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Orioles fly past Verlander, sub-.500 Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — This might just be a bottomless season for the Tigers.

Every time you think things can't get worse, they sink a little further.

The Tigers, for the first time this season, have a losing record. The dispiriting 9-3 loss to the Orioles Sunday puts them at 45-46.

BOX SCORE: Orioles 9, Tigers 3

They haven't been under .500 after the All-Star break since Oct. 2, 2010.

"I definitely would say I am surprised," said Justin Verlander, whose afternoon ended with a shower of boos when he left in the fourth inning. "I think the entire team is surprised. We expect to play better baseball. At the same time, it's the talent in this room that allows us to say this isn't over.

"We're not going to fold up shop here and say, 'Ah, let's move on to next year.' No. This is a team with a lot of talent. Really, it only takes one big winning streak and you are right back in the thick of things."

Right now, after losing two of three to the Orioles, a winning streak seems like a pipe dream.

"I don't know that I would use the word 'devastating,'" manager Brad Ausmus said. "But it certainly isn't a good one. There's no series loss that's good, and considering the time of year, and what our record is, it probably stings a little more."

The Tigers are now 10.5 games out of first place in the AL Central, also their largest deficit in the division since the end of 2010.

"If you're losing it doesn't matter what your record is," said Ian Kinsler, who was ejected in the third inning after he flew out and angrily tossed his broken bat handle back in the direction of the home plate umpire. "You can be 10 games over .500, but if you're behind in the standings it's going to be frustrating.

"You're trying to catch the teams that are in front of you. You're trying to win the division. There's teams in baseball that are a game over .500 that are two games out, three games out. I'm sure their frustration's not as large as ours. But we've got a ways to go."

Verlander's day was the epitome of frustration. Similar to his last start at Comerica Park on July 5, he gave up seven runs, six in one horrendous fourth inning.

"It was definitely not a step forward," he said. "There's things that have to get better, one being pitch better. Another being execute better out of the stretch. I was good out of the wind up, seeing all the reactions I would like. But I'm not getting that in high-leverage— situations. I need to do a better job executing in big situations and limiting the damage."

He allowed only a first-inning home run to Adam Jones through three innings. And after loading the bases with nobody out in the fourth, it looked like he might escape serious damage. He got Matt Wieters to fly out to shallow left and then appeared to have J.J. Hardy struck out on a 2-2 pitch. Hardy checked his swing and first-base umpire Paul Schrieber ruled he held up.

Hardy then laced the 3-2 pitch — a 97 mph fastball — into the corner in right, scoring two and the third runner, Davis, was thrown out at home — a relay from J.D. Martinez to Andrew Romine to Alex Avila at the plate.

"I wouldn't say it set me off," Verlander said of the check swing call. "In the heat of battle you always want the call to go your way. It was one of those 50-50 calls that didn't. Then he put a good swing on the next pitch. And the next pitch was a mistake for me. A little up. It was my best fastball of the day but it was up and that's what he likes."

It just got worse. Verlander gave up a two-run home run to Jonathan Schoop and an RBI single to Manny Machado before exiting to a chorus of boos.

"We need to play better, consistent baseball," Verlander said. "We have to get better starting pitching, I need to do a better job. A lot of guys need to do a better job, just as far as consistency. And it starts with looking in the mirror, myself. I have to be more consistent.

"The last was start (in Minnesota), it was like, 'OK, that's it, let's keep it going.' And I kind of reverted back a little bit in that fourth inning."

As for the booing?

"I was booing myself when I left the mound," he said.

The Tigers lost 3-0 Saturday, a game in which David Price struck out 12 and allowed only a solo homer to Machado. On Sunday, they got 14 hits, but only scored three runs. It's been a theme all season — not syncing up the hitting and pitching in the same stretch of games.

"There's no recipe for it," Ausmus said. "Hitters are up there trying, every single at-bat, and pitchers are up there trying every single pitch. But it's not like there's some magic formula where I can wave a wand over the top of the field, and all of a sudden, they're in synch.

"It's puzzling. But you learn in baseball that you can't control the past, so we'll come back tomorrow. We've got the Mariners for a four-game series, and we'll see if tomorrow is the day it starts."

Twitter @cmccosky