Verlander withstands heat, beats Royals

As temperatures neared 100 and Justin Verlander’s pitch count

mounted, Jim Leyland thought seriously about replacing his

hard-working All-Star.

But with whom?

“No matter where I looked – my bullpen, their bullpen, in the

stands – I couldn’t find anybody any better,” Leyland quipped. “So

he’s going to be out there.”

With the head index reaching 113 on the stadium concourse,

Verlander threw 119 pitches in 7 2-3 innings and beat Kansas City

2-1 Sunday afternoon, vaulting Detroit into first place in the AL

Central and making him the first Tigers pitcher in 24 years with 12

wins prior to the All-star break.

“I knew it would be a grind out there, as hot as it was,” said

Verlander. “I took my time between pitches and just tried to slow

things down a little bit. I felt like that helped.”

The 28-year-old right-hander (12-4) threw 82 strikes in his 119

pitches and improved to 12-2 in 18 starts against the Royals. The

first Tiger since Jack Morris in 1987 with 12 wins before the

break, he struck out the side in the second and sixth and fanned

nine altogether, raising his league-leading strikeout total to 147.

He allowed six hits and did not walk a batter while getting charged

with one unearned run. He has not allowed more than two runs in

nine straight starts.

Verlander could remember only one game this hot.

“Maybe Atlanta a year or two ago. It was smoking hot there, too.

I just tried to take all the time I could to get my breath and not

let myself get in fast-forward mode and all of a sudden find

yourself with a couple of guys on and you’re gassed.”

The Royals, who lost three of the four games against their AL

Central rivals, went into the break with a league-worst 37-54

record. Eric Hosmer doubled leading off the ninth against Jose

Valverde, but was cut down on a close play trying to steal third.

That was the second out, then Mike Moustakas flied out.

Both Verlander and Leyland said they thought he was safe until

seeing the replay. Then they thought Brandon Inge blocked him

off.

Hosmer still thinks he was safe.

“I know I got my hand in there 100 percent,” he said. “You know,

it’s a tough call for him, but it’s a shame it’s the last inning

and the game ended like that. It was a tough way to lose.”

The Tigers, winners of four of their last five, moved a

half-game ahead of Cleveland, which lost to Toronto 7-1.

“That doesn’t really mean anything,” Leyland said. “That means

we’ve played a half a game better than somebody else the first

half. This is going to be up for grabs. The Twins and White Sox are

right there. Cleveland’s right there. It’s better than being down,

behind. But I’m proud of the guys. Unbelievable effort. Guys are

tired.”

Jeff Francis (3-10) took the loss even though he had one of the

his best outings of the season, going six-plus innings and

surrendering two runs on just four hits, with one walk and six

strikeouts, matching his season high.

“There’s been a lot of games we could have won and haven’t,”

said Francis. “But you know, you put it behind you. We still have a

half to go to turn things around, make some adjustments and play

better baseball.”

Verlander lost the shutout in the eighth when Alcides Escobar

singled, went to third on Chris Getz’s single and scored with two

outs when Inge threw high to first on Alex Gordon’s slow roller to

third. Joaquin Benoit relieved and struck out Billy Butler with two

on and two out.

“That was the biggest out of the game,” said Leyland. “And

probably nobody will notice it.”

Valverde earned his 24th straight save. He saved all three of

the victories against KC.

It was 95 degrees with a heat index of 105 when the game started

and 97, 112 by the sixth inning.

Francis retired the first nine Tigers but Casper Wells doubled

leading off the fourth and made it 1-0 on an RBI single by Brennan

Boesch. In the sixth, Wells walked, went to second with his first

career steal and came home on Magglio Ordonez’s RBI single.

Verlander, as usual against KC, was dominant most of the hot,

sticky afternoon.

After Butler singled leading off the second, struggling rookie

Mike Moustakas broke an 0 for 21 streak with a two-out single into

right. But Verlander ended the threat by striking out Brayan Pena.

Jeff Francoeur singled to start the Royals fifth, went to second on

a wild pitch and to third on Moustakas’ roller to first. But

Verlander kept him there by striking out Pena and retiring Escobar

on an easy infield grounder.

“It was a really well-pitched game. We just matched up against a

really good pitcher,” said Royals manager Ned Yost. “We did what we

wanted to do, we wanted to keep it close and have a chance to win

it late, we just couldn’t push the run across.”

NOTES: Verlander’s pitch hit Escobar on the inside of his right

arm in the third inning but home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi refused to

let him take first, apparently ruling the ball had glanced off the

bat. Replays clearly showed the ball hitting Escobar. The batter

and manager Ned Yost argued in vain…. Morris was 18-11 after

winning 12 games in ’87 before the break. … Melky Cabrera’s

sixth-inning single stretched his hitting streak to nine games.