Tigers ace Verlander notches 20th win
With the superb Justin Verlander on the mound for the Tigers, the third no-hitter of his career wouldn't have come as a surprise.
But the struggling Twins made Verlander earn his 20th victory of the season in a 6-4 loss to the Tigers on Saturday.
Verlander (20-5) gave up four runs on eight hits with six strikeouts and three walks to become the first pitcher to win 20 games before the end of August since Arizona's Curt Schilling in 2002.
Minnesota's abysmal offense made it tougher on the flamethrower than expected. Luke Hughes had a home run, a double and three RBI and Jason Repko put one of Verlander's vaunted fastballs into the upper deck in left field for his first homer of the season.
''You can get after him,'' Hughes said. ''He comes at you with a fastball. You know he's going to come at you. He's got electrifying stuff. He's no easy task, going up against a guy like that. He's going to be battling for a Cy Young every year he pitches. So there's a lot of positives we can take from today into tomorrow.''
In a year when no position player in the AL seems to be running away from the pack, Verlander may actually have a chance to become the first pitcher to win the award since Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in 1992.
Verlander threw his second career no-hitter in May and has taken two more into the eighth inning. He is 11-1 against division opponents and is the biggest reason the Tigers started the day with a 6 1/2-game lead over Cleveland.
No-hitter No. 3 seemed to be a distinct possibility when he took the mound against a Twins offense that had scored one run or fewer in six straight games. With Mauer (neck) and Cuddyer (wrist) on the bench, the injury plagued Twins sent out a lineup with eight of their nine players hitting .255 or worse.
But Ben Revere started the game with an infield single and it was apparent early that Verlander didn't have his best stuff. He needed 28 pitches to get through the first inning and gave up back-to-back homers to Hughes and Repko to start the fifth.
''There's been times I've picked these guys up and there's been times they've picked me up,'' Verlander said. ''To get to 20 at this point in the season, obviously you can't do it all on your own. These guys have helped me along the way and today was a good example of that.''
The bottom of the Twins order — Hughes (.240), Repko (.248) and Drew Butera (.170) — went 5 for 8 with two homers, a double and four RBI against Verlander.
''We were battling pretty hard there,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ''Again, like last time, we made him throw a lot of pitches early in the game. We got his pitch count up. That just tells you a little bit about him. He's a warrior.''
Hughes added a two-run double that tied the game 4-all in the sixth and Verlander's pitch count finished at 120.
But former Twin Delmon Young's RBI single in the seventh gave the Tigers the lead for good and put Verlander in position for the win.
The six innings pitched tied a season low for Verlander, a 20-game winner for the first time — and the first time by a Tigers pitcher since Bill Gullickson in 1991.
Carl Pavano (6-11) gave up six runs — five earned — on nine hits with four strikeouts and a walk in 6 2-3 innings.
The Twins lost their seventh straight game and ninth in the last 10. They have lost 15 of their last 17 home games.
''Guys were playing. The guys were intense in the dugout and were getting after it pretty good,'' Gardenhire said. ''Unfortunately, another loss. Nothing really good comes out of losses.''
NOTES: Gardenhire said CF Denard Span (head), returned home to Tampa, Fla., to rest and planned to return to the Twin Cities to start working out when the Twins hit the road next week. It's still unclear if Span will play again this season. ... Mauer and Cuddyer will be evaluated on Sunday with a DL stint likely for one, if not both, of them if significant improvement isn't shown, Gardenhire said. ... Official scorer Stew Thornley announced a scoring change from Friday night's ballgame. He changed an infield single from Delmon Young to a fielder's choice and error on 2B Matt Tolbert, meaning LHP Scott Diamond now had four earned runs charged to him from the start rather than five. ... LHP Brian Duensing (8-13, 5.12) takes the mound for the Twins on Sunday in the series finale against RHP Brad Penny (9-9, 4.82). Duensing has had a horrendous August, going 0-5 with an 8.65 ERA. He lasted just two innings in his previous start, an 8-1 loss to the Orioles. ... Penny has been improving lately, going 2-0 with a 4.04 ERA in his last three starts.