Detroit — His answer left little room for interpretation.
Asked if the Cleveland Indians had maybe gotten in his head in recent years, Tigers starter Justin Verlander said, flatly, “No.”
And he said no more on that particular subject.
The reality remains, though, for whatever reason, the Indians have beaten up on Verlander more than any team in baseball the last few years. Going back to 2014, he is 3-9 with an ERA north of 6.00 against them.
“Sometimes they just hit good pitches,” he said, after being KO’d in the fourth inning Sunday in the Indians' 11-8, series-clinching win at Comerica Park. “The well-executed pitches were fouled off, the mistakes got hit. Even a couple of good pitches got hit.
“Sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you're the bug.”
There is never a good time to be the bug, but this was especially not a good time for the Tigers. With Verlander on the mound against fledgling right-hander Mike Clevinger, and the Tigers showing a glimmer of life having won four of six, they seemed poised to win their second straight division series.
And it all went splat.
“It’s definitely a lost opportunity,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. “No question about that. But at this point, we can’t do anything about it.”
It was evident by the second inning that Verlander wasn’t sharp. He didn’t get a swing-and-miss until his 33rd pitch. He needed 36 pitches to get through the second inning. He got ahead of hitters but couldn’t put them away.
“His stuff was all right,” catcher Alex Avila said. “But you could tell even in the first inning he was not able to put the ball where he wanted to. He struggled to do that and it was a fight from there.”
Verlander wound up lasting 3 1/3 innings, tagged for seven runs on nine hits, three walks and — for the first time since May 4, 2007 — no strikeouts.
Verlander had posted at least one strikeout in 331 straight starts, the longest active streak in the big leagues and tied with Curt Schilling for the sixth longest all-time.
That streak went up in the same flame that consumed whatever momentum the Tigers had been building.
“Sucks that it came to an end,” he said. “I don’t know. Start a new one.”
Lonnie Chisenhall hit a two-run home run to get the barrage started. He won a nine-pitch battle, fouling off four two-strike pitches before smashing an off-speed pitch over the fence in right field.
The Indians loaded the bases after that but Verlander wriggled out of it, and he got the first two hitters in the third.
But he hung a 1-2 slider to Jose Ramirez, who bashed the first of his two line-drive home runs to right field. Carlos Santana, winning another long battle, laced an RBI double later in the inning.
“Early, I fell behind the first two hitters 3-0 and after that, I pretty much just got my butt kicked,” Verlander said. “If anything, my body feel good and my arm feels great. It was just one of those days.
“A couple of those pitches I went back and looked at. I thought the change-up to Chisenhall caught too much of the plate but it was actually a decent pitch. The slider in to Ramirez was on the black inside. Sometimes you tip your cap.”
Verlander was done after four of the first five batters reached against him in the fourth inning, pulled after allowing an RBI single to Edwin Encarnacion. Two more runs were charged to him when reliever Chad Bell gave up a three-run homer to Ramirez.
“There are a bunch of feelings that happen when you don’t pitch well,” Verlander said. “You want to pitch well for your team. You want to pitch well for yourself and everybody. You just want to win.
“My teammates came in and they said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. Spit it out and get ready for the next one.’ That’s the camaraderie we have in here. … We’ve got each other’s back and we move on.”
The Indians built the lead to 11-1 before the Tigers made a too-little-too-late surge.
None of the offensive push-back came against Clevinger, though. He walked the bases loaded in the first inning, but got Victor Martinez to fly out to end the threat. From that point on, he wasn’t much threatened.
Playing without Justin Upton (soreness in his right side) and Ian Kinsler (rest), they had two hits in six innings against Clevinger — both by J.D. Martinez. The lone run off him came in the third, an RBI double by Martinez.
“It doesn’t feel great to get kicked around at any point,” Ausmus said. “The upside was the finish. They fought back and didn’t quit.”
The Tigers scored six times in the ninth and forced the Indians to use three relievers to finish the game, James McCann hit a three-run home run and Nick Castellanos hit a two-run home run.
The Tigers’ 36-45 record is their worst after 81 games since 2003.
“We had an opportunity to win a series today and it didn’t happen,” Avila said. “It was not a good game overall. It was nice to fight back, but overall, it was not a good game. But it’s over. We have an important six-game stretch coming up before the All-Star break.”