DETROIT — Justin Verlander helped save Detroit’s season with a gutsy effort and the Tigers hit for a sudden cycle to break away from Texas 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. After building a five-run cushion, the Tigers held off Texas despite Nelson Cruz’s record fifth home run of the series.
With closer Jose Valverde unavailable for Detroit, the Rangers 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.
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 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.
Ryan Raburn led off the bottom half with a single, and Cabrera’s slow grounder bounced high off third base and down the line, putting Detroit ahead 3-2. 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, Detroit manager Jim 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.
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.
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.
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 in the game never amounted to anything.
Instead, 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.
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.
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.
NOTES: 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.