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Rounding Third: All eyes on Verlander

By Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Justin Verlander is no longer the pitcher he was. He's no longer dominant. Max Scherzer is now the ace of the Detroit Tigers.

Verlander has heard it all this season, and rightfully so.

The former American League Cy Young Award and MVP winner endured arguably the worst season of his career, as he was 13-12 and finished the year with his highest ERA (3.46), lowest strikeout rate (23.5 percent) and lowest innings total (218 1/3) since 2008 and battled through reduced velocity.

In fact, by his own admission, he struggled to find himself all year.

But on Thursday, Verlander can put a season's worth of frustration behind him, as he takes the ball for the Tigers in the decisive fifth game of the American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics.

"It's not just another game," Verlander said. "The season is on the line. The whole season, the way we battled and played as a team, comes down to one game. May the best team win. You can't treat it like another game, you know. It's a little bit different. There is more to it. It's going to be fun. It's what you play the game for. It's exciting. This is what you dream of as a kid, to be on the mound in a clinching game."

If it seems like we've been here before, well, we have. Verlander, of course, was in this exact same position last year and struck out 11 A's in a shutout to move the Tigers forward. He was equally as dominant against Oakland in Game 2 on Saturday, as he again fanned 11 and allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings in his team's 1-0 loss.

But, as marvelous as Verlander was in that game and despite his remarkable resume, Tigers manager Jim Leyland had intended to go with Scherzer should there be a Game 5.

It was almost a win-win for Leyland. On the one hand you have Verlander and the other you have Scherzer, who is the front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award this season after winning an MLB-best 21 games and pitching to a league-low 0.970 WHIP.

But Leyland had to call on Scherzer out of the bullpen in Game 4, leaving Verlander as the go-to-guy in the winner-take-all showdown on Thursday.

"We used a 21-game winner out of the bullpen and now we can pitch a Cy Young winner in his place," marveled Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson. "How many teams could do that?"

You can probably make the argument that the Tigers are better off to be in the position they are. As good as Scherzer was this year, Verlander is still Verlander, especially with the way he's pitched of late.

Verlander was, of course, magnificent in Game 2, but he had shown signs leading up to that start of being the shutdown pitcher he has been throughout his career, as he pitched to a 2.27 ERA over his final six starts of the regular season.

"I think it's just some of the adjustments I made, one of the maybe a thousand that I tried to make this year," he said. "It was definitely a grind all year. Then it reached a point where I realized it was going to take awhile, that it wasn't going to be one thing I had to fix."

Verlander, though, doesn't even get a chance at this game had it not been for Scherzer. The hard-throwing righty came on in relief of Doug Fister in the seventh inning on Tuesday and promptly allowed the A's to take a one-run lead.

The Tigers responded with two runs in their half of the seventh, but Scherzer appeared ready to give it right back, as he loaded the bases in the eighth before recording an out.

"I've seen him fired up," catcher Alex Avila said. "That's why I gave him that nickname, 'Mad Max.' It's when he goes to an enthusiasm level when he needs it -- and the situation called for it."

Scherzer then showed why he was the best pitcher in the AL this season, as he bore down and struck out both Josh Reddick and Stephen Vogt, then ran a full count against Alberto Callaspo before getting the pinch-hitter on a line drive to center field to end the threat.

"To be able to get out of that jam, I mean, that's something I'll never forget," Scherzer said. "That's something I'm not really asked to do, and tonight I was."

The Tigers tacked on three runs after that and escaped with an 8-6 win to force the fifth game.

And with that, fate turned to Verlander.

Not all that bad of a scenario if you root for the Tigers.

10/09 09:43:18 ET

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
NOR 6
DUR 3
 
Final
MIA 99
CHA 88
12:05pm Today
NOR
DUR
 
Final
CLE 6
TOR 4
Final
DET 2
ANA 1
Final
NYM 4
ATL 3
Final
MIA 3
SEA 2
Final
PIT 2
MIL 3
Final
WAS 3
STL 2
Final
TAM 1
NYY 5
Final
KAN 3
MIN 8
Final
CHC 2
CIN 8
Final
TEX 2
CWS 16
Final
OAK 4
HOU 1
Final
LOS 4
ARI 1
Final
COL 9
PHI 10
Final
SDP 3
SFG 4
Final
BOS 6
BAL 5
11:05am Today
BOS
BAL
 
7:05pm Tonight
PIT
CIN
 
7:05pm Tonight
CLE
KAN
 
7:05pm Tonight
WAS
ANA
 
7:08pm Tonight
DET
CWS
 
7:10pm Tonight
ATL
MIA
 
7:10pm Tonight
NYM
STL
 
8:05pm Tonight
CHC
ARI
 
8:10pm Tonight
MIL
SDP
 
8:40pm Tonight
COL
SFG
 
10:05pm Tonight
OAK
TEX
 
10:10pm Tonight
SEA
HOU
 
10:10pm Tonight
LOS
PHI
 
Final
SAN 90
DAL 85
Final
MIA 99
CHA 88
Final
CHI 93
WAS 102
Final
HOU 120
POR 122
8:00pm Tonight
OKC
MEM
10:30pm Tonight
LAC
GSW
Final
NYR 2
PHI 4
Final
BOS 4
DET 1
Final
MON 3
TAM 2
Final
SJS 7
LOS 2
7:00pm Tonight
MIN
COL
7:00pm Tonight
CLB
PIT
8:30pm Tonight
CHI
STL
9:30pm Tonight
DAL
ANA
Final
NOR 6
DUR 3
 
12:05pm Today
NOR
DUR