Justin Verlander got a warm welcome on a chilly, damp Monday night in Detroit, and after soaking up and returning some of the small crowd’s appreciation for his incredible 12 year run with the Tigers, got right down to business. He wasn’t perfect, but this was largely a somewhat sloppy affair on the defensive side of things. There were few hard hit balls on either side, and the Astros built a slim lead and held it to win 3-2.
The Tigers got it done against their old ace in the early innings. Recent call-up Christin Stewart, in his first start in a Tigers’ jersey, drove a high fastball from Verlander deep to left-center where Astros’ centerfielder, Jake Marisnick, made a nice running catch. Nick Castellanos doubled with two outs but was stranded. In the second inning, they broke though. Niko Goodrum doubled to right, and Ronny Rodriguez banged a single off first baseman, Tyler White’s, glove to put two aboard. After James McCann predictably struck out, Dawel Lugo cracked a single through the left side of the infield to put the Tigers on the board first.
Verlander’s teammates had his back, however, taking advantage of a pair of walks, a seeing eye grounder up the middle, a Ronny Rodriguez bobble on a potentially routine double-play turn, and a run-scoring passed ball right through McCann’s wickets to drop a three-spot on Francisco Liriano in the top of the third inning. Verlander settled in from that point on, striking out a pair and getting a weak fly ball in the bottom of the frame.
Francisco Liriano settled in as well, getting a quick fourth inning, and then escaping a two-on, one-out jam in the fifth by striking out Carlos Correa and getting Marwin Gonzalez to line out. Verlander returned serve with a fierce bottom half of the frame, getting McCann to pop up first pitch—please can we be done with this now—and punching out Lugo and JaCoby Jones. Lirano came right back with a quick inning of his own in the top of the sixth, getting his pitch count in order, but also raising the specter of Gardenhire leaving him in to face the Astros’ order a third time.
Meanwhile, the young Tigers, most of whom have never played with Verlander, were not terribly intimidated. Jeimer Candelario led off the bottom of the sixth by drawing a walk. Christin Stewart then sat back on a 1-2 curveball, and smoked a grounder under the glove of a diving Jose Altuve for his first major league hit. That’s a keeper. Candelario advanced to third on the play, and scored from third on a scorched line drive out directly to Marisnick in center off the bat of Nick Castellanos. Verlander cleaned up the rest of the frame, but the Tigers were down just one run heading into the seventh.
We’ll pause here to congratulate young Mr. Stewart.
To his credit, Gardenhire yanked Liriano after six, despite using only 85 pitches on the night. He struck out seven on the night, allowing four walks, four hits, and three runs, all unearned, which is cute. However, with expanded rosters, in a tight game and down a run, the decision-making tree for Gardy and pitching coach Rick Anderson is just a bit more complicated with options. Let’s get a live look in at their process.
I can’t stop watching this. It’s mesmerizing. pic.twitter.com/06D2vj7hjb— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@MuslimIQ) September 10, 2018
We only kid because we love. As it turns out, Gardy made the right call in the seventh, going with Drew VerHagen, who set the Astros down with ease. Instead it was the Tigers who mounted a threat against Verlander in the bottom of the seventh.
James McCann slapped a one-out single, and Dawel Lugo followed with a tailor made double-play ball to third, but Alex Bregman uncharacteristically threw it away. Unfortunately, Verlander reached all the way back at this point, blowing JaCoby Jones away with 98 mph heat, and then dusting Jeimer Canderlario with a rare changeup to escape. Verlander’s night was over with 10 punchouts and a one-run lead. The command still isn’t as finely tuned for him as it was late in 2017 and the first half of this season, but he looks pretty close to being in monster JV form as the playoffs approach.
Alex Wilson put together a clean eighth inning for the Tigers, leaving them six outs left in which to make a comeback. He got a nice assist from Castellanos to get through it, however. Not exactly a highlight reel play, but we’ll take it.
More like Nicholas Catchtellanos. pic.twitter.com/MlQcmZgpyY— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) September 11, 2018
With one out in the bottom of the frame, Castellanos came through at the plate as well, with a solid single. Victor Martinez followed with a sinking liner to left that Josh Reddick was able to snare from his knees just before it hit the turf. Castellanos, in full TOOTBLAN form, was frozen at second base, and easily doubled off first base to end the inning. In his defense, neither umpire involved signaled a catch on Reddick’s part, leaving Castellanos in no man’s land waiting to see if Reddick had caught the ball out of his sight or not. Gardenhire came out to briefly express his displeasure on that point, but there was no recourse in the rulebook.
Joe Jimenez dominated the Astros with a pair of punchouts in the top of the ninth, and the Tigers were down to their last three outs. The Astros brought in the closer who shall not be named, as he set the Tigers down without much trouble.
Who was the Tigers’ Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Castellanos: 2-3, RBI, 2B
Stewart: 1-4, 2 SO
Jimenez: 1.0 IP, 2 SO
After the game, Verlander spoke to reporters about his return, his emotions on the day and on the mound, and how much the Tigers have changed in just one calendar year.