"Justin rises to the occasion," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I can usually tell by the look on his face and his demeanor prior to a game when he's zeroed in, and he was locked in tonight."

In Game 2, Verlander's out pitch was his curveball. Thursday, the A's swung through a lot of two-strike fastballs.

"That's what happens when you're in a two-strike count against a guy that's throwing a nasty breaking ball, a good changeup and a four-seam fastball that's rising," the A's Brandon Moss said. "You get caught in between, you get caught kind of guessing. He was good."

The A's finally managed to reward the capacity crowd with some excitement in the ninth inning. They got the tying run to the plate with two outs, after Jed Lowrie doubled and Cespedes was hit by a pitch by closer Joaquin Benoit. But Benoit got Seth Smith to fly out to right.

The A's have lost nine of its past 10 postseason series, and has now lost six consecutive do-or-die postseason games — the longest losing streak of that nature in Major League Baseball history.

For a while Thursday, it looked like another pitchers' duel. Both pitchers faced the minimum number of batters through three innings. Gray gave up only a walk to Prince Fielder in that span.

Verlander was practically flawless, meanwhile, logging five strikeouts among his first nine batters. It looked like a replay of Game 2 when Gray struck out nine batters in eight innings, while Verlander fanned 11 in seven innings.

In Game 5, they picked up right where they left off, but Gray finally cracked in the fourth inning.

Torii Hunter singled up the middle with one out, bringing Miguel Cabrera to the plate. Cabrera, bothered by a strained groin, didn't look like the reigning American League MVP and Triple Crown winner over the past few weeks. In fact, he hadn't hit a home run since Sept. 17, a streak of 52 at-bats. But on a 1-0 count, Gray tried to slip a 94-mph fastball on the inside corner, and Cabrera got around on it fast enough to deposit the ball over the 362-foot sign in left field.

The shot seemed to rattle Gray. He got Fielder to ground out, but then surrendered consecutive singles to Victor Martinez and Jhonny Peralta, followed by a walk to Alex Avila to load the bases. The kid got out of further trouble by inducing Omar Infante into a groundout.

The Tigers chased Gray in the sixth, after Martinez and Peralta opened with singles (and after he had fractured his non-throwing thumb on a comebacker, according to some reports). Dan Otero did well in relief, but Detroit pushed home another run that inning to go up 3-0.

"Last year we were disappointed we didn't move on, but at the same time we were thankful for the season we'd had," Moss said. "This year, it's disappointing. We believed, and we still believe, that we were just as good, if not a better team. We just got shut down by an unbelievable pitcher."

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.