it 2-0 in the third.
The Brewers tied it in the fourth with their first runs since the third inning of Game 3 on doubles by Prince Fielder and Jerry Hairston Jr. and an RBI single by Yuniesky Betancourt.
Lohse was pulled after Nyjer Morgan doubled to start the fifth and advanced on a groundout, the middle of the order coming up. Braun's single off Mitchell Boggs put the Brewers in front, although Theriot's sprawling stop at second transformed Fielder's smash into an inning-ending double play.
Rickie Weeks singled and Hairston doubled again to open the sixth, and the Brewers soon had a two-run cushion. George Kottaras hit a grounder against a drawn-in infield off Arthur Rhodes, and Theriot bobbled the ball on a short hop for an error.
The Cardinals' streak of scoring in the first inning ended at five games when they went down in order against Wolf, but they hurt the left-hander with opposite-field power the next two innings.
Wolf fell behind in the count to six of his first 14 hitters and the Cardinals were 4 for 5 with two homers, a double, a single and a walk.
NOTES: Injured Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright caught the ceremonial first ball for the second straight game, this time from former Cardinals CF Jim Edmonds, accompanied by a young son who also made a throw. ... Plate umpire Mike Everitt got stung in the upper right arm area by a foul ball off the bat of Rafael Furcal but stayed in the game. ... Mark Kotsay started in RF in place of Corey Hart, 2 for 17 against Lohse. ... The longest of Wolf's three previous preseason starts was 5 1-3 innings with the Dodgers on Oct. 19, 2009, at Philadelphia. ... An Anheuser-Busch wagon pulled by Clydesdales and loaded with baseballs made a circuit around the warning track during the pregame ceremonies.