Phoenix — Some nights, it all works out, even for a baseball team that occasionally makes its fans wish ballparks and television sets had never been invented.
The Tigers avoided any undue drama or fan-damaging stress Monday in a 4-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks that balanced like a three-leg stool.
Detroit’s starting pitcher, Justin Verlander, pitched three no-hit innings to begin the game and plowed deep into the seventh on what was a generally in-command outing that became his ninth victory of the season.
Detroit’s lineup, which was down a man because manager Brad Ausmus was working in a National League ballpark with no designated hitter, was sturdy enough Monday to score four runs, thanks to cannon-shot home runs from Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson, and a 415-foot single from Miguel Cabrera, which scored the suddenly hard-hitting Jackson (double, as well as a homer) with the winning run in the seventh.
And, then, for a team’s final trick Monday, there were acts of uncommon valor by the Tigers bullpen. On a night 25,907 showed up at Chase Field, of which 25,000 sounded as if they were from Detroit, Joe Nathan ripped off his second consecutive breezy save as the Tigers won their second straight game.
“It felt like a home game, except I didn’t hear as many boos,” said Nathan, who hasn’t lost his wit even if he has let a few ninth innings get away this season.
Verlander was in a mood for some Monday mirth, as well, after he lasted 62⁄3 innings, which featured six hits, three runs, three walks, and five strikeouts. It was good for a victory that looked early as if it might evolve into one of those pre-2013 virtuosos when a former Cy Young Award winner with a pair of no-hitters in his archives would bid for another.
“I was able to locate my fastball much better,” said Verlander, who 10 minutes ahead of Monday’s game was reviewing old video, examining some past pitch grips, when he instead spotted a familiar arm slot he took into a seven-pitch first inning that featured a fastball that hit 95 mp.
Verlander’s masterpiece all but blew away in a 40-pitch fourth inning when Verlander lost his lower-latitude pitch path and was swatted for four hits and a pair of runs. But he insisted that two of those hits, by Aaron Hill and Paul Goldschmidt, came on pitches off or away from the plate that he would have happily tossed again.
His only other mistake was a sixth-inning fastball Gerardo Parra knocked into the right-field seats for a tying home run, a half-inning before Cabrera’s blast that came within a foot of being a home run pushed Jackson home with the winner.
The Tigers offense, for the most part, was the same sprint-and-stop bunch it has been during most of 2014.
Cabrera, though, looked more like Cabrera. After a bad first at-bat that saw him swing at a third strike as if he were weeding his garden, he followed with a line single to center, a long fly out to center, and his 415-foot, winning single (he was thrown out at second base) that caromed off the crazy configuration of balconies, protrusions, and yellow lines that is center field at Chase Field.
Jackson, too, is hammering the ball in step with some past proud years that he might be in the process of repeating. His third-inning leadoff homer against Rockies starter Vidal Nuno was a high, arcing drive that landed deep into the sloping bleacher seats in left.
Jackson’s homer, which on top of his later double pushed his average to .266, came an inning after Hunter slammed his 14th homer of the year. It was a long, loud liner that hooked inside the left-field foul pole and disappeared.
It came on a cut fastball from Nuno that stayed up and burrowed into the thick of Hunter’s bat.
“ I was always taught by Kirby Puckett that a hanging breaking ball is a gift from heaven,” said Hunter, who has 57 RBIs, second on the team to Cabrera’s 76, and who never seems to hit a mistake pitch less than 400 feet. “Don’t ruin your blessing.
“I knew he threw a lot of off-speed stuff. I was actually looking to hit the ball to right-center.
“My body said no,” Hunter said with a laugh, “but my hands said yes.”
The Tigers have left their fans saying other, less affirming things during a 2014 season that has been on the crazy side. But after nine innings Monday, Ausmus’ gang, in tandem with all those Tigers rooters drowning out the Diamondbacks faithful, at least agreed this relationship was worth continuing for another day.