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'Frustrating': Verlander can't hold lead, Tigers fall

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Houston — Frustrated. Disappointed. Mystifyied.

All those words describe the Tigers’ feelings after their 7-6 loss in the series finale against the Houston Astros on Thursday night.

“It is frustrating,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “You feel good with a 3-0 lead and Justin Verlander on the mound. But this is baseball and nothing is given.”

The Tigers survived a most uncharacteristic, five-run blow-up by Verlander in the fourth inning, rallying behind some clutch hitting by Justin Upton (three RBIs including a line-drive solo home run in the seventh) and Jose Iglesias (two RBI-doubles, including one that tied the score 6-6 in the top of the eighth).

But in the eighth inning Jake Marisnick lifted a high, arching blast some 421 feet over the wall in center field off reliever Alex Wilson for the winner.

BOX SCORE: Astros 7, Tigers 6

“A sinker down and in; I thought it was a good pitch, even after looking at the video,” Wilson said. "He put a one-in-a-hundred swing on it and it was the right night for it. … If you told me he was going to lift that pitch, down and in to a righty, well, it surprised me.

“Just disappointing from the pitchers’ perspective. The hitters battled their butts off to get us back in the game and as soon as we tie it, we give it right back. We didn’t have a shutdown inning all night.”

The mystifying part of it starts with Verlander’s performance, but there were other oddities.

Two runners were doubled off bases on line drives, the most costly being Tyler Collins in the fifth, in an inning in which the Tigers had four hits and a walk and only one run.

“That can’t happen,” Ausmus said. “We’ve got to run the bases better.”

Tigers’ McCann hit by pitch, placed on DL

Miguel Cabrera was thrown out at home in the first inning, sent home by third-base coach Dave Clark on a ball fielded in short left field by Nori Aoki.

“In hindsight, Dave Clark would probably hold Miggy up,” Ausmus said.

The Tigers stranded 11 runners in the game.

But the ultimate mystery was Verlander and his split personality. He’s been a much different pitcher away from Comerica Park.

At home, he’s been the ace he’s always been — allowing five runs in 28 innings over four starts. On the road, though, he’s been unrecognizable.

Coming into his start here Thursday, he had allowed 22 runs in 27 1/3 innings over five road starts.

There was no correction to the mean. Verlander allowed three home runs in a five-run fourth inning and he did not survive the sixth.

It was a head-scratcher, given how good he looked early, blowing through the first three innings on just 32 pitches.

“It was a little bit of missed location, a little bit of the balls flying — a little bit of everything,” he said. “I let those guys elevate the ball on a night when the ball was flying pretty good. It just stinks. We put up that many runs, it would have been nice to come back and get this one.

“But it starts and ends with me.”

Two things happened between the third and fourth innings. Catcher James McCann left the game after being hit by a pitch. A five-stitch gash was opened on his left hand and he was placed on the disabled list.

Catcher Alex Avila, who had not done the scouting report with Verlander, took over.

“Alex has caught Verlander more than any catcher on the planet,” Ausmus said. “I don’t think that was an issue.”

Secondly, Verlander had to sit a bit while the Tigers scored twice in a long top of the fifth.

J.D. Martinez launched an 0-2 curveball off his old college teammate Mike Fiers and sent it onto the train tracks above the wall in left-center field to put the Tigers up 2-0. The ball traveled 430 feet and left the bat at 105.3 mph (StatCast).

The inning dragged on. The Tigers scored again on a double by Iglesias. Only a brilliant running catch by right fielder Josh Reddick on a liner by Ian Kinsler kept two more runs from scoring.

And the Verlander who came back in the bottom of the fourth was not the same guy who pitched the first three innings. It would take him 35 pitches to get through it and five runs would score.

Before recording an out, he gave up two-run home runs to Carlos Correa (hanging curveball) and Marwin Gonzalez (fastball).

Then, with one out, Juan Centeno hit a hanging slider into the seats. It was the second time in his career Verlander has been tagged for at least three home runs in an inning. The Indians hit four off him in one inning last year.

It was a baffling inning.

“For the first three innings it was the best I felt,” Verlander said. “Then I got out of it a little bit. I felt like I was really close and had it going. That one inning killed me.”

But the Tigers offense kept clawing back.

It cut the lead to 5-4 in the top of the fifth, and should have had more. Collins and Cabrera led off with singles. Victor Martinez hit a low line drive directly at first baseman Gonzalez.

Collins took off for third and never stopped. He was easily doubled up.

J.D. Martinez, though, sent another long blast, this one hitting off the top of the center-field fence — inches from his second home run — sending Cabrera to third.

Upton, who had a two-out RBI single in the second inning, delivered another.

But with four hits and a walk in the inning, one run seemed an insufficient bounty.

Especially after Verlander gave up another run in the bottom of the fifth on a leadoff walk and a two-out double by Evan Gattis.

Upton, who came in on an 0-for-16 skid, made it a 6-5 game with a solo home run in the seventh — his ninth, a line-drive that just cleared the wall in left field.

This was the second game that struggling third baseman Nick Castellanos sat, as Ausmus wanted him to “hit the reset button” mentally. But there were two chances with the Tigers down a run, in the eighth and in the ninth, when he could have pinch-hit Castellanos for Andrew Romine.

“I thought about it,” Ausmus said. “But I decided against it. I want Nick to have two full days off and hopefully it pays long-term dividends.” @cmccosky