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DET@CLE: Verlander fans 10 for his 100th career win

CLEVELAND -- Justin Verlander became the only active pitcher under the age of 30 with 100 career wins. Jose Valverde became the first Tiger to convert 33 consecutive save opportunities in one season. Both milestones drew a vociferous celebration in the Tigers' clubhouse after Thursday's 4-3 win over the Indians.

But the bigger celebration was the end of another milestone. Detroit's 13-game losing streak here was over, and the Indians' charge back into the American League Central race was halted. And as Verlander stepped around some ice in front of his locker, ice from the celebratory champagne, that was the mark on his mind.

"It's still exciting to get there," Verlander said of 100 wins, "but in the big scheme, it doesn't mean all that much. There's other things going on here with this team. Obviously, this win was special because of the other circumstances surrounding it, the games that we lost here in Cleveland. We battled tonight, fighting some ghosts when they tried to come back a little bit. It was a great team win."

Verlander has had better outings on his way to the century mark, quite a few of them this year, but few this season have been more important. On a night when Cleveland could have cut Detroit's lead in the division to one game, Verlander battled himself as much as the Indians and held off their rally.

They badly wanted to get to him, and they came incredibly close. They might well have gotten there if not for Austin Jackson's acrobatic catch at the center-field fence, his second in six days on this road trip. But they didn't.

"Our main goal was to shorten up the distance, and we did," said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose team now sits three games back. "Yeah, we wanted to pick up three games, but that wasn't the case."

Whatever was hanging over the Tigers at Progressive Field, they killed it.

"We haven't done too well here, obviously," manager Jim Leyland said. "And when we got off to a good start tonight and they put a three-spot up, it was a sign of déjà vu. But Verlander did a great job of holding them to three runs and held on. It was a very, very good baseball game."

Leyland, mind you, isn't one to believe in momentum, other than that day's pitcher, and he believes in Verlander more than anybody. But he also hates the squeeze bunt, yet he was willing to call for one in the second inning with Alex Avila on third, Jackson at the plate and Indians starter Fausto Carmona trying to find the strike zone.

Leyland called for it and held his breath, hoping the Indians magic wouldn't get him.

"Some people wish I would hold it for a long time," he joked afterward.

Jackson got the bunt down and scored Avila for a four-run lead midway through the second inning. Then Leyland had to get that feeling again while the Indians rallied.

Verlander was on the mound the last time the Tigers won here, beating the Indians on May 8 of last year with six innings of three-run ball -- not his best outing, but with great pitches when he needed them. This was one of those outings.

He could live with Carlos Santana's homer in the bottom of the second. With a big lead behind him, he challenged Cleveland's gifted young catcher. The free passes an inning later got him. He hadn't walked two batters in the same inning since May 2, against the Yankees. He hadn't walked more than two batters in a game since May 13, against the Royals, and he had a no-hitter going into the sixth that night.

Verlander lost an 0-2 count to Lou Marson for a one-out pass, but it was the 3-2 pitch he missed to Jason Kipnis that bothered him more. It extended the inning for Asdrubal Cabrera, who got a 1-2 curveball and stayed on it for a liner into the right-field corner.

"I got a three-run lead there, and I walked two guys. That's not me," Verlander said. "That's especially not me this year. I've been able to limit my walks substantially. I just didn't have a great feel. Usually, especially given a lead like that, I'm not going to put guys on base unless they earn their way on. Tonight was a different story, and then all of a sudden, you're facing their best hitter and he hits a double down the line and it's a one-run game.

"From there on it was just a battle all night to keep those guys off the basepaths, not let myself walk guys and not give them too much to hit. Obviously, with a one-run game, it's tough. You don't want to walk anybody, but you don't want to throw anything down the middle of the plate."

What followed was more like vintage Verlander. He retired 13 of his last 15 batters, striking out six of them, and made his lead stick. One of the non-strikeouts might have been the biggest out of the game.

After a one-out walk to Travis Hafner, Santana nearly homered off Verlander again. His drove the ball to straightaway center, but Jackson sprinted back to make an acrobatic catch before crashing into the fence.

"I'm not sure if it would have [gone] out or not," Jackson said. "I didn't really get a chance to take a peek at the wall. I was just trying to make sure in that situation. It was hit well enough that in that situation, I just wanted to be sure."

It was Jackson's second clutch grab at the fence in as many Verlander starts, and it killed the makings of one more Indians rally. Verlander and setup man Joaquin Benoit combined to retire eight straight Clevelanders before Valverde came on.

The crowd anticipated a rally. Valverde, with his first save situation here this year, didn't allow it.

"This was a setup job tonight," Leyland said. "They've got the towels out, and they were waving them. It was almost like a playoff atmosphere. They were all keyed up. They've had a lot of dramatic moments. And for him to go out there and get that part of the order without anybody reaching base, that's pretty impressive." Comments