For the second straight game on Justin Verlander Day, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning behind eight strong from their ace. This time, instead of Jose Valverde, it was Verlander who would attempt to close it out, because he needed just 81 pitches to get there.
Unfortunately, Verlander wasn’t himself in the ninth.
Jeff Keppinger led the inning off with a pinch-hit single and, after Verlander struck out Reid Brignac, Desmond Jennings took a perfectly placed 99 mph 2-2 fastball to right for the Rays’ second hit of the inning, one more hit than they had in the first eight innings.
Verlander tried to discover his curveball against Carlos Pena, but much like the rest of the game, he didn’t have a very good feel for it and fell behind 3-2. The payoff pitch was 100 mph but it found the backstop and plated the first run of the game for the Rays. Evan Longoria then singled in a run and just like that, the game was tied and Verlander’s day was done at 104 pitches.*
Leyland opted to go with Daniel Schlereth against the lefty Matt Joyce, but predictably, Joe Maddon pinch-hit him for Elliot Johnson. Schlereth got ahead of Johnson 0-2, but tried to get cute with his off-speed and inexcusably walked the bases loaded.
So, ironically, it was Jose Valverde who had a chance to come on and save Verlander’s final line and give the Tigers a chance to walk it off again in the bottom half. But Valverde fell behind every batter he faced, including the first he faced, Ben Zobrist, who singled in two more runs to give the Rays a 4-2 lead. Valverde finally got out of the inning after 23 pitches.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers had the meaty part of their order leading things off, but ex-Tiger closer Fernando Rodney was able to get through Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Jhonny Peralta in order to hand the Tigers their first loss of the 2012 season.
- The Tigers scored once in the first and another in the fifth. The first run came off the bat of Cabrera, who singled home Austin Jackson. Jackson singled to start the game and advanced to second on Brennan Boesch’s swinging bunt to first. The Tigers’ run in the fifth inning was via a James Shields’ balk with Andy Dirks on third. Dirks led the inning off with a double and advanced on Ramon Santiago’s groundout.
- Verlander’s curveball gave him troubles all game. He only threw 15 (14%) and eight of them were for balls. Another was the Keppinger single to lead-off the ninth.
- *Verlander was on pace to throw (a lot) fewer than 104 pitches today, which would’ve been a first since July 2010, but he finished at exactly 104 after the shaky ninth. He has gone 44 consecutive starts of pitching at least six innings.
- Verlander’s final line: 8.1 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 7 K. That line will still win a lot of games this year with this lineup.
- Verlander could very well be 2-0 this season, but he is 0-1 with a 2.20 ERA.
- James Shields allowed six hits and struck out five in the win. Cabrera had two of the hits.
- Brennan Boesch, who many believed would break out this season, myself included, has started 4-23 after today’s 0-4.
- Tigers are 4-1 against Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, and James Shields. Not bad. Imagine when they get to face some real noodles.