October 15, 2013 at 11:45 pm

News and views: Tigers' lack of offense spoils Justin Verlander's solid start

Justin Verlander on ALCS Game 3 loss
Justin Verlander on ALCS Game 3 loss: Tigers pitcher talks about his performance

After being four outs from taking a commanding 2-0 lead in the American League Championship Series, the Tigers nor find themselves down, 2-1.

It was another nailbiter Tuesday night at Comerica Park.

Here’s a quick look back.

News: Justin Verlander was his brilliant self again, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning and allowing just one run on four hits through eight innings.

Views: And 10 more strikeouts, including six in a row at one point.

That gives him 53 strikeouts over his last five starts, 33 in his last three playoff starts. In that span, he’s allowed just 19 hits in 35 innings. He’s been untouchable and awesome.

And yet, the Tigers have lost four of those masterpieces — in which Verlander had the nerve to give up a single run.

That run came Tuesday, on Mike Napoli’s homer in the seventh inning. That was the first run he’s allowed since Sept. 18; also the first home run.

And, amazingly, the Tigers have won one of his starts between then and now.

A man who’s been quite blessed — with riches, fame, you name it — the last several years has, suddenly, stumbled on some seriously tough luck.

What gives?

“I wish I could tell you the reason or the answer to it,” said Verlander’s catcher, Alex Avila, who was 0-for-3 two days after a monster game at Fenway Park. “I have no idea.”

Same goes for Prince Fielder.

“If we could explain why,” he said, “we would change it.”

Still, Avila credits Verlander — and all the starting pitchers — for not getting frustrated with the lack of offense, and simply focusing on their task at hand.

Avila said the pitch to Napoli — a 3-2 fastball that was meant to be low and away, but that creeped back over the middle of the plate — was Verlander’s only mistake pitch. Out of a cool 120. Avila only wishes it had been more up.

“He has his job to do, our job is to score some runs,” Avila said. “Today, we didn’t.”

Verlander, boy, he’s heard that before.

News: The Red Sox haven’t had nearly as many scoring chances as the Tigers this series, but they’ve still, somehow, found a way to win the last two games.

Views: All on the strength of just two swings — David Ortiz’s monster grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2, and Napoli’s slump-busting homer in Game 3. Napoli, to that point, had been 0-for-6 in the series, with six strikeouts.

Meanwhile, the Tigers had their own shots in Game 3 — three times they had two runners on — but came up terribly empty.

The biggest threat came in the fifth, when Jhonny Peralta led off with a double up the left-center field gap. Avila followed and did his job nicely, fisting off an inside fastball enough to ground it to second base, moving Peralta to third.

And that’s where he stayed.

Omar Infante — the man fans have been clamoring for to take over the leadoff spot, over Austin Jackson — was overanxious from the get-go against Red Sox veteran John Lackey, swinging through two breaking balls well out of the strike zone. After fouling off a couple much more hittable ones, he struck out on another.

And Andy Dirks, getting a rare start, grounded out weakly to second base and finished 0-for-2, before — and this will show you just how much the Tigers think of him right now — he was pinch-hit for by Jose Iglesias.

News: The big guys in the Tigers lineup deserve to shoulder a chunk of the blame for the loss, too.

Views: Struggling Jackson and Torii Hunter actually set up the Tigers’ final threat. With one out in the eighth, Jackson showed more rare patience and walked, and Hunter followed with a single to right to put runners at the corner.

That brought up Cabrera, to face Junichi Tazawa. And all he needed was a flyball to tie the score. But Tazawa, the right-hander, impressively challenged him with four consecutive fastballs away and further away — three of which Cabrera swung right through.

That left it up to Fielder, who needed a single, like he had seven innings earlier. But he looked inept against closer Koji Uehera, swinging right through three straight pitches, including a splitter out of the zone for strike three.

Fielder, afterward, was his typically calm self. Asked to break down the offensive outage, he followed the company line. He gave credit to the opposing pitchers. (Never mind Lackey, let’s be honest, was as beatable a starter as the Tigers will face this series.)

“It’s the postseason,” he said. “Teams wouldn’t be here if they were giving up five runs a game. It’s part of it.

“This is the big leagues. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t.”

News: The Tigers are down, but be careful counting them out.

Views: Fans got a glimpse of it against the A’s. This team has some fight. Hunter and Victor Martinez and others make sure of that.

The Tigers still have the next two games at home, and today get to face a starter, in former White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, they are plenty familiar with.

And then Detroit will have Anibal Sanchez going in Game 5. If the Tigers push the series to Games 6 and 7 — it’s highly likely, in fact — the Red Sox, again, will face Max Scherzer and Verlander.

“At this point, nothing’s easy. Every loss will hurt you,” Victor Martinez said. “But you gotta turn the page. If you’re not gonna turn the page, you go home, simple as that. We’ve been able to do that.”

Just last series, in fact — when the Tigers also trailed 2-1, and then, with the town in panic mode, won back-to-back elimination games to advance to meet the Red Sox.

Nobody said it would be easy.

The Tigers, though, can’t have known it’d be this hard — to score some runs.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/tonypaul1984

Prince Fielder adds to the Tigers' futility by failing to dig out this low throw from Jhonny Peralta on Jarrod Saltalamacchia. / Daniel Mears / Detroit News