Verlander struggles, but avoids loss to Twins
Justin Verlander still hasn't lost to the Minnesota Twins in more than three years, though he came awfully close on Thursday.
The Detroit Tigers ace left after the seventh inning with the game tied. He benefited from a four-run rally that got him off the hook for what would have been his first loss to the Twins since April 2010.
However, that didn't brighten his mood because an eighth-inning run was enough to give the Twins a 7-6 win over his Tigers.
''Today was tough,'' Verlander said. ''I'd say frustrating was a good word for it.''
Verlander came into this season with a huge contract and a reputation as the best pitcher in the American League and perhaps all of baseball.
On May 5, after he dominated the Astros, it didn't appear that anything had changed. Verlander was 4-2 with a 1.55 ERA, something new for a pitcher who usually struggles in April.
That, though, is when everything changed.
In his last 20 starts, Verlander is 8-7 with a 4.45 ERA. He has talked about finding mechanical flaws, and he had allowed only eight runs in his previous four starts, but things fell apart again on Thursday.
''It has been a real grind for me all season,'' he said. ''It's been a real battle. When you look at my numbers and then look at my record (12-9), you realize it could be a lot worse.''
Twins starter Andrew Albers escaped several jams with his assortment of slow and slower pitches, but ran out of gas in the sixth. Throwing a fastball in the mid-80s, a changeup in the 70s, and a slow curve, Albers gave up five runs, nine hits and a walk in 5 2-3 innings.
The Twins needed only eight pitches to take the lead. Brian Dozier just missed a homer on Verlander's second pitch - the ball hooking just outside of the foul pole - and then singled. Chris Herrmann followed with an RBI double, but Verlander escaped without further trouble.
''It was huge to get that first run,'' Herrmann said. ''But you know that one run isn't going to beat the Tigers.''
Detroit killed its own rally in the second inning on a baserunning mistake by Prince Fielder. After lining a ball into the left-center field gap, Fielder tried to stretch the hit into a double, even though Clete Thomas had cut the ball off easily.
Thomas threw to second, and Brian Dozier spun to make a quick tag, only to realize that Fielder was still 20 feet away.
Bryan Holaday tied it in the third with his first career homer, a long drive over the bullpens in left. It also marked Holaday's first career RBI in his 16th game. Fielder made it 2-1 with an RBI single later in the inning, barely rounding first base before retreating to the bag.
Former Tigers player Wilkin Ramirez got the Twins even in the fourth with a check-swing RBI bloop single, and Ryan Doumit hit a three-run homer over the right-center field video board to give Minnesota a 5-2 lead in the fifth. It was Doumit's second straight hit against Verlander after an 0-for-12 stretch to start his career.
Verlander was ready to accept the bad pitch to Doumit, but he was still shaking his head after the game about Ramirez's base hit.
''I couldn't believe that one,'' he said. ''I don't even think the first-base umpire would have ruled that he went around, and the ball hits his bat and dies in front of the outfielders.''
Holaday beat out an infield single for his second career RBI in the sixth, chasing Albers, and Austin Jackson tied the game with a shot on Josh Roenicke's second pitch. Herrmann, though, won it in the eighth with his second RBI double - a liner to right-center that fooled Jackson.
''I thought I hit it right at him, and it isn't like he's going to drop the ball,'' Herrmann said. ''I still have no idea why it started hooking right, but I'll take it.''
Jackson took a couple of indecisive steps toward right-center, then realized he was in trouble. He got close, but his style of not diving for balls cost him. He tried to grab the ball off the top of the grass, but just couldn't hang on. Doug Bernier scored from second with the go-ahead run.
''It looked like the ball fooled Jackson, but that's one of those crazy plays that you need to beat the Tigers,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. ''Herrmann did a great job to hit that ball off (Drew) Smyly. That guy is really tough against lefties.''
Even Jackson's teammates weren't sure what happened.
''That was ugly. It was so ugly,'' right fielder Torii Hunter said. ''That wasn't Jackson's fault, it was the ball's fault. I thought it was three outs, and I started jogging in, and then I saw Jackson going like he was drunk, and I knew exactly what happened.
''You can't explain it, but that happens to you about 10 times a year. The ball just does something in the air.''
NOTES: Verlander hadn't allowed six earned runs to the Twins since June 29, 2007 - a span of 19 starts. He hasn't lost to them since April 27, 2010. ... The Twins said they will recall pitcher Liam Hendriks on Saturday to start in Cleveland. Hendriks has spent most of the season with Triple-A Rochester, but has gone 0-1 with a 3.94 ERA in three starts for the Twins. ... C Alex Avila will begin a rehab stint with Triple-A Toledo on Thursday as he continues to recover from a concussion. ... C Joe Mauer, on the 7-day concussion list, was cleared by a Tigers team doctor to fly back to Minnesota on Thursday night.