Justin Verlander, whenever, wherever and however Detroit needs him.
In the middle of another offensive slump, trying to avoid a costly sweep, the Tigers turned to Verlander once again Sunday, and once again, their ace came through. Verlander pitched a complete-game five-hitter as Detroit beat Pittsburgh 3-2.
Verlander has a career 19-2 record in interleague play and has won 23 times after a Tigers loss since the beginning of last season.
"He's the horse, and that's how the horse is supposed to pitch," Jim Leyland said to John Keating during the postgame show. "That was just what the doctor ordered, especially going into Texas."
As usual, Detroit's starter didn't get much help from the offense, but rookie Quintin Berry's Cinderella story lasted just long enough to provide three runs. In the first, after Austin Jackson led off the game with a single, Berry launched a shot into the right-field stands – a stunning show of power for a hitter that once joked his only chance of a big-league homer was to "hit a triple and keep running."
"I willed that thing out as soon as it went up in the air," he said. "I just kept trying to push it, and then I got excited when some fans caught it. That's when I knew it was official."
In the eighth inning, with the game tied, Berry drew a walk, stole second and scored on Delmon Young's two-out single. After the game, Leyland acknowledged that Berry has done enough to earn a everyday spot in the outfield.
"Now that we're going back to American League rules, we can DH Delmon and play Jackson, Berry and Boesch in the outfield," he said. "Berry has waited a long time for a chance in the major leagues, and he's certainly taking advantage of it."
Verlander was cruising until allowing Garrett Jones' game-tying homer in the seventh inning. After a long stare of disbelief aimed at the centerfield stands, Verlander got back to work, and didn't allow another runner into scoring position.
Moments later, Young's single put the Tigers back in front, and Verlander finished the game with perfect innings in the eighth and ninth.
"I was cruising along, and then uh oh, it was a tie game," Verlander told Keating. "Luckily, Delmon came through with a huge two-out RBI single in the next inning. That's how this game works. I probably picked up our team for the first six innings, and then when I made a mistake, they picked me up."
None of this was a surprise to the Pirates, since Verlander took a no-hitter into the ninth inning against them a few weeks ago at Comerica Park. There wasn't that kind of drama this time — Alex Presley led off the first with a bunt single — but Pittsburgh didn't see anything to change manager Clint Hurdle's opinion that Verlander is a unique pitching talent in the last 25 years.
However, Verlander won't be completely happy with Sunday. It was the last interleague game of the season, which means his dedicated quest to get his first career hit will stretch at least into 2013. He struck out in his first at-bat, dropped down a sacrifice bunt, then hit a routine fly ball to right field.