Verlander grows, as does Tigers' Central lead
In Thursday's third inning, Justin Verlander loaded the bases with a walk to Wyatt Toregas, the Indians' No. 9 batter.
On a 100-mph fastball.
"Trying to get three outs with one pitch," Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp said.
Oh, to be young and strong. So great is Verlander's pitching talent that he can impress you even when he messes up. And he certainly erred by issuing the free pass to Toregas, a .182 hitter, with none out.
But that's where the Verlander of 2009 is so different from the Verlander of 2008. Michael Brantley followed with a two-run, broken-bat single through the right side to give the Indians a 2-0 lead, but Verlander permitted no scoring thereafter. Not in the third inning. And not in the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh, either.
The fast-charging Twins, who haven't lost many games lately, were stopped by the schedule on Thursday — unable to gain ground, simply because they didn't play. Detroit needed to take advantage. And despite his early hiccup, Verlander made certain that it happened — with help from his teammates, who rallied for a 6-5 win.
The Tigers' lead in the American League Central increased to three games — with 10 to play.
"This was big," Verlander said before the team departed for Chicago and a three-game series with the White Sox. "For us to go up three right now, as opposed to two, that's a big difference.
"I told all our guys tonight, 'Thanks for picking me up.' I came in and gave up two early. We're in a 2-0 deficit. Obviously, there's work to be done, and those guys battled."
The Tigers arrived in Cleveland after a grueling weekend in the Twin Cities, knowing they could sweep the sliding Indians, who have now lost 11 in a row. The pitching was lined up for it: Edwin Jackson, Rick Porcello and Verlander.
Well, Jackson won the opener. Porcello followed with a victory of his own. And then Verlander demonstrated anew why the Tigers are a threat to upset the Yankees in the American League Division Series — if they make it that far.