Verlander Wins 16th And Strikesout 11 For Tigers
By ODU Athletics
Sept. 12, 2010
Verlander fans 11 By Alex DiFilippo / MLB.com
DETROIT -- The Tigers sure made Justin Verlander (ODU '04) sweat it out. Before the five-run eighth inning that helped the Tigers to a 6-2 victory over the Orioles, Detroit's ace pitcher was having a casual conversation with fellow starter Jeremy Bonderman in the dugout to try and distract himself from what was happening on the field. The Tigers' offense was dormant through the first seven innings, recording only one hit.
And after Verlander let one wild pitch get away that scored a runner from third in the fifth inning, he was in line to take the loss after throwing eight sparkling innings of two-run ball with a season-high-tying 11 strikeouts.
But in the end, he got a little help from his fellow All-Star. Slugger Miguel Cabrera stepped to the plate in the bottom of the eighth inning with the bases loaded and did what he's done so often this season -- drive in runs.
The Tigers only needed one to tie at that point. But hey, why not bring them all home? Cabrera crushed the ball deep to left-center field to up his Major League-leading total to 116 and help the Tigers avoid the series sweep.
"I thought Verlander had shutout stuff," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought all pitches worked as good as I've seen them all year. That was shutout stuff. He didn't get a shutout, but he easily could have."
It would have been a shame to waste such an impressive performance from Verlander (16-8). He allowed a single to the second batter he faced, then went on to retire 12 straight before giving up a single to Felix Pie in the fifth inning. Pie came around to score when Michigan native Jake Fox hit his first career triple. Then Verlander let a curveball get away that scored Fox from third base.
Rookie Will Rhymes ledoff the frame with a single and Raburn advanced him to third when he lined a double down the left-field line.
Leyland had thought about pinch-hitting Austin Jackson for catcher Alex Avila in the eighth inning. But with two outs and two men on, the skipper opted to save Jackson, just in case the Tigers could put something together in the eighth inning.
Sure enough, Jackson's at-bat proved to be the turning point in the game. With runners on second and third, Jackson earned a walk against reliever David Hernandez, who had made the Tigers hitters look silly when he tossed a shutout inning on Friday.
With the bases loaded in a one-run game, the Orioles now had to pitch to Cabrera. He smashed the first pitch he saw to left-center field that plated three runs and put the Tigers ahead for good.
"You still have to do a good job," Cabrera said of his at-bat with no outs. "You still have to hit. I don't think about if they are going to walk me or if they are going to pitch to me. I focus my approach and what I'm going to do when I get at home plate."
Not giving Cabrera anything to hit with runners in scoring position was a point of emphasis for Orioles manager Buck Showalter all series. Unfortunately for the visitors, his hands were tied.
"If we strike out Jackson there, then we can walk Cabrera and I like our chances," Showalter said. "Cabrera makes you pay for mistakes. You can't let him come up there in those situations."
Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said he wouldn't have blamed Showalter for walking Cabrera, even if it would have tied the game.
"I wouldn't fault anyone no matter what the situation is," Inge said of walking Cabrera. "The way he's been coming through for us, the way you could think is that [it could be] four runs or one run. But that's hard to do. It's really hard to do. In the game of baseball you don't want to give in like that. I can respect his aggressiveness to go after him."
Inge put a cap on the big inning by hitting a two-run homer to left field.
"[Cabrera] is our guy," Leyland said. "He delivered big when we needed him and Inge gave us a little boost there when we needed it. We've been a little short in the bullpen recently. But Miggy, that's what he does."
The big inning cost Orioles starter Chris Tillman a chance to snag his first victory since being recalled on Sept. 5. He was wildly effective on the afternoon, recording six walks, but holding the Tigers to only one hit and one run through 6 2/3 innings.
"He's one of the young pitchers that's just coming into his own," Leyland said of Tillman. "He's one of those young studs they've got that's learning how to be a Major League pitcher. He's got really good stuff."
Tillman almost thwarted Verlander's outing, where the Tigers ace said he was able to pick up where he left off in his previous start with his offspeed pitches. He said his offspeed stuff was the best it had been all season last time out.
After this one? Well, everything felt good.
"It was probably the best I've felt all year," Verlander said. "Everything seemed to be working well for me. My curveball was good again and my changeup was good as well. I felt like I could throw my changeup whenever I wanted for strikes, and also for balls. When you have that going for you, it's pretty beneficial, especially when you fall behind in the count to these guys, a fastball hitting team."
When Cabrera drove the ball, the 24,170 fans at Comerica Park were on their feet. And although Verlander tried not to get too excited when Cabrera stepped up to the plate, he had a good feeling his teammate would get the job done.
"It was pretty exciting, as usual," Verlander said. "It seems like you expect him to do it."
Alex DiFilippo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major