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Justin Verlander back in form at the perfect time for Tigers

  • Detroit Tigers pitcher Joaquin Benoit (53) is congratulated by starting pitcher Justin Verlander, right, and catcher Alex Avila after the Tigers beat the Oakland Athletics 3-0 to win Game 5 of an American League baseball division series in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

DETROIT — A season's worth of tinkering finally paid off for Justin Verlander.

For months, the Detroit right-hander insisted he was on the verge of finding the MVP form that had deserted him — and although that appeared to be a false hope for a while, Verlander was at his best when the Tigers needed him most. For a second straight season, Verlander delivered in Game 5 of the AL division series, eliminating Oakland with an eight-inning masterpiece Thursday night and sending Detroit to its third straight championship series.

"Knowing from jump street that things weren't right this year, I battled and was making end-game and mid-game adjustments, throwing multiple bullpens," Verlander said. "You don't want to think about it too much, but it's hard to do when you're trying to find something to make it click. But it was a good time to find it here this last month."

Oakland A's vs. Detroit Tigers ALDS Game 5

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A year after winning the American League pennant, the Tigers will face Boston in the ALCS. The last time Verlander faced the Red Sox was in June. He lasted only five innings while his ERA jumped to 3.90.

It was certainly an uncharacteristic season for the 2011 AL Most Valuable Player. He went 13-12, and the Tigers lost almost all of his no-decisions. Detroit went 14-20 in Verlander's starts, and he was overshadowed by teammate Max Scherzer, who went 21-3 and is a favorite to take this year's AL Cy Young Award.

Manager Jim Leyland picked Scherzer to start the postseason opener — a move endorsed publicly by Verlander — but after Detroit fell behind in the series, Scherzer was needed in relief in Game 4. That left Verlander to pitch Thursday's winner-take-all finale.

A year ago, he shut out the A's in Game 5 of the division series, and this was almost a carbon copy. Verlander allowed two hits in eight innings, striking out 10 in Detroit's 3-0 win.

"He always rises to the occasion," Scherzer said. "You knew Game 5 he was going to bring it. He's just so nasty. His fastball, his off-speed stuff ... it's remarkable."

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