'Locked in': Verlander magnificent, Tigers end skid
Detroit — Sometimes just the game itself is good enough.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter which team is 50-plus games over .500 and which is 16 games under. Sometimes it doesn’t matter which team has been magical and which has been abysmal.
Sometimes it’s just about the game and the performances within the game.
On Sunday, in the Tigers' 6-1 win over the Dodgers, a pair of impressive right-handed pitchers put on a show. The Tigers' Justin Verlander and Dodgers' Kenta Maeda took no-hit bids into the sixth inning.
When the dust settled, it was Verlander and the Tigers on the right side of the scoreboard.
“If Justin Verlander's pitching well, it doesn't matter,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It could be the '27 Yankees. He's going to pitch well and the numbers are going to look pretty good for Ver at the end of the game if he's pitching like he did today.”
The Dodgers may not be the 1927 Yankees, but they are the best team in the game today and Verlander attacked accordingly.
“This morning I told myself I’m going to take a playoff-type intensity out there and not let those guys sweep us,” Verlander said. “It’s impossible to create a playoff atmosphere without being in the playoffs, but I tried my best to do that.
“For whatever reason, I just locked in a little more.”
Verlander, for the second time in 12 days, took a no-hitter into the sixth. The one blemish to that point was a one-out walk to Yasiel Puig in the fifth inning.
His bid was aided by a terrific running, leaping catch in right-center field by right fielder Alex Presley, taking a double away from Corey Seager in the fourth.
“I wasn’t thinking about (the no-hitter) at that point,” Presley said. “But around the sixth inning, maybe, I started thinking, ‘I’m laying out for anything marginal.’ Not ridiculous, but I don’t want anything to fall.
“It’s one of those things, you make that play and it’s like, ‘We could be on to something here the rest of the way.’ It was a great outing by him.”
Verlander had nine strikeouts with two outs in the sixth inning when former Tiger Curtis Granderson broke it up. In his third game with the Dodgers, Granderson reached out and flipped a 2-2 slider off the foul pole in right field. It was his 20th home run of the season.
“I yelled at him on the field,” Verlander said, laughing. “He knew it was all in good jest. At least it wasn’t a bad pitch.”
Verlander had struck him out in the two previous at-bats, and he thought he had him again. Verlander froze Granderson with a 1-2 fastball, which television replays showed to be one the border of the strike zone. He did not get the call from home plate umpire Chris Segal.
“I thought it was a good pitch when I was out there,” Verlander said. “Obviously, you want it in that situation. But going back and looking at it, it was 50-50. I think it was a ball, just off the plate.
“You want that pitch, but I think he made the right call, and I told him that after the eighth inning.”
The next pitch was a fairly, well-located slider down and in, and Granderson was slightly out in front of it. But he was able to get the barrel to it and lift it down the line and off the pole.
“I thought it was a very good pitch,” catcher John Hicks said. “We talked about it after the game. We both thought it was good. He said maybe he missed his spot by just a couple of inches, but it took a really good swing to hit it out.”
The Tigers, though, responded quickly in the bottom of the sixth. Maeda had been perfect through five innings, striking out six and not allowing any hard contact. But once the Tigers did get a baserunner, everything changed.
Hicks rifled a single to center to end Maeda’s perfection. Once he had to work from the stretch, his pitches were staying up in the zone. Andrew Romine slapped a double to left-center, sending Hicks to third.
Dixon Machado then bounced one over the third base bag and into the corner, a two-run double to put the Tigers up 2-1.
With two outs, Justin Upton stayed back on a 2-1 hanging off-speed pitch and launched it on a high arc off the foul pole in left field. It was his 26th home run of the year.
“He was cruising for sure,” Hicks said. “But we were finally able to get him out of the windup and that changed the ballgame. He hadn't pitched out of the stretch in five innings. He's got that little pause in his windup so you never know when to get ready to hit.
“When we got him out of that, he's got to be more smooth from the stretch. He can't pause with baserunners on and it looked like we got to him a little. It affected him when he had to pitch from the stretch.”
The Tigers tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the eighth on a two-run double by Miguel Cabrera.
“It was a good swing,” Ausmus said. “He hit it 400 feet out to right-center. In a lot of parks, that's a home run. It was big for Miggy, but it was bigger for us to pad that lead.”
Verlander was unaffected by Granderson’s homer. He put down the next eight batters before allowing a two-out single by Austin Barnes in the eighth.
He left to a well-earned standing ovation after finishing the eighth inning. His line: two hits, one run, one walk and nine strikeouts. He had 12 swing-and-miss strikes (seven with his fastball) and 20 called strikes (13 with his fastball).
“I just tried to attack,” Verlander said. “I watched Michael Fulmer yesterday just pound the zone against them. I wanted to force those guys to make contact, keep them on their heels and try not to let them breathe.”
He’s now won four of his last five starts. And in the four wins, he’s allowed no runs in three of them, and just two runs in 29 innings.
With the win, the Tigers snapped their six-game losing streak and the Dodgers six-game winning streak.