OAKLAND – This was the same script, same pitcher, same ending.
Actually, this was worse. This was crushing. If the A's had taken advantage of their opportunities in Game 4 of the American League Division Series, there would have been have no Game 5. There would have been no rematch with him.
Instead, here he was again. Justin Verlander. One year later – hours before the one-year anniversary – he silenced an announced crowd of 46,959, sucked the oomph out of the A's, sent them dazed and immensely disappointed, and limping into yet another offseason.
The Detroit Tigers' ace even stole the local angle. He ripped the drama right out of the debate over whether rookie Sonny Gray or veteran Bartolo Colon should start.
Bob Melvin and the A's braintrust (mostly Billy Beane) went with Gray, who took down the Tigers in Game 2, his underwhelming appearance notwithstanding. Listed at 5-foot-11, he looks barely old enough to crack open a college textbook. His thin, wispy moustache is still itching to grow. He chews bubblegum with the ferocity of a 12-year-old and has a bit of a wide-eyed "aw shucks" demeanor in the clubhouse.
On the mound, well, that's another story. His fastball is both powerful and deceptive, and when he's sharp, his 12-6 curve is reminiscent of a young A's left-hander named Barry Zito. On another night, against another opponent, in fact, Gray might have endured and prevailed, and walked out of the Coliseum with the victory.
"If I had to say he struggled with one thing tonight, we weren't getting ahead," said A's catcher Stephen Vogt. "But even without his best, best stuff, he still pitched an outstanding game, and that's the mark of an outstanding pitcher."
All true. But after Miguel Cabrera sent his belt-high fastball over the wall in left in the fourth inning? The gloomy mood turned downright depressing. The familiar ending felt inevitable, the A's doomed yet again, victims of destiny and that overpowering right-hander from Detroit.
Verlander turned the game into a boys vs. men contest. Unlike his victory here a year ago today, when he struck out 11 and pitched a complete game, he wasn't merely dominating, he was befuddling, was nearly perfect.
The A's never saw them coming, fastball after fastball, inside and outside, some dipping to 88-90 mph, others crossing the plate at 95-97. They kept swinging – make that 10 strikeouts this time – and they kept missing.
Verlander didn't allow a baserunner until Josh Reddick walked in the sixth. He kept the potential for a no-hitter alive until Yoenis Cespedes singled sharply up the middle in the seventh. Before Verlander yielded to closer Joaquin Benoit to start the ninth, the only other hit he allowed was a two-out single to Reddick in the eighth.
"You feel relieved when he doesn't come out (for the ninth)," Melvin said later. "We weren't getting very good swings on him. I thought maybe when it started to get darker, we would get better swings. But he kept throwing fastballs. Surprising how many fastballs he threw that we swung through because we're a very good fastball-hitting team."
Maybe another time. Maybe next year. And maybe the A's will win Game 4, or find another to avoid a Game 5 against Verlander. The ending isn't changing. The numbers are in the record books, including his postseason streak of 33 scoreless innings against the A's.
The offseason debate isn't Gray vs. Colon, either. What causes the most pain? That brutal eighth inning in Game 4? Or will it be Verlander and his ongoing mastery of the A's?
"I don't really have an answer for that," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, "but when this guy has it going, he pitches well against anybody.
"Justin rises to the occasion. I can usually tell by the look on his face prior to a game when he's zeroed in and locked in, and he was locked in tonight."
So down they go again.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1209, and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.