Detroit — If it doubled as a farewell party, Monday evening’s potential Justin Verlander sendoff was a good one.
But not for the Tigers, who lost, 5-3, in a 12-inning tussle at Comerica Park, settled when Salvador Perez launched a dangling Drew VerHagen curveball into the left-field seats. Mike Moustakas blasted a follow-up homer against VerHagen, who was summoned Monday from Triple A Toledo and who was pitching a three-inning, overtime bullpen stint in his 2017 Tigers debut.
Verlander was more than the usual fixation Monday. He lasted seven innings as trade chatter spilled from July’s big-league telecommunications. And he pitched Verlander-brand baseball pretty much throughout on a pretty summer evening at Comerica.
His fastball consistently tracked at 94-96, with a few at 97, and a final heater at 98.
“Outstanding,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who was particularly impressed by Verlander’s slider. “That’s his third straight start where he’s had his stuff.”
In what could have been his final home-field act, seven days before the July 31 trade deadline, Verlander dropped a fastball-slider hammer on the Royals for nine strikeouts. He allowed five hits and three runs as assorted big-league general managers aware of his trade availability paid attention, at least by way of scouts who showed up to snoop on a certain right-handed pitcher.
And it wasn’t Royals starter Jason Hammel.
“Of course, I’m aware of that,” Verlander said afterward as he dealt with realities that trade talk more than his seven innings were on most people’s minds.
“But I don’t think about it. It’s out of my control. I’m not gonna sit here and play what-if. My job is to go out there and pitch.”
The Tigers might have stuck Verlander with a loss had they not raised a ruckus against Hammel and the Royals bullpen in a three-run sixth.
The Royals had already chewed their way to a 3-0 lead on two singles, a walk, a wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly in a two-run fourth, which was followed in the sixth by Jorge Bonifacio tagging a Verlander slider for a high-rise home run into the seats in left.
The Tigers had managed all of three singles against Hammel through five innings until that breakout sixth.
Ian Kinsler began the ruckus with a leadoff single to left-center. Alex Presley followed with a walk, and after Upton struck out, Miguel Cabrera lashed a hard single through the left-side infield hole to score Kinsler.
After the Royals excused Hammel and brought on left-hander Scott Alexander, a semi-intentional walk to switch-hitting Victor Martinez loaded the bases for Alex Avila, who had been in an 0-for-14 tumble.
He ripped Alexander’s 1-and-2 sinker over leaping shortstop Alcides Escobar and into left-center for a single that scored Presley and Cabrera and tied the score at 3.
“I faced that guy once in K.C. last week and ended up walking,” said Avila, who, like Verlander, could find himself playing elsewhere within the week. “But he gave me two pitches and on both the bottom fell out.
“He’s got that power sinker, which is unusual for a left-hander.”
The Tigers had a chance to win in the 10th when Kinsler singled and romped to second on Presley’s sweet sacrifice bunt. Upton followed with a one-out walk, but Cabrera popped to short center field, and Castellanos grounded out to short.
The Tigers bullpen maintained order from the eighth inning through the 11th as Alex Wilson, Justin Wilson, and VerHagen put away the Royals minus a hit until Bonifacio got a high-hopping single to begin the 11th.
The Royals finished with eight hits, the Tigers seven. Kinsler and Mahtook were tops for Detroit with a pair of singles apiece.
The Royals used eight pitchers to the Tigers’ four, and K.C.’s bullpen, like Detroit’s, was all but flawless after the sixth, holding the Tigers hitless until Kinsler’s leadoff single in the 10th.
The Tigers and Royals tangle again Tuesday night at Comerica Park, with Michael Fulmer set to start for Detroit against Danny Duffy.
And even if Fulmer is probably safe in Detroit, trade talk relating to the Tigers isn’t expected to lessen before the clock runs out next Monday.