Verlander continued his roll on Friday night. As our game preview unfortunately foretold, Albert Pujols got to Verlander for a solo home run in the first inning. But, from that point on, Verlander flipped the ace switch, and proceeded to carve up the Angels with style en route to the Tigers' fifth straight victory by the score of 4-2.
The offense managed to frustrate for five innings, squandering a few chances to back Verlander with run support. Nolasco only struck out two, but the Tigers just couldn't get even the hard hit balls to drop. They managed several missiles with runners on base, and twice Miguel Cabrera drilled balls into the gap in right-center, only to see Mike Trout run them down. That all changed in the sixth.
Victor Martinez and JD Martinez both doubled to start the inning, with Victor coming around to score and knot the game at one apiece. Justin Upton, the one you've been waiting for, lit into a Ricky Nolasco offering low and in and destroyed it into the left field seats to stake Verlander to a 3-1 lead.
After a quick seventh for Verlander, the offense continued to pour it on as Cameron Maybin drilled a 2-1 Nolasco offering over the right field wall. Maybin's third dinger of the season made it 4-1 and chased the Angels' starter.
The Tigers' ace would not allow a hit from the second inning until the eighth. After C.J. Cron's two-out single in the first, Verlander retired 20 of the next 21 batters. He struck out the side in the third, and made it five in a row until a walk to Andrelton Simmons in the fourth. It was strikeouts and weak contact, until a Kaleb Cowart single with one-out in the eighth inning. Verlander, hit 100 pitches shortly thereafter and the question was whether he could go the distance.
Cliff Pennington put up a tough 10 pitch battle that ended with Verlander spamming fastballs at 96 above the belt to dust his eighth batter of the game. The push for a complete game ended when leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun drilled an 0-2 slider on the inner half down the right field line for an RBI double. With Verlander beyond 110 pitches, Brad Ausmus turned to Francisco Rodriguez for a four out save.
Things quickly got tense. Rodriguez pitched Trout carefully, refusing to give in and walked him to put runners on first and second. Rodriguez got to 0-2 on Albert Pujols when the slugger unloaded a mammoth shot down the left field line went foul by, at most, fifteen feet. It was a terrifying moment, compounded immediately thereafter by a ball in the dirt that advanced Calhoun and Trout to second and third respectively. Rodriguez rallied however, getting a groundout to short to slip the noose.
The Tigers went down in order, and, after throwing 9 pitches to wrap up the final out of the eighth inning, K-Rod returned to the mound to close it out. He struck out C.J. Cron, but then, continuing to nibble, walked Andrelton Simmons with one out. He got ahead of Nick Buss, and induced a game-ending double play to send the home fans home happy...and with their nerves a bit shot.
The Detroit Tigers are now just one game behind the Baltimore Orioles for the second Wild Card berth.
Justin Verlander: Pure mastery on display. A mistake to Pujols in the first inning was the only one he made on the night. Eight strikeouts, one walk,
Justin Upton: Another missile into the left field seats as J-Up continues to find the power stroke with runners on base.
Cameron Maybin: Another multi-hit game for the firestarter. Maybin singled in the third, doubled in the fifth and ripped a solo shot in the seventh inning.
Mini-roar: Ian Kinsler, Erick Aybar and Miguel Cabrera turned a slick 4-6-3 double-play on a tough bouncer off the bat of Nick Buss. to end the game by the skin of their teeth. The ability to max out the potential double-play balls has been this defense's saving grace this season, and it got them out of a dicey spot tonight.
STATS AND REACTIONS:
- This was the third time this season that Brad Ausmus has asked Frankie Rodriguez to get four outs.
- Justin Upton now has four home runs and 11 RBI in his last five games.
- Cameron Maybin finished a triple shy of the cycle.
- Ian Kinsler went 0-for-4, continuing a rough month for the Tigers' leadoff man. However, he did hit the ball on the screws repeatedly tonight with nothing to show for it.
- The save was the 422nd of Francisco Rodriguez' career, tying him for 5th all-time with Billy Wagner. His command remains a bit shaky, and what is perfectly clear is that Rodriguez has to get ahead of hitters or he is in real trouble. The Tigers' bullpen, so good all summer, is showing some real cracks over the last month.
- Justin Verlander now has 189 strikeouts on the season, leaving him three back of the A.L. leader, Tampa Bay's Chris Archer.
- Since June 27th, Verlander has allowed three runs in an outing just once.
WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH: