Cleveland — As trips go, there are none shorter for the Tigers than to travel to Progressive Field.
It’s less than three hours from Comerica Park if they drive.
It’s less than a half-hour from Detroit if they fly.
For Justin Verlander, though, it’s been a world away throughout his career.
He’s 9-4 at Comerica Park against the Indians.
But at Progressive Field, where he’s lost more games than anywhere outside Detroit, his record of 9-11 became 9-12 on Wednesday with a 7-0 loss to the Indians.
The loss dropped the Tigers 1½ games out of first place in the American League Central. Kansas City defeated Texas, 4-1, on Wednesday night.
You would expect the dubious honor of most losses elsewhere would go to a park within the American League Central, but Verlander has lost only five games in Kansas City, two games in Minnesota, and as eight games in Chicago.
This time he more than met his match in right-hander Danny Salazar, who blanked the Tigers on eight hits for his first major league shutout.
“He really pitched well,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said of Salazar. “He was up in the mid-to-upper 90’s the entire game and overpowered us at times, even in fastball counts.”
Of Verlander, Ausmus said: “I thought he pitched better than the number of runs he gave up.”
In 62⁄3 innings, Verlander allowed seven runs (six earned) on nine hits and one walk. He struck out seven as he fell to 12-12.
Verlander found himself in a hole almost immediately on Carlos Santana’s two-run home run in the first.
Lonnie Chisenhall’s run-scoring double was the centerpiece of Cleveland’s two-run fourth. Not only did it knock in a run, but Chisenhall took third on Ian Kinsler’s throwing error and scored on a pop-up down the first-base line that eluded Victor Martinez.
A three-run Indians seventh knocked Verlander out of the game, all the runs scoring with two outs.
“We were in the game until then,” Ausmus said.
Verlander was within a strike of getting out of the inning unscathed, but Michael Bourn drove in a run on a full-count single, after which Jose Ramirez doubled him in.
“I actually executed the pitch I wanted to Bourn, a fastball up and away,” Verlander said. “But he did a good job of hitting it up the middle, and the next guy jumped a first-pitch fastball.”
Salazar, meanwhile, was outstanding while keeping the Tigers scoreless.
“He’s always been highly touted and tonight he threw strikes,” Ausmus said.
As a sign he was getting his game together, Salazar (6-6) won his last start with five scoreless innings on the road against the Royals, and picked up where he left off against the Tigers, whose best threat was having runners at second and third with one out in the fourth innning.
Proof that one night’s hero can be humbled as soon as the next game, J.D. Martinez struck out in all four of his at-bats against Salazar.
The Tigers had as many first-inning hits as the Indians, but their two singles that acted as bookends to Torii Hunter’s double-play grounder were no match for Santana’s two-run home run.
It wasn’t a good start for Verlander, but nothing that occurred the next two innings made it look like it would continue to be a bad night for him.
He allowed a single in a scoreless second, and with Nick Castellanos’ help on a bunt to third, Verlander retired the side in order in the third.
The Tigers put together a scoring chance in the fourth. Rather, an error by right fielder Zach Walters put it together for them.
With his eighth hit of the series, Miguel Cabrera was on first with one out when Victor Martinez, the American League’s player of the month for August, singled to right, a hit that elevated him to being 6-for-10 for the series at the time.
Not bad, eh, having your 3-4 hitters being 14-for-22 in the fourth inning of the third game of a four-game series.
Cabrera, of course, was going to stop at second on Martinez’s hit, but Walters mangled the play so badly in right that both runners, as slow as they are, were able to advance
But the inning ended on a strikeout and grounder.
Steven Moya doubled in his one at-bat, making him 2-for-2 in the majors.
“I don’t know if the Hall of Fame will be calling quite yet, but it’s certainly a good start,” Ausmus said.