Verlander dominates, Tigers roll to 5th straight win
Detroit — He said he’d dominate again, and soon, and so many scoffed.
Now, at this rate, Justin Verlander could tell us Elvis is alive and well and working at Coney Island — pick your favorite — and we’d kinda, sorta believe him.
Verlander was absolutely outstanding yet again Friday night, allowing no hits during a six-inning span before leaving to a king-like ovation as the Tigers beat the Los Angeles Angels, 4-2, at Comerica Park to draw closer in the race for one of the American League’s two wild cards.
The Tigers are back to 10 games over .500, at 69-59, after winning their fifth straight game.
“That’s what I remember seeing from the batter’s box,” Tigers journeyman Casey McGehee said of Verlander. “I was never a fun at-bat.”
Francisco Rodriguez was called on for a four-out save, and despite some drama, he got the job done.
Verlander allowed two hits and a run in the first inning — the run on a no-doubt homer by Albert Pujols — and two hits and a run in the eighth inning, his last, and just a measly walk in-between all that.
His WHIP lowered to 1.017. His hits-per-nine-innings dropped to 6.86. Only once in his Hall-of-Fame-tracking career has he finished a season with better numbers than that. And that was 2011, when he won both the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards.
Verlander (14-7) finished with eight strikeouts, including five in a row at one point.
He used a nasty slider, after a mechanical adjustment around the second inning, and a firm fastball to pound the strike zone all night, with first-pitch strikes to 22 of the 28 batters he faced.
Manager Brad Ausmus called it the best slider he’s some from Verlander all season. Verlander agreed.
“It just clicked,” Verlander said. “It’s a game of adjustments.”
Verlander didn’t allow very many hard-hit balls. On a couple he did, he got some outstanding defense from the corners, by third baseman McGehee, on a bruising liner by Pujols, and first baseman Miguel Cabrera, on a smash by rookie Nick Buss, a Warren native.
“You gotta trust your defense,” Verlander said. “And these guys are making it easy to do that.”
After a 10-pitch battle with Cliff Pennington in the eighth inning that resulted in a strikeout, Kole Calhoun’s two-out RBI double ended Verlander’s night — to a raucous roar, which he acknowledged with a wave to the crowd of 31,357 on a pleasant 82-degree evening.
Ausmus had Shane Greene and Rodriguez warming up in the eighth, and if there was one out, he would’ve gone to Greene. But when Verlander got the second out, he decided to roll the dice on a four-out save chance, which he’s on record as not being a fan of. Things got tense early, as Rodriguez walked Mike Trout to put the tying runs aboard, then watched as Pujols sent a hanging change-up well into the night down the left-field line, but foul.
“Whew!” was Verlander’s reaction.
“Off the bat,” he said, “I might’ve stopped breathing.”
And McGehee, who saw it carry over his head?
“I had it foul,” he deadpanned, “all the way.”
With fireworks blasting in the distance, over the Detroit River, Pujols had no more ammunition left in him this night, as he grounded to shortstop to end that threat.
Rodriguez then worked around a one-out walk in the ninth for his 36th save. It ended on a double play, with shortstop Erick Aybar hanging in bravely to turn it. He ended up on his stomach, but quickly bounced to his feet, joining the victory line on the pitcher’s mind.
Ricky Nolasco (4-12) took the loss for the Angels, as he has in three of his four starts against the Tigers this season (previous three with the Twins). The one he didn’t get a loss, his team still lost.
He lived dangerously early, allowing eight base runners through five innings, but none of them scored as the Angels led, 1-0.
But in the span of five pitches in the sixth inning, that changed. Victor Martinez led off with a double into the right-field corner. Then, as the crowd loudly chanted “Go Green! Go White” on Sparty Night, J.D. Martinez laced an RBI double to left-center to tie it.
On the next pitch, the Tigers took the lead, as scorching Justin Upton hit a bomb of a home run to left field.
“J.D. set the tone,” Upton said. “I was able to give us a (couple) more runs for Verlander to settle in.”
That was Upton’s fourth homer in his last five games. In the previous 17 games, he hadn’t homered once.
“He can carry a club by himself,” said Verlander, “when he gets hot.”
The Tigers got their last run on an opposite-field homer by Cameron Maybin in the seventh, ending Nolasco’s night.
For the Tigers, the rollercoaster season continues, with yet another sizeable winning streak, after losing 10 of their previous 13 games. The Angels and Tigers resume the series at 7:10 Saturday night.