Detroit — The Tigers today stand above the .500 mark — 23-22 — for the first time since May 6. Ten days ago they were six games under .500.
Their 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Tuesday night was their third straight and eighth in ninth games.
And the catalysts of this surge? How about a couple of “old” war horses who, according to many across Tigers Nation, were ready to be put out to stud just 10 days ago — Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera.
“They are actually older than they were a month ago,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus joked. “They’ve definitely been leading by example. Father Time doesn’t stop for anyone, but I think those guys are far from dinosaurs…I think they’ve shown they’re not ready to hang them up. In fact, they’ve been pretty damn good.”
Verlander pitched brilliantly for a fourth straight start Tuesday, blanking the Phillies on three hits over eight innings, striking out 10. He only allowed one runner to second base, and that was in the first inning. None got beyond second.
In his last four starts, he’s allowed just four runs in 30 1/3 innings, with 37 strikeouts.
Those four starts came after he proclaimed on Twitter that he was ready to dominate.
“It’s not the first time I did that,” Verlander said. “I did it in 2009, too. We just didn’t have Twitter then. It’s just a feeling that you have. It’s exactly how I felt. I knew I was close. It was just one pitch here or there. I was getting the swings from the hitters I was looking for. I just needed to tighten it up.”
That one pitch was his slider. In a lengthy bullpen session after his brutal start in Cleveland (seven runs in five innings), Verlander made an adjustment with his slider.
“After a couple of starts in a row I thought it was getting too big,” he said. “Guys were seeing it too early and laying off the good ones. So I decided to tighten it up. It was a point of emphasis for me and I’ve had good results.”
He’s throwing the slider harder now and at times it looks like a cutter. He struck out Ryan Howard with one at 90 mph in the seventh inning.
“It’s like a cutter when it’s up,” he said. “When it’s down, it has downward slider action.”
Call it what you want, it’s been a weapon. But the trustiest pitch in his repertoire is still his fastball. On Tuesday, he was 93-95 mph in the first inning. In the eighth inning, he was pumping 97 well over 100 pitches.
“His fastball is really working for him,” Ausmus said. “He’s getting swings and misses…He’s always had the ability to reach back, either in a big situation or a situation where he thinks it’s probably going to be his last inning, and get a few extra miles per hour.”
Case in point: His last hitter of the night — Odebel Herrera. Verlander struck him out in the first and sixth. With two outs in the eighth, Verlander went to the whip.
Strike one was 94 mph. Strike two, on his 107th pitch, was 97, which Herrera fouled off. Strike three was 97 again — swing and miss. It was Verlander’s 22nd swing and miss pitch of the night.
Verlander tipped his cap to the standing ovation as he walked off.
“I think we're playing the way we expected to,” Verlander said of the team’s charge. “Obviously, everybody wanted to harp on when we weren't playing well. I touched on how the veterans in this clubhouse weren't going to let that get us down. We keep pushing forward, keep playing day to day and we know that things will turn around.
“Guys are going to perform the way they expected to perform. It just so happened nobody was performing the way they wanted to at the same time. It's tough to win that way. Right now, everything's fun.”
While Verlander has helped stabilize the rotation, Cabrera has provided the dynamite for the offense. He’s hitting .396 since April 25, with six doubles, 10 homers and 23 RBIs. He’d hit five home runs in four games before Tuesday.
He got it done more quietly this time. He doubled home Cameron Maybin in the first inning and drove in the second run with a ground out. Both runs scored Cameron Maybin, who singled twice and is 16 for 28 since joining the club.
Victor Martinez, hitting .340, drove home the third run.
All that was left was to make history. Closer Francisco Rodriguez did that, notching his 400th career save. He is now one of six players in Major League history to achieve that milestone, along with Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Lee Smith, John Franco and Billy Wagner.
He gave up a run, but shut the inning down quickly for his 14th consecutive save.
“If I know K-Rod,” Ausmus said, “he will enjoy it tonight and be ready in the ninth tomorrow. He’ll flip the page quickly. He’s probably already counting down to 500.”