DETROIT -- Justin Verlander pitched with a chance at history seemingly every time he took the mound this season. If Game 5 of the American League Championship Series ends up being his last start of the year, he'll go out with a performance that won't soon be forgotten.
If instead Detroit's 7-5 win over the Rangers on Thursday afternoon is the spark the Tigers needed to rally in this series, their little piece of history could at least give them a chance at something far bigger.
"We're tough," manager Jim Leyland said. "This Texas team is tough. That's the way it's supposed to be."
The Tigers are also just a little lucky. Considering the way their three close losses put them in a must-win situation Thursday, maybe they deserved a little luck.
"We were due, I think. Maybe overdue," said third-base coach Gene Lamont, who watched Miguel Cabrera's ground ball in the bottom of the sixth inning hop off the bag and jump over Adrian Beltre's head for a go-ahead double.
It wasn't one hop that turned the game, and maybe the series. But the entire shift seemed just about as sudden.
As Verlander fired a 99-mph fastball to Ian Kinsler with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth inning, he essentially had the Tigers' season on the line. Texas was mounting the kind of rally it put together a day earlier on Rick Porcello in Game 4. C.J. Wilson was holding Detroit's offense to a pair of solo homers. A Rangers return to the World Series seemed imminent.
The pitch, and the resulting double play Brandon Inge started on it at third base, halted the Rangers' momentum. Four batters later, the Tigers' natural cycle in the bottom of the inning completely turned it.
"This is a game of momentum, and obviously that was a huge play for us," said Verlander. "We come right back and score, so to be able to get out of that, there were a couple big spots that I was able to make my pitch and get out of [the inning]."
Never in postseason history had a team singled, doubled, tripled and homered in sequential order. It took a sky-high hop off third base and a missed attempt at more heroics from Nelson Cruz, but the previously moribund Tigers did it for their first true offensive breakout this postseason.
"Weird things happen," said Ryan Raburn, whose leadoff single started the surge.
Raburn was on first when Cabrera's shot off third base truly turned the inning. Lamont was watching from his third-base box. He was later replaying the scenarios.
If the ball misses the bag and bounces normally, the rally is killed.
"We turn the double play," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "We're probably off of that field."
If the ball hits the top of the bag instead of the front, Lamont said, Beltre grabs it, though maybe not with enough time to get two outs.
Instead, the ball hit the front of the bag with enough power and topspin to skip over Beltre's head as he stood behind the bag and put up his glove to field it. It ended up rattling around the left-field corner as Raburn scored.
"We were lucky right there," said Cabrera. "We started running, and we scored a lot of runs by it."
As suddenly as the Tigers' momentum shifted, not even Cruz could snuff out the rally. Victor Martinez, hobbled by an intercostal muscle strain in his right side since homering in Game 3 and a bad knee since early August, followed Cabrera's shot with a sinking line drive that skipped past Cruz's diving attempt. While it rolled to the right-field corner, Martinez slogged his way into third base with a 4-2 Detroit lead.
"Of all people to get the triple, it's Victor," Raburn said. "That's pretty funny. It was a great inning for us. We needed that."
Delmon Young capped it by hitting Wilson's second pitch and driving it off the top of the bullpen dugout for a two-run homer, his second in as many at-bats. He became the first Tiger with a multihomer game in the postseason since Magglio Ordonez hit the walk-off homer in Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS that sent the Tigers to their first World Series in 22 years.
All the while, Verlander was sitting in the dugout. It might have been the first time all year a long break actually put him back on his game, even if it seemed like a completely different game when he came back out. He went from fighting for the season in the sixth inning to retiring the side in order to protect a four-run lead in the seventh.
Before the game, Leyland said the only opponent that would chase Verlander would be the pitch count. With closer Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit being rested after four-plus innings over three straight days of work, the only reliever he wanted to use was Phil Coke, and he wouldn't do that until he absolutely had to.
Leyland had Brad Penny warming, but he never needed him. Raburn's homer in the seventh gave the Tigers a postseason game-tying fourth on the night and an insurance run that loomed large once Cruz's two-run homer in the eighth whittled the lead to three.
Cruz's fifth home run of the series also chased Verlander with a career-high 133 pitches. His 94 strikes were the most by a Major League pitcher in the postseason since Curt Schilling threw 99 out of 147 pitches in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series. It wasn't his best line, 7 1/3 innings with four runs and eight strikeouts, but it might have been his most important.
"I was hitting my spots and got some quick outs, which allowed me to go back out there in the eighth and eat up as many innings as I could and make the plan work," Verlander said.
Out came Coke for five outs, the last of which became the toughest after back-to-back hits and a walk brought up Mike Napoli with the potential tying run at first base. Once Coke got the game-ending ground ball, he became the first Tiger to get four or more outs in a postseason save since Willie Hernandez in 1984.
They'll go to Texas now with their bullpen fresh, Max Scherzer on the mound and the offense a little rejuvenated. Whether or not luck stays on their side, at least momentum might be.