Free Press sports writer Anthony Fenech recaps the Tigers’ win over the Dodgers on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, at Comerica Park, featuring a dazzling Justin Verlander.
Determined to end Tigers’ six-game losing streak, long-time ace throws best game of season allowing two hits.
Justin Verlander has been sick of it. The losing. The bad baseball. The feeling that he hasn’t had in quite some time – that the games he pitches in don’t matter.
But this afternoon at Comerica Park, there was a little more on his plate than the “self-motivation” he talked about earlier in the week. There was the Los Angeles Dodgers, the best team in baseball, and they were threatening to sweep the Detroit Tigers at home.
“This morning, I just kind of told myself that I’m going to try to take a playoff-type intensity out there and not let these guys sweep us,” Verlander said. “For whatever reason, I just locked in a little more.”
He did just that, throwing the best game of his season in an improbable 6-1 win over the Dodgers. In the win, his fourth in the past five starts, Verlander threw an outstanding fastball from the early innings on and re-introduced his hard slider, a pitch that overpowered his opponents. That combination of pitches rendered the Dodgers’ big bats useless, in yet another fleeting moment of fun.
“If Justin Verlander’s pitching well, it doesn’t matter,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It could be the ’27 Yankees.”
He took a no-hitter into the sixth inning – dueling with righty Kenta Maeda, who was perfect through five innings – before former teammate Curtis Granderson broke up the bid with a solo home run off the foul pole in rightfield.
The Granderson home run – his first with the Dodgers after joining the team in a trade on Saturday – was but a small speed bump for Verlander, who retired seven of the last eight men he faced for his second eight-inning performance in three starts.
“I just tried to attack,” Verlander said. “I watched Michael Fulmer yesterday just pound the zone against them. I wanted to force those guys to make contact, keep them on their heels and try not to let them breathe.”
Immediately after the Granderson home run, the Tigers offense responded. John Hicks delivered a lead-off single to break-up Maeda’s perfect game and Andrew Romine doubled. Dixon Machado then doubled inside third base to give the Tigers a lead they would not relinquish. Two batters later, Justin Upton clanked a pitch off the opposite foul pole Granderson did, hitting his 26th home run of the season.
“The season’s not going great from us, but you need some production from guys you don’t expect,” Ausmus said. “That’s a necessity.”
About Upton, a guy he does expect production from, Ausmus said, “Every day, you feel like he’s going to do something.”
The Tigers further insured their lead with a two-run double from Miguel Cabrera in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Verlander, though, was the star of the show. After a hiccup in Texas earlier in the week, he lamented the lost intensity from not pitching in a postseason race. So this, against baseball’s Beatles, was his chance to create such a stage.
“It’s impossible to really create a playoff atmosphere without being in the playoffs, but I tried my best to do that,” he said. “There was that much more focus and intensity in every pitch.”
He allowed just two hits over eight innings, striking out nine and walking one.
“On another planet,” is how Ausmus put it.
A planet Verlander has visited often: Pitching lights-out baseball in a high-stakes game, stepping up to the challenge of postseason baseball which these days merely serves as a figment of his imagination.