Jim Leyland had already decided after the eighth inning Monday night that he was sticking with Justin Verlander in the ninth, no matter what happened against the Kansas City Royals.
So when the crusty Detroit manager ambled out to the mound, with two on and two out in a 3-2 game, his message for his ace was simple: ”You’re going to get me fired.”
”Seriously,” Verlander said afterward. ”That’s what he told me.”
Leyland’s heart must have really been racing when he headed back to the dugout and watched Verlander plunk Alcides Escobar to load the bases. And the relaxation must have been just as quick to come when the reigning Cy Young winner struck out Alex Gordon to preserve the victory.
”He came in after the eighth and said, `I feel great,”’ Leyland said. ”I said, `Well, it’s your game. You’re either going to win it or lose it. I’m not taking you out.”’
So what was Verlander’s response when Leyland had to visit the mound?
”Sorry,” Verlander said.
”That’s just the way he is,” added Verlander, who used 131 pitches to improve to 14-2 in his career against the Royals. ”He’s relaxed in a situation where a lot of guys might be panicking. And he might be panicking on the inside, but he doesn’t show it.”
Austin Jackson hit a leadoff homer and Brandon Inge added a two-run shot in the fifth for the Tigers, giving Verlander (1-1) just enough support in a pitcher’s duel against Danny Duffy.
The young left-hander kept the Tigers’ potent attack at bay most of the game, allowing three runs on seven hits and a walk in a 6 1-3 innings. Duffy (1-1) also struck out seven.
Detroit nearly added to Jackson’s homer when Brennan Boesch singled and Miguel Cabrera worked a walk in the first inning. Prince Fielder grounded into a double play, though, and Delmon Young flied out to end the threat and keep Kansas City within striking distance.
Gordon eventually matched the run when he doubled in the bottom half of the inning, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Billy Butler’s base hit.
That was just about all the Royals could muster until the ninth inning, when Butler led off with a single. Pinch runner Jason Bourgeois eventually scored, setting up the dramatic ending.
Verlander changed speeds and took advantage of the corners to flummox the young Kansas City lineup most of the night. He retired 11 straight at one point and struck out nine overall.
Of course, his dominance was nothing new to folks in Kansas City.
The right-hander has made a mockery of the Royals in recent years, especially at Kauffman Stadium, where he improved to 9-2 and has allowed only 18 earned runs in 88 1-3 innings.
”It was a big task facing Verlander,” said Royals manager Ned Yost, whose club has lost five straight. ”We gave him a good game, but it’s not the way we wanted it to end.”
Verlander finally had something to show for his third consecutive strong start.
He he allowed four runs over 8 1-3 innings in a 4-2 defeat to Tampa Bay, and received no decision despite allowing a pair of hits over eight scoreless innings against Boston – making those 24 wins he piled up last season look all the more impressive.
”A lot of those last year came pretty easy,” he said. ”I told everyone my goal this season is to be a better pitcher, even if my numbers might not be as good.”
Duffy did his best to make Monday night another fruitless outing.
The young left-hander, who went six scoreless innings against Oakland his first time out, used his overpowering fastball to blow through most of the Detroit lineup. Alex Avila struck out twice against Duffy, and Fielder and Cabrera also went down at the plate.
His only major mistakes were to Jackson in the first inning and Inge in the fifth.
It was all that Verlander needed.
”It was a big, see-saw battle, back and forth,” Yost said. ”A lot of excitement at the end.”
NOTES: Two of Verlander’s 15 complete games have come against Kansas City. …. Gordon, who was made the spokesman for the All-Star FanFest earlier in the day, earned a round of applause with a face-planting grab on a sinking fly ball to LF in the fifth. … Detroit LHP Drew Smyly takes the mound Tuesday night against LHP Bruce Chen.