Three keys to Game 5: Tigers vs A's

Three keys to Game 5: Tigers vs A's

OAKLAND -- Looking to become just the fifth team in history to overcome a two-game Division Series deficit and advance, the A's seek to ride the momentum they took home with them Wednesday night following a wild walk-off Game 4 win in the face of elimination.

But there's a pet phrase that Tigers manager Jim Leyland likes to turn to, time and again, after a big win. Momentum, Leyland likes to say, is only as good as the next day's starting pitcher.

There's only one day, and one game, that matters now, as the Tigers and A's prepare for Thursday night's deciding Game 5.

Here are three things the A's must do to win Game 5:

A's vs. Tigers
Make Justin Verlander work. The A's have done well in upping the right-hander's pitch count in the early innings, and they need to build on that tactic even more to reach the Tigers' vulnerable bullpen sooner than later.

Verlander, who figures to get to work with nearly 130 pitches in Game 5, recorded 11 strikeouts in Game 1 on Saturday. To avoid double-digits again, the A's need to continue swinging, but not for the fences. Put the ball in play, and let a mediocre defensive squad be tested.

Yes, sweat the small stuff. This is not the time for baserunning gaffes like the one shortstop Stephen Drew committed on Wednesday night, when he hit a ball into the gap in right and raced for third, only to be out by a mile, leaving the bases empty with one out, rather than a man in scoring position with nobody out for Yoenis Cespedes.

Too many times, the A's have been haunted by such miscues in the postseason -- Jeremy Giambi failing to slide in 2001 against the Yankees and Eric Byrnes and Miguel Tejada's gaffes vs. the Red Sox in 2003. Tonight, they must continue to be aggressive, but also smart in their ways, and that extends to the defense, as well.

Keep the kid calm. Starter Jarrod Parker, who pitched well enough to keep Oakland in Game 1 before an eventual loss on the road, can do himself a favor by getting off to a clean start and avoiding the big inning. Parker, just 23, has been pressure-tested multiple times this season, but never on such a big stage with such big consequences resulting from his every move, so the key for him will be to stick to his game plan.

Here are three things the Tigers must do to win Game 5:

Not just a good outing from Verlander, a deep one. The Tigers lined up their rotation in August precisely for this type of scenario. They never wavered from it, even when it cost them a chance to start Verlander against the division-leading White Sox in mid-September. It wasn't just about starting off a Division Series with Verlander, it was about having him ready for another start to end it.

Verlander is the reigning American League MVP, and there's a decent chance he could repeat as the AL Cy Young winner. Over the last two seasons, the Tigers are 26-10 in Verlander's starts following a loss, with Verlander posting a 25-7 record.

Verlander has three wins in as many starts against the A's this season, but Oakland has milked more than 120 pitches out of him the last two times, including 33 foul balls over six innings in September at Comerica Park.

No matter how much Leyland might prefer to rest his bullpen after Wednesday night, a complete game from Verlander probably isn't happening. Get seven innings out of Verlander, though, and Leyland can play matchups with a bullpen that covered four innings Wednesday. Keep in mind, Al Alburquerque hasn't pitched on back-to-back days since he was in Triple-A in August. He can get an out Thursday, but an inning is another matter.

Add-on runs from the offense. Hard to believe the Tigers tripled their total of run-producing hits for the series with three on Wednesday, including Avisail Garcia's pinch-hit single in the eighth inning.

However, they missed a chance to deliver a knockout-inning against starter A.J. Griffin after Prince Fielder's home run in the fourth inning, squandering back-to-back singles with nobody out. The Tigers are 5-for-23 with runners in scoring position for the series, though most of that comes from 10 runners left on base in Game 2.

Get runners moving. The Tigers built an early lead against Parker in Game 1 with aggressive baserunning, from Austin Jackson taking an extra base when his leadoff hit skipped off Drew's glove to Quintin Berry forcing Parker into a misplay on his roller to the right side to score a second run.

They did an effective job of manufacturing runs in Game 4, but they weren't going to test Griffin. As tempting as it is to keep runners like Jackson and Berry stationary and wait for Miguel Cabrera and Fielder to drive them in, they can benefit from pressure on Oakland's defense.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.