Detroit Tigers Don Kelly tosses his bat after being walked in the fifth inning of Game 5 of an American League baseball division series against the Oakland Athletics in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
OAKLAND — 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.