Tigers top O's behind dominant Verlander
Detroit ace improves to 7-0 against Baltimore with scoreless gem
By Greg Luca / MLB.com | 7/15/2012 7:07 PM ET
DET@BAL: Verlander fans eight en route to win No. 10
BALTIMORE -- From Justin Verlander's first pitch, it was clear Sunday's outing would be nothing like the All-Star Game.
Not that the right-hander or Tigers manager Jim Leyland were ever seriously concerned about the five runs Verlander allowed in the first inning of Tuesday's Midsummer Classic.
After years of watching the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner dominate all comers, very little was surprising about Verlander's eight scoreless innings in the Tigers' 4-0 victory against the Orioles at Camden Yards. With the victory, the Tigers opened the second half with a series win.
"The horse did what horses do," Leyland said. "Just a stellar performance by Verlander, and we go home winning the series."
Verlander tried to put on a show at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during the All-Star Game, hitting 101 on the radar gun in the first inning. He made it obvious it would be all business on Sunday, painting the corner with an 89 mph offering on his first pitch of the game.
"I wasn't worried at all," Leyland said of Verlander's All-Star showing. "The fans, they wanted to see him throwing 100 mph, he threw it 100 mph. They hit it 120 at times. Today, he went right back to pitching, which I assumed he would."
Verlander allowed only three hits -- two to Jim Thome -- as the Orioles were unable to advance a runner to third. Verlander allowed only two walks and notched eight strikeouts, moving him to within four of the Major League lead.
Verlander admitted after the game that he was eager to get back out on the mound and prove his All-Star struggles were an aberration.
"I just needed to tell myself that that's not the pitcher that I am," Verlander said. "I think everybody that has watched me or follows the Tigers or myself knows that that's not me, that's not the way I normally pitch. It's easy to turn the page on that and say that's not the way I pitch. Let me go out there and do what I normally do, start nice and easy and try to get some quick outs."
After admittedly knocking some rust off in a rocky first inning that he needed 23 pitches to escape, Verlander cruised, retiring 12 batters in order after allowing a two-out double to Thome in the third.
Mark Reynolds broke up that streak with a single to left in the seventh, but Verlander retired the next four batters, striking out J.J. Hardy with his 117th pitch to end the eighth inning.
"After the All-Star Game I thought we were going to have a real good shot of lighting him up, but I think he was just setting us up," Orioles left fielder Chris Davis said jokingly. "He's good. He won the MVP last year for a reason. I felt like, at times, that he was just toying with us."
Verlander had all four of his pitches going on Sunday, including the sometimes-elusive changeup and his looping breaking ball, which he discovered at the most unlikely of points.
"Actually, I thought I found it at the All-Star Game, to be honest with you, which is kind of funny," Verlander said. "I just never had the opportunity to throw it except for a couple of times, because I was behind in the count on everybody. But that felt pretty good, and I thought I carried that over to today."
Dominance in this setting was nothing new for Verlander, who improved to 7-0 against the Orioles and 5-0 with a 2.05 ERA in six starts at Camden Yards in his career.
He completed at least six innings for the 61st consecutive start, tying Catfish Hunter for the third-longest streak since 1918. Only Bob Gibson (78) and Steve Carlton (69) have had longer stretches.
The oppressive heat and humidity on Sunday afternoon only made his accomplishment that much more impressive.
"The thing that gets lost in the shuffle of this game today: It was hot," Leyland said. "So I don't think people realize what a great game he pitched today."
Less than 24 hours after finishing an 0-for-6 night to snap a 16-game hit streak, Austin Jackson gave Verlander all of the offensive support he would need on the game's second pitch, driving a low fastball into the first row in right-center.
The homer was Jackson's third leadoff home run of the season, and gives him a run scored in 12 straight games, the longest streak by a Tigers player since Rocky Colavito scored in 12 straight in 1961.
Brennan Boesch, starting at designated hitter for the fourth time this season, led off the second inning with a double off the top of the wall in left-center and scored on Jhonny Peralta's blooper to center.
The Tigers made it 3-0 in the sixth, when Prince Fielder drew a one-out walk, Boesch moved him to second with a bloop single and Alex Avila plated him with a grounder just past the glove of a diving Robert Andino at second base.
The bottom five of the Tigers' order hit .313 for the weekend series, and Leyland thinks the group is turning things around after a rough start to the season.
"It's getting deeper," Leyland said of the lineup. "The lineup is extending out a little bit like it should, and will, and has in the past. So that's good to see."
Miguel Cabrera finished the scoring with a solo shot in the ninth inning for his 20th homer of the season.
Jose Valverde came on in relief of Verlander to protect the four-run lead, allowing just one hit to preserve the shutout and bounce back after blowing a save on Saturday.
"He's a real proud guy, I like him a lot," Leyland said. "He was able to turn the page, and I think that's one of the reasons he's a real good closer."