DETROIT — Justin Verlander hasn’t exactly been the model of consistency this season, but Tuesday was ridiculous even by his standards.
Verlander gave up five runs in the first inning, and seemed to confirm the fears of every Tigers fan. Remember, his 5-year, $140 million contract extension doesn’t even kick in until next season, and he had now allowed at least five runs in seven of his last 11 starts.
Just as importantly, he had put the Tigers in a 5-0 hole against Hyun-Jin Ryu, one of the toughest pitchers in the National League.
"It was mostly just bad location," he said. "I missed with a changeup to (Adrian) Gonzalez, and he got the barrel on the ball, and then I hung a changeup to Juan Uribe and he hit it out.
"They got a few soft hits mixed in there, and it turned into a huge inning. That’s a no-no in this game."
Three hours later, some of those fans were singing the praises of both Verlander and the man who signed him to the huge deal, Dave Dombrowski. After the early disaster, Verlander didn’t allow another run, holding Los Angeles to just one hit and one walk in his last five innings of work. He probably could have come out for the seventh — he had only thrown 100 pitches — but by that point, the Tigers had a 12-5 lead and could afford to let the bullpen get some work.
"I’ve said it time and time again," Verlander said. "With our lineup, you never know what might happen. That was my mentality after the first inning. I couldn’t go back and change it, so I had to settle down, keep us in the game and hope that we could get some runs off a very tough pitcher."
"We got hurt in the first inning with a lot of pitches up in the middle of the plate," Avila said. "After that, he started to throw some better fastballs on the edges of the plate. He was able to take advantage of their aggressiveness a little bit, and work with that. He had to battle — I could tell he was having trouble finding his release point again in the sixth — but he made pitches when it counted. To throw up five zeros after that first inning and give us a chance. That’s a good job."
Verlander had an easy second, but then had to focus after the Tigers tied the game with five runs in their half of the inning. He did just that, not allowing another baserunner until Hanley Ramirez walked to start the sixth. By that point, the Tigers were already in complete control of the game.
"That’s one of the keys to pitching," he said. "Those are called stop innings. When your team goes out there and scores, you want to have a quick inning, keep the momentum on your side and keep your guys feeling comfortable and chomping at the bit to get back to the plate.
"I was able to do that tonight, have some very quick innings and I ended up going six."
Because of that, a night that started out looking like another disaster for Verlander ended with his eighth win of the season and a happy Tigers clubhouse.
"The big thing is that Justin had the bad first inning, but he walks away from the game with a good taste in his mouth," Brad Ausmus said. "He gets a win, he went six innings without a high pitch count and he knows he helped us come back to get this game. It is a lot easier to go home and sleep at night after that than it is after you just get knocked around park."