MLB Postseason Wrap: Tigers advance to ALCS

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MLB Postseason Wrap: Tigers advance to ALCS

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Justin Verlander pitched another Game 5 gem in Oakland while carrying a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, and Miguel Cabrera homered to lead the Detroit Tigers past the Athletics 3-0 Thursday night and back into the AL championship series.

Joaquin Benoit retired Seth Smith on a fly ball with two on in the ninth to close out the deciding game of their division series. The Tigers became the first team to reach the ALCS in three straight years since the New York Yankees from 1998-2001.

Game 1 is Saturday in Boston. The Tigers went 4-3 against the Red Sox this year. They have never faced each other in the postseason.

Verlander gave up a clean, two-out single to Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh to end his chance at the third no-hitter in postseason history. The hit hardly fazed him, however.

On a night he allowed only three baserunners, Verlander made it a postseason-record 30 straight scoreless innings against one team since Coco Crisp hit a leadoff home run for the A's in Game 1 last October.

Just 364 days earlier, Verlander tossed a four-hit, 6-0 masterpiece in Game 5 in this very ballpark, a 122-pitch performance for his first career postseason shutout and complete game.

He nearly matched that with a spectacular 111-pitch outing in a rematch of his thrilling pitcher's duel with rookie Sonny Gray five days earlier in Game 2.

Aching slugger Cabrera hit a two-run homer in the fourth off with a drive into the left-field seats for his first homer since Sept. 17 and just his third extra-base hit in 99 at-bats. That ended a 20-inning scoreless streak by the Tigers at the Coliseum.

Gray danced with danger from the start with stuff not nearly as crisp as just five nights before when he matched zeros with the 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner.

This time, Verlander didn't allow a baserunner until Josh Reddick drew a one-out walk in the sixth -- but the no-hit bid remained until Cespedes' single the next inning. The hardest hit ball was a fly to the center-field warning track by Stephen Vogt in the sixth.

Verlander struck out 10 in eight innings, giving him 21 Ks in these two starts. He has 43 strikeouts in his four playoff outings against Oakland the past two years.

The A's saw their season end at the hands of Detroit for the third time in as many postseasons, including in a four-game sweep in the 2006 ALCS.

Oakland has lost its last six winner-take-all Game 5s and fell to 1-12 in potential clinchers since 2000. The A's struck out 57 times for the most in a best-of-five playoff series.

Verlander earned the nod for the decider after Game 1 winner Max Scherzer pitched in relief of an 8-6, season-saving win Game 4 in Detroit. Manager Jim Leyland had no qualms turning again to Verlander, who went 13-12 this season.

When asked before the game about his bullpen availability, Leyland nodded his head and quipped, "Verlander, he's available."

Gray, meanwhile, looked overmatched this time. He wiped his brow and never looked comfortable.

A's manager Bob Melvin went with Gray over 18-game winner and 40-year-old Bartolo Colon, who yielded three first-inning runs to lose Game 1.

These Game 5s becoming awfully familiar for both sides in their recent October rivalry.

Detroit held another clinching party in the visiting clubhouse of the Oakland Coliseum, where a raucous crowd of 46,959 swirled yellow towels until Benoit threw his hands in the air at the final out.

Catcher Alex Avila met Benoit in front of the mound for a long embrace as their teammates quickly joined them -- with cheers of "Let's go Oakland!" still ringing out.

The Tigers came together near the mound for a unique chant in which they squatted in unison and raised their hands in the air.

The 93-win Tigers are determined to take the next step and win a championship after being swept in four games of the 2012 World Series by the San Francisco Giants.

The 23-year-old Gray, pitching to chants of "Sonny! Sonny!" in his 12th career start, returned for the sixth inning at 92 pitches but was done once he allowed consecutive singles to Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta. Omar Infante then drove in the third run with a fielder's choice grounder off Dan Otero.

Along the 880 freeway just outside the Coliseum, a billboard blared: "IT'S ALWAYS SONNY IN THE TOWN." The only thing sunny was the outfield for the early evening start, which had players shielding their eyes to deal with tricky shadows and sun angles. Center field and right field initially played in bright sun.

Rookie starters have lost their last six winner-take-all postseason games since Daisuke Matsuzaka beat Cleveland in the 2007 ALCS for Boston.

Gray's curveball had less break and he never found the same groove that carried him in his playoff debut. It was a breezy Bay Area night and 19 degrees cooler at first pitch than the 82 degrees in a game starting an hour later Saturday night.

This marks another disappointing exit for the low-budget A's, who have baseball's 27th smallest payroll at $71.1 million after having the lowest at $59.5 million last year.

Both managers tweaked their lineups, most notably in the middle infield with Peralta back at shortstop for Detroit and the A's Alberto Callaspo playing second base in his first career postseason start.

Peralta, who served a 50-game suspension until late September for his ties to the Biogenesis clinic accused of distributing performance-enhancing drugs, hit a three-run homer in Game 4 to help extend Detroit's season.

Notes
Verlander tried for just the third no-hitter in postseason history and first since Philadelphia's Roy Halladay no-hit Cincinnati on Oct. 6, 2010. Don Larsen pitched a perfect game for the New York Yankees against Brooklyn in the World Series on Oct. 8, 1956. ... Brandon Moss struck out 13 times in 18 at-bats. Detroit's Austin Jackson fanned 13 times in 20 at-bats.

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Drew Anderson remembers his telephone ringing in November. He remembers hearing Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan congratulate him and tell him that he'd been placed on the team's 40-man roster.

Anderson was elated.

"It was awesome," the right-handed pitcher said the other day.

So awesome that Anderson celebrated in an unusual way.

"I busted out 50 pushups," he said. "I had so much adrenaline."

The internal discussions that teams have when considering which players to protect on the 40-man roster and which ones to risk losing in the Rule 5 draft are often long and detailed and decisions are not always reached easily.

But in Anderson's case ...

"It was not a long conversation," Jordan said. "The feeling was, 'Put him on the roster. Don't lose him. Let's talk about the next guy.'"

"Across the board," minor-league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves said. "And that's not common for a kid that pitched in A-ball."

Anderson, who turns 23 on March 22, will get his first taste of Double A ball in April.

Clearly, the Phillies are high on him.

But how high?

"We've got scouts who will tell you that he might be our best pitching prospect," Jordan said.

Given some of the power arms that the Phils have collected in the low minors, that's quite a statement.

If it seems as if Anderson has flown below the radar since being drafted by the Phillies in 2012 it's because, well, he's done just that.

For a while.

He received little interest from four-year colleges coming out of Galena High School in Reno, Nevada, and was headed to Mesa Community College in Arizona before the Phillies selected him in the 21st round that year.

"My name never really got out there," he said. "Really only the Phillies looked at me. (Area scout) Joey Davis saw me and he said he liked that I had a fluid arm and he liked the way the ball jumped out of my hand. He saw me as a sleeper pick. I just wanted to play ball so I said, 'Yeah, I'll give it a shot.'"

Jordan recalled seeing Anderson pitch at Single A Lakewood early in the 2014 season. Anderson had added strength to his 6-foot-3 frame and his fastball velocity had jumped from 90-92 mph to 93-95 mph.

"It was just a matter of physical maturity, his body getting stronger, and we were really excited," Jordan said.

Anderson did not make it through that season, however. He came down with an elbow injury and the following spring became a statistic — a pitcher who needed Tommy John surgery.

Anderson missed the 2015 season. He came back in May of last year and made 15 starts between Lakewood and Clearwater. At Clearwater, the Phillies' advanced Single A stop, Anderson posted a 1.93 ERA in 32 2/3 innings. He struck out 37 and walked 10.

The rehabilitation process after Tommy John surgery focuses on more than just the elbow. Special attention is paid to the shoulder and the legs. Working under Joe Rauch, the Phillies' minor-league rehab specialist, Anderson gained much strength in those areas and it showed in his fastball velocity last summer.

He got it up to 97 mph.

He also has a good breaking ball and an improving changeup to go with a classic pitcher's body. He has long arms and weighs 205 pounds.

"We just felt some team out there would have taken him even if they had to stash him in the bullpen," said Jordan, expounding on the Phils' decision to add Anderson to the 40-man roster in November. "He's too big an asset."

Anderson is excited about making the jump to Reading this season. He's never pitched more than 76 innings as a pro and now that he's healthy needs to start racking up mound time and experience.

Anderson mentioned how hard he worked this offseason to get ready for his first trip to big-league camp and what lies beyond when he heads to Double A.

The hard work started with those 50 pushups that he busted out upon learning that he'd been placed on the 40-man roster.

"After hearing that, it was time to kick it in gear," he said. "I was like, 'Let's do this.'

"I've had some ups and downs, but I feel like I'm on track now."

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hector Neris racked up 102 strikeouts, the second-most ever by a Phillies reliever, during his breakout 2016 season.

The right-hander did it basically with a two-pitch mix — a power fastball and a darting splitter that manager Pete Mackanin likes to call “an invisible pitch.”

After last season, Neris reflected on his success, which included a 2.58 ERA over 80⅓ innings, the third-most among NL relievers.

Neris determined that he would need to diversify his pitch repertoire if he’s going to continue to have success.

So during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, he dusted off his seldom-used slider and threw it more. He’s polishing it up in this camp and plans to use it in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and during the regular season.

“I think it’s something that can make me better,” Neris said. “I’ve never had the confidence in it that I had in my other pitches, but I’m working hard on it. It will give me a third option for the hitter to think about.”

Neris threw a slider 2.9 percent of the time in 2016, according to MLB Statcast. He threw more than 49 percent splitters and 46 percent fastballs.

“In the big leagues you have to respect the hitter,” Neris said. “The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect. When I throw it, I want them to say, ‘What is that?’”

Neris’ splitter darts down and in to a right-hander hitter. The slider will break the other way.

Neris has talked about different grips on the pitch with guest spring-training instructor Larry Andersen, who threw a million sliders in his career.

“He threw some nasty ones today,” Andersen said after Tuesday’s workout. “The pitch will help him.”

McLaren to WBC
Bullpen coach John McLaren will leave camp on Wednesday and travel to Japan as Team China assembles for the World Baseball Classic. McLaren will manage that club. He also skippered the club in 2013.

Asked if he spoke more than seven words of Chinese, McLaren quipped, “That would be pushing it. I’m still trying to conquer English.”

Team China will provide a translator for McLaren, though there is a universal element to baseball communication.

“This is my third time going to the WBC,” McLaren said. “I love it.”

Almost game time
The Phillies will play their annual exhibition game against the University of Tampa on Thursday. The Phils are expected to play many of the young players that will make up their Triple A Lehigh Valley roster. Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., who pitched at Double A Reading last season, will come over from minor-league camp to make the start. Pitching coach Bob McClure said he expected to get several projected big-league relievers work in the game.

Alec Asher will start the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees on Friday in Tampa and Adam Morgan will start Saturday’s games against the Yankees in Clearwater.