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Tigers lead A's 2-0 through 3 innings in Game 5

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Tigers lead A's 2-0 through 3 innings in Game 5

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Justin Verlander pitched scoreless ball and the Detroit Tigers took advantage of a pair of wild pitches by Jarrod Parker, taking a 2-0 lead over the Oakland Athletics through three innings in the decisive Game 5 of their AL division series Thursday night.

With the season at stake for both sides, Austin Jackson lined a double off the wall in left-center to score Omar Infante in the second. Jackson then stole second, advanced to third on Quintin Berry's bunt and scored on Parker's second wild pitch to quiet a yellow-towel twirling crowd that sold out the Oakland Coliseum.

Verlander allowed baserunners in each of the first two innings but never lost his grip. The reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner struck out four.

Oakland had struck out 43 times in the series, the most of any postseason matchup in franchise history that lasted five games. The previous most was 42 in the 1974 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The A's were looking to become the ninth team to win a best-of-five series after dropping the first two games.

They don't have to look far - or far back - for the last time, either. After dropping the first two at home, the Bay Area rival San Francisco Giants beat the Reds for the third straight game in Cincinnati earlier Thursday to advance to the NL championship series.

Even though they were at home, Oakland faced perhaps an ever bigger challenge in the winner-take-all finale against Verlander.

The hard-throwing right-hander struck out Coco Crisp and Stephen Drew before Yoenis Cespedes doubled to the left-center gap in the first. Then Seth Smith, who hit a game-tying two-run double in the ninth to lead the A's back in Game 4, hit a weak grounder back to Verlander on the first pitch.

In the second, Brandon Moss drew a two-out walk. After catcher Alex Avila briefly lost a pitch that Verlander bounced in the dirt, he threw out Moss trying to take second.

Wild pitches proved to be Parker's downfall.

Infante singled leading off the first, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Jackson's double. After Jackson moved over on Berry's bunt, Parker threw a wild pitch that got by catcher Derek Norris to hand Detroit a 2-0 lead.

The last A's pitcher to throw two wild pitches in a postseason game was Dan Haren in a Game 4 loss against Detroit on Oct. 14, 2006,

The Tigers were looking to advance to the AL championship series for the second straight season. They lost to the Texas Rangers in six games last year. Oakland was swept by the Tigers in four games in its last trip to the championship series in 2006.

The rematch of Game 1 starters featured contrasting credentials.

Parker, another Oakland rookie, allowed all three runs in 6 1-3 innings in a 3-1 loss. The right-hander faced a daunting challenge to keep pace with Verlander, who allowed a leadoff home run by Coco Crisp in seven innings in Game 1, a usual dominance led Detroit manager Jim Leyland to predict ``this game will probably be decided with Verlander in the game.''

``I don't have anybody better than him,'' Leyland said before the game. ``And if they get to him that much, we'll probably be in trouble.''

Verlander is the fifth pitcher to start a winner-take-all playoff game the year after winning a Cy Young. In all four previous instances, that pitcher's team lost the game.

The four pitchers were Steve Carlton (1981 Phillies), David Cone (1995 Yankees), Barry Zito (2003 Athletics) and Roy Halladay (2011 Phillies).

When Detroit arrived in the Bay Area this week, a Coliseum celebration seemed to be only a matter of time after taking the first two games at home.

Then again, this A's team has accomplished some impressive feats all season, including a major league-best 14 walk-off wins in the regular season - plus No. 15 on Wednesday night, when they rallied rallying from two runs down in the ninth off closer Jose Valverde for a stunning 4-3 victory - and taking three in a row from the two-time reigning AL champion Texas Rangers to win the AL West crown on the final day of the season.

Thursday night was the sixth straight game that Oakland's visiting clubhouse was prepped for a clinching celebration, with plastic sheets that cover the lockers and floors repacked each time, along with bottles of bubbly waiting to be popped.

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

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USA TODAY Sports

3 reasons why the Caps beat the Sabres

You may think this was an ugly four-game road trip for the Caps, but with a 3-2 win in Buffalo on Monday, Washington managed to earn five out of a possible eight points.

Here is why the Caps beat the Sabres and managed to save the road swing.

A missed high-stick (maybe) from Ovechkin

Ovechkin scored the first goal of the game in the second period as he deflected a high-shot from Christian Djoos down past goalie Chad Johnson. But did the deflection come on a high stick? The play was reviewed and the goal was ultimately upheld. According to the NHL, it was determined that "video review supported the Referee's call on the ice that Alex Ovechkin's stick was at or below the height of the crossbar when he tipped the puck into the Buffalo net."

RELATED: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-SABRES

NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May broke the play down during the second intermission and made his case for why the NHL actually got the call wrong.

Was that a high stick? I don't know. As compelling an argument as May made, it still looks inconclusive which means the review made the right call. What surprises me is that the referee did not disallow the goal on the initial call.

Whether the review is truly inconclusive or flat out wrong, Washington was fortunate to walk away from this sequence with the goal.

MORE CAPITALS: BIZARRE SEQUENCE LEADS TO CAPS SCORING AND GETTING PENALIZED AT THE SAME TIME

A centimeter of ice

Hockey is a game of inches and it took less than an inch to put Washington up 2-0. When an Evgeny Kuznetsov shot hit off the boards and bounced back to the front of the net, it sparked a scrum next to goalie Chad Johnson. Eventually, John Carlson was able to get a swipe on the puck sending it trickling to the goal line, but Kyle Okposo was there waiting and appeared to kick it out just before it crossed. A review triggered by the Situation Room, however, revealed that the puck had just barely managed to cross the goal line before Okposo got to it.

Here's the view the NHL released after the review:

Philipp Grubauer's third period

After dominating the first 40 minutes of the game and taking a 2-0 lead, Buffalo predictably made a late push in the third period with two goals to pull within one. Washington outshot the Sabres in the first and second periods, but Buffalo reversed that trend in a big way in the third as they outshot the Caps 17-6. Grubauer turned aside 15 of those shots and was impressive after barely being tested in the first two periods.

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3 stars of the game: Caps knockout the punchless Sabres

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3 stars of the game: Caps knockout the punchless Sabres

Coming off an ugly 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, a Buffalo Sabres team missing star Jack Eichel was just what the doctor ordered for the Caps to get back on track. Washington dominated the first two periods and then survived a late surge from Buffalo for the 3-2 win.

After battling to a scoreless first, Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the second. They then held on in the third period as Buffalo began to tilt the ice in their favor, with Evgeny Kuznetsov scoring the empty-netter to put this game out of reach. Evander Kane would pull Buffalo within one, but with only three seconds left it was too little, too late.

Here are the three stars of the game:

1. Alex Ovechkin: Ovechkin opened up the scoring in the second period as he deflected down an innocent shot from Christian Djoos past Chad Johnson. Ovechkin also set a physical tone as he battled with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen all game long. After taking a high elbow from Ristolainen early in the game Ovechkin skated up to Ristolainen prior to the faceoff on his next shift and let him know that it was on. 

2. John Carlson: Carlson had a hand in both of Washington's goals on Monday. He recorded a secondary assist on Ovechkin's goal as he made a blue line pass to Djoos which Djoos fired on net and Ovechkin deflected. Carlson then managed to hit the puck past the goal line in a scrum next to Johnson. It looked initially like Kyle Okposo had managed to kick out the puck just before it crossed, but Carlson was awarded the goal as a review showed the puck had completely crossed the line.

3. Philipp Grubauer: A Sabres team that ranks last in the NHL in scoring and that was also without its leading scorer did not test Grubauer much in the first two periods. Facing a 2-0 deficit, however, Buffalo made a third period push to try to tie the game, but Grubauer was up to the task as he turned aside 15 of the 17 shots he faced in the final 20 minutes. He finished with 32 total saves on the night.