DETROIT — If the Tigers wanted to send the White Sox a message, they picked the right person to deliver it.
In the eighth inning, with the Tigers holding a 4-2 lead over the Central Division-leading Chicago White Sox, Justin Verlander faced Gordon Beckham.
Ahead 0-1 in the count, Verlander threw a 100-mile-an-hour fastball on his 115th pitch and Beckham tried to check his swing. Seconds later, Beckham was holding a small twig as the rest of his bat and the ball went flying into foul territory near third base.
Immediately, the sellout Comerica Park crowd of 44,572 oohed and awed as though the post-game fireworks had already started.
Beckham looked a little dumbfounded as he got a new bat and got back in the batter’s box, only to pop out to third in foul territory on an 82-mile-an-hour curveball.
“That was fun,” Verlander said with a wry smile. “It really got me pumped up when the crowd got into it after that. I really wanted to throw another fastball but my judgment was a little obscured there. Alex (Avila) called a curveball and I was like, OK, that’s probably the right pitch.”
Avila said while he’s seen broken bats on checked swings before, that was not what he was expecting.
“It was a checked swing so I was expecting to catch the ball and all of a sudden the ball hit the bat and I didn’t know where the bat was or the ball was,” Avila said.
Beckham didn’t say anything to Avila after it happened. But Avila could tell what he was thinking.
“I think he was as shocked as anybody,” Avila said. “He kind of looked up and looked at his bat and I looked at him and smiled. He smiled back, like, man, what just happened there? I think everybody was kind of shocked.”
Manager Jim Leyland wasn’t all that shocked, but he was a little concerned that his ace might have been a little too amped up.
“I’ve managed Justin long enough to know now when he smells it, something like that’s got a chance to happen,” Leyland said. “So it didn’t really surprise me a bit. I don’t pay much attention to a broken bat but I do pay attention to the fact that 99, 100 in the eighth inning.
“I was a little concerned because he exerted himself a little bit more tonight. He was pumped up and so was (Jake) Peavy.”
The matchup was a perfect one for a huge Friday night crowd.
Verlander, the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner, versus Peavy, who came in with a 7-6 record and 3.12 ERA.
Verlander allowed a two-run home run to Alejandro De Aza in the third inning but that was it.
“I wasn’t too happy with myself with that pitch there,” Verlander said. “I went away from my instincts there and it hurt me. Especially against a guy like Peavy, I knew that if I gave up much more, it was game over. That’s just what I told myself, I said, all right, that’s it, let’s go, hopefully our guys can scratch across a few.”
The Tigers immediately responded with a three-run bottom of the third on two-out hits by Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Delmon Young, all set up when Peavy hit Quintin Berry with a pitch with Jhonny Peralta on third.
“The pitch to Berry was the one that I thought really changed the game,” Peavy said. “I’m just trying to make sure the ball is inside, and I miss my target by a little bit and I nick him.
That brings up Cabrera, and, well, he’s Miguel Cabrera. You do the best you can against him, and you just hope he doesn’t kill you. I got in a position where I had to throw him a strike and you saw what happened.
“Then I make a great pitch to Prince, and he hits a cue shot up the middle that just stays away from Beckham. It’s tiny things like that — you just hit a guy, and a pitch gets cued up the middle — the ball wasn’t bouncing our way, and that gets you beat against that lineup and that pitcher.”
Before that, Peavy had been almost scary good, striking out the first five batters of the game.
“It was a gut-wrenching game to manage but even from a manager’s standpoint, it’s nice to see those two guys go at it,” Leyland said.
With the 4-2 victory, the Tigers improved to 50-44 and are a half-game back of the White Sox for first in the division.
“It’s really frustrating, because this was a big game, and it was a night where you want to pick your team up, and I just wasn’t quite good enough,” Peavy said. “It was only a couple pitches, but that’s all that it takes when you are going against that guy. You don’t have any margin for error.”
There’s no guarantee that Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner will be about to out-pitch Chris Sale and Philip Humber, but Verlander certainly sent an impressive message to the White Sox Friday night: Look out.