Get this, Justin Verlander said he felt better Tuesday night than he had in a while.
It sure is a great time to play for the Detroit Tigers.
Verlander pitched seven strong innings to earn his major league-best 23rd win and the Tigers blanked the Chicago White Sox 5-0 for their 11th consecutive victory.
Verlander (23-5) allowed six hits, struck out six and walked two while becoming the first Tiger since Hal Newhouser in 1946 to win 11 consecutive starts and the AL’s first 23-game winner since Barry Zito in 2002.
”It’s probably best I’ve felt in the last few starts, the last five or six,” Verlander said. ”I really felt like I was getting back that rhythm I’ve been trying to find for a while.”
That’s a scary statement for the rest of the American League.
Verlander improved to 11-0 with a 2.51 ERA since his last loss on July 15 in Chicago, his only defeat in 15 decisions against AL Central opponents this season.
”He’s the best pitcher I’ve ever had,” manager Jim Leyland said. ”I’ll leave it at that.”
Victor Martinez hit a three-run homer for AL Central-leading Detroit, buoyed by its longest winning streak since September 1968. Miguel Cabrera had two doubles, walked twice and scored two runs.
”(Martinez’s homer) allowed me to go out there and be aggressive,” Verlander said. ”That’s probably the reason I was able to go seven innings.”
Gavin Floyd (12-11) gave up four runs and four hits in 5 1-3 innings, falling to 6-2 with a 3.68 ERA in 17 career starts against Detroit.
Brent Morel doubled and walked twice for Chicago. Alex Rios had three singles.
”When you face a pitcher of that caliber you’ve got to get it done before he starts to make his pitch,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. ”He throws every pitch in any count. The guy throws 98 and he’ll throw you a 3-2 breaking ball. I don’t think you can do much about that.”
Detroit has won five straight against the White Sox and reduced its magic number to win the Central to four over Cleveland. The Tigers have outscored Chicago 54-15 during the streak.
”I’ve said all year that we weren’t playing our best baseball,” Verlander said. ”You look at the talent around this room, if everybody gets rolling it’s going to be tough to beat us. This last couple of weeks, it’s been an example of that.”
Cabrera doubled and scored in the second, and the Tigers added three more in the sixth. With one out and a runner on third, Cabrera was intentionally walked before Martinez sent a 3-2 pitch over the Detroit bullpen in right.
Martinez battled Floyd for nine pitches, fouling off five, before going deep in the game’s most important at-bat.
”Terrific at-bat, it really was,” Leyland said. ”It was a terrific at-bat and he got one and didn’t miss it.”
Floyd walked the next two batters and threw a wild pitch before being pulled after 98 pitches.
For the second straight start, Verlander allowed a number of baserunners and foul balls early in the game to drive up his pitch count, but settled down to pitch through the seventh. He has gone at least six innings and thrown at least 104 pitches in each of his 32 starts this season.
”Being a power pitcher, foul balls come with the territory,” Verlander said. ”It’s going to happen. Sometimes, your pitch count is going to creep up a little bit. Once we got a little bit more of a lead, I was able to calm back down and go seven innings.”
The 6-foot-5 right-hander, a front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award, worked out of jams in three of the first four innings. He got Dayan Viciedo on an around-the-horn double play with runners on the corners and one out in the first, then got Gordon Beckham to fly out with two on to end the second.
Verlander also struck out Beckham looking with a curveball with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth.
”He threw a couple of unhittable pitches,” Leyland said.
The White Sox were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position in the game, dropping to 5 for 45 in those situations over their last five games.
The Tigers have won 21 of their last 25 games.
”It’s not easy,” Leyland said. ”It never gets easy. It’s hard to do. We’ve been on a nice run and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Notes: The annual Roberto Clemente Award nominees were announced on Tuesday. Verlander and Chicago’s Juan Pierre were among the entrants for the award, which recognizes players for positive contributions both on and off the field. … The Tigers and White Sox wrap up their series on Wednesday afternoon, with Detroit’s Brad Penny facing Dylan Axelrod. The 25-year-old Axelrod will be making his second big league appearance and first start.