Bob Wojnowski, Tony Paul and Chris McCosky discuss the Tigers at the quarter pole of the season. The Detroit News
Detroit — When Justin Verlander walked off the field after nearly pitching an immaculate seventh inning, he acknowledged the warm ovation with a wave of his left hand.
But the whole scene lacked electricity. The sparse crowd and almost perfunctory applause was not fitting for yet another masterful performance.
“It’s kind of sad," he said after the Astros completed the three-game sweep of the Tigers, 5-1. "I think most of my memories here, this ballpark was packed and fans were rowdy, and it’s obviously a bit different now.
"But that comes with winning.”
It was Verlander's 189th start at Comerica Park Wednesday, his second as a member of the Houston Astros. And, after he went seven innings and allowed two hits with nine strikeouts, he walked off with his 99th win in Detroit.
Nobody has won more games at Comerica Park.
"The guy throws the ball — he's unbelievable," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Great velocity, great feel for what the hitter is looking for. He made it tough on us."
The last time he was here last September, Verlander struck out 10 in a seven-inning win. He picked up Wednesday where he left off, striking out six in the first four innings.
The only mistake he made to that point was a 96-mph fastball JaCoby Jones launched 436 feet into the seats in left field. With the count 2-2, and after Jones had looked bad on a slider, catcher Robinson Chirinos wanted the heater low and outside.
Verlander left it up and in and Jones didn’t miss it. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 107 mph.
Other than that, it was vintage JV except for one other brief hiccup in the fifth.
Nick Castellanos jokingly said he had a plan for facing Verlander. Apparently Verlander expected Castellanos’ plan to be attack his fastball.
In his first at-bat, Verlander threw two sliders and two curveballs to strike him out. The next at-bat in the fourth inning, he threw him a first-pitch fastball that Castellanos fouled off. That was his one chance. Three sliders later, Verlander fanned him again.
Verlander struck out the side in the fourth, but he got away with a hanging curveball to Christin Stewart, which was drilled just foul. That was the last off-speed or breaking ball Stewart saw. Two mid-90s heaters later, Stewart was walking back to the dugout.
“All the guys I played with, I’m rooting for them," said Verlander, who is now 7-1 on the season. "Especially a few guys over there — (Matthew) Boyd, (Daniel) Norris, Miggy, Nick, the guys I played with for quite a few years. I think you always root for your friends.
"You’re not wishing ill will on anybody until I’m facing them.”
Verlander got the first two outs quickly in the fifth, then Josh Harrison, who broke up his no-hit bid in 2012, knocked a two-out triple to the gap in left-center. Verlander uncharacteristically walked Brandon Dixon and Jones to load the bases.
But he was bailed out when Niko Goodrum’s line shot (106 mph off the bat) was snared by second baseman Aledmys Diaz.
In the seventh, he came within a strike of an immaculate inning — striking out John Hicks and Harrison on six pitches before, after getting two quick strikes, Dixon flew out.
It wasn't a packed house, but those in attendance showed their appreciation.
“It honestly is really special," Verlander said. "I think for the most part of my career here, the fans were always incredible toward me. What it comes down to is, I always gave everything I had — blood, sweat, tears.
"There was never anything left out there, or in here for that matter, that I didn’t try to do to win a ballgame or be the best I could possibly be. Sometimes it didn’t work out, but I think they really appreciated that.”
He still hasn't faced Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, who sat out Wednesday with a swollen knee, was injured and missed Verlander's two starts against the Tigers last season.
“We talked about it a bunch when we played together," Verlander said. "I don’t know what I would have done to him. I’ve seen him be such a prodigious hitter for so long.
"You have all these moments in your head that you just have flashbacks to. And it’s like, all right, well, he’s hit that pitch, he’s hit that pitch, he’s hit that pitch. So to answer your question — did I miss not getting to face him? No. He’s OK, right?”
It was probably no consolation to Tigers fans on this night, but the payback on the Verlander trade is near. Catcher Jake Rogers and center fielder Daz Cameron, two of the prospects in the trade, are playing at Triple-A and could be in Detroit by the end of the year.
And pitcher Franklin Perez, healthy at last, made his debut at High-A Lakeland this week.