DETROIT -- One effect of Max Scherzer's dramatic two-inning relief appearance in Game 4 of the ALDS on Tuesday night: If the A's are going to win this series and move on to the ALCS, they'll have to do what they could not last year, win a winner-take-all Game 5 at home in which they'll face Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander.
The A's, of course, were in this same position after winning Games 3 and 4 of last year's ALDS to set up a decisive fifth game at the Coliseum. Verlander threw a complete-game shutout to send the Tigers to the ALCS and end the A's season.
The A's did win the one game Verlander started in this series -- Game 2 -- but they didn't exactly beat Verlander himself. Verlander pitched seven shutout innings, striking out 11 in a game the A's won 1-0 in the ninth on Stephen Vogt's walk-off single.
In fact, Verlander has not allowed a run to the A's in 22 consecutive postseason innings dating back to Game 1 of last year's series. The 2011 Cy Young winner and MVP will be pitching on normal rest, one reason Tigers manager Jim Leyland felt comfortable using Scherzer in relief Tuesday in Detroit's 8-6 win.
In his career, Verlander has started three games in which the Tigers faced postseason elimination. His lines from each:
2006 World Series, Game 5 (loss): 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 4 K
2011 ALDS, Game 5 (win): 7 1/3 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 8 K
2012 ALDS, Game 5 (win): 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 11 K
First baseman Brandon Moss said the A's have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Verlander on Thursday, particularly as the series moves back to Oakland after two offense-heavy games in the more hitter-friendly Comerica Park.
"I suspect he's going to come out and throw a fantastic game," Moss said. "And I suspect our guy's going to come out and do the same thing."
Just who that will be for the A's, though, has yet to be determined. Manager Bob Melvin could choose to start either Bartolo Colon or Sonny Gray, the rookie who went toe-to-toe with Verlander by throwing eight shutout innings in Game 2. It was the first question that Melvin was asked after Tuesday's game, and he answered: "I haven't decided yet."
"Both options are good," said reliever Brett Anderson. "Bartolo's been a rock and our leader in the rotation. And Sonny's kind of been the hot hand."
Colon allowed three runs in the first inning of Game 1 but held the Tigers scoreless after that in a six-inning outing. Regardless of who starts, Melvin could have both available to pitch on full rest -- an extra day's worth in Colon's case.
Several players in the A's clubhouse echoed Anderson's comment -- the A's feel good about either pitcher taking the ball. Outside of three three-run innings -- an odd trend that continued Tuesday when Dan Straily gave up Jhonny Peralta's three-run home run in the fifth -- the A's rotation has held the Tigers scoreless in 22 of 25 innings they've thrown in the series.
"I like our chances with any of them at home," reliever Sean Doolittle said. "However they decide to go with it, I think we've got a good feeling playing Game 5 at home in front of our fans."
Verlander said late Tuesday night he was looking forward to the atmosphere in Oakland. "I guess you know what to expect a little bit, what the crowd is going to be like, and it's going to be fun," he said. "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."
As for the prospect of facing Verlander with their playoff lives on the line, A's catcher Stephen Vogt struck a similar tone: "It's fun," Vogt said with a smile. "That's the only way to look at it."
-- Matt Kawahara