Verlander stars again in sweep over Sox
Detroit -- Time's up. Pencils down.
Now, class, what have we learned?
The correct answer is: The Chicago White Sox weren't that good and the Tigers weren't that bad.
And there's been one heck of a correction the last three weeks, with the Tigers putting together the clubhouse-consensus, most-crisp series of the season in sweeping their American League Central rivals, capped off with a 5-2 victory Sunday on a sun-soaked -- that began as a soaked -- afternoon at Comerica Park.
In the three games, the Tigers pitched tremendously, the rotation and the bullpen; they got gobs of hits against some good left-handed pitching; and played excellent defense, committing exactly zero errors. In doing all that, they pulled back to .500. The White Sox fell to a game over .500, meaning just a half-game separates two ballclubs that were separated by 8.5 games in just mid-May.
"We know we have the capability to go out and win a bunch of games, and win them in a hurry," Justin Verlander said.
"If we're gonna be streaky, man, let's just be streaky and win a bunch when we're winning."
Speaking of streaky, Verlander remains on some kind of roll right now, posting his sixth consecutive great start -- after promising on Twitter, following a rough early May game against the Cleveland Indians, that he would dominate again, and soon.
Justin Upton, after a day off Saturday and batting seventh Sunday -- the lowest he's been in a starting lineup since 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks -- had a huge, two-run double in the Tigers' four-run fifth inning, which proved the difference.
Verlander celebrated wildly in the dugout on Upton's double, not just because he now was working with a much more comfortable lead, but because a scuffling teammate finally got a big boost.
That's the way the clubhouse is, manager Brad Ausmus said. Even if fans don't always see it, they pull for each other, in good times (like this weekend) and bad (like last week).
"That goes to the character of the people," said Ausmus, "both the guy that's struggling and his teammate."
Verlander (5-5) gave up a pair of solo homers, to Jose Abreu in the first -- a massive shot to dead center -- and Todd Frazier in the sixth, but was otherwise pretty darn electric, especially when he worked out of jams with the vigor of the Verlander of old.
The first two batters reached in the third, but Verlander came back to get a grounder to the mound and then two strikeouts to put an end to that threat. Then, after a leadoff double in the fifth, he got the next three hitters with some help from his defense -- Jose Iglesias making a great diving play at short to save a run, and James McCann pouncing quickly to speedy Adam Eaton on a bunt.
"Verlander was certainly excited, the dugout was very excited," Ausmus said. "There was definitely some adrenalin after those two plays."
And the adrenalin carried over to the bottom half of the inning, when the Tigers broke a 1-1 tie in resounding fashion.
With the bases loaded and two out, J.D. Martinez worked an RBI walk from Jose Quintana (5-6), then Nick Castellanos had an RBI infield single, the ball bouncing off Troy Saladino's mitt at short. That brought up Upton, who was booed by the crowd of 29,086 after his first at-bat -- strikeout No. 76 -- but then was shown some serious love this time, as he swung 3-0 and ripped a double down the line in left to score two.
Nobody, by the way, was more surprised than Upton to get the green light from Ausmus on 3-0.
"I definitely didn't deserve it," Upton said, smiling, "earlier in the year."
Ian Kinsler, with a rare 0-for-5 on Saturday, got the rally started with his second hit of Sunday's game, a single, and Cameron Maybin worked a walk. The White Sox then intentionally walked Cabrera, who had an RBI double his previous time up. And the move seemed to work when Victor Martinez popped out for the second out.
But the Tigers didn't pack up, they perked up. Every starter had at least one hit, and Upton also had a single earlier.
It was more than enough for a pitching staff that seems to be finding its groove, Verlander being a huge part of that. He bagged the change-up -- he threw only two all game -- and used a wicked slider and pumped-up fastball in allowing just five hits and a walk while striking out eight. Verlander now has an ERA of 2.01 over his last six starts.
The only person to reach on him twice was, naturally, his former teammate, Alex Avila, who walked and had a single.
The bullpen took care of the rest, with Shane Greene, pitching on back-to-back days since coming off the disabled list, working another perfect inning, and Francisco Rodriguez making quick work of things in the ninth for his 17th consecutive save.
"We needed this series," Verlander said. "I really like the feeling around this clubhouse.
"I like the way this team's coming together. Better late than early."