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CWS@DET: Verlander notches his 1,000th MLB strikeout

DETROIT -- An evening in the batter's box against Justin Verlander isn't a fun night out for many hitters. Add in a steady drizzle and temperatures barely above 40, and it's downright miserable. Misery had company Friday in the Chicago White Sox, which is exactly how Verlander likes seeing them these days.

After all the fits the White Sox gave Verlander early in his career, it was fitting that they were in the box for Verlander to reach a career milestone with 1,000 strikeouts, the last eight of them in Friday's 9-3 victory. The last of those, A.J. Pierzynski, might have been poignant.

Of all the White Sox hitters who seemingly owned Verlander early in his career, Pierzynski is the one still on the team. He hit two of Chicago's 10 home runs off Verlander in his rookie season of 2006, then went 6-for-16 off him two years later. Those good times might as well have been a decade ago.

Pierzynski swung and missed at Verlander's 117th and final pitch, an offspeed pitch in the dirt, to end the seventh inning. Pierzynski yelled something in frustration at himself. Verlander said nothing, just stared back at him on his way toward the dugout, the crowd roaring.

Since Verlander was watching Pierzynski, he couldn't see the message on the scoreboard behind him about his 1,000th career strikeout. He didn't know about it until he stepped into the dugout and got the ball from head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.

"I said, 'OK, great. What's it for," Verlander said. "A thousand strikeouts? All right. Cool. I'm not really one to follow statistics like that, so I'm glad somebody was paying attention."

He has some game balls for his firsts, from his first Major League victory in 2006 to his first 200-strikeout season in 2009. At age 28, he hasn't really been at the point where he's had career milestones to follow.

He doesn't track those statistics, but don't doubt that he tracks his success against the White Sox. He doesn't have a milestone going on that, but he has a streak. Friday was Verlander's sixth straight victory in as many meetings, all of them quality starts. He hasn't lost to Chicago since 2008, the season before he ascended to the top tier of arms in the American League.

The White Sox beat Verlander four times in five matchups in 2006, to the point that there was a widespread belief that they found Verlander tipping his pitches. They beat him five times in six games in 2008, the exception being a complete-game four-hitter. They've done little against him since.

The difference, Verlander believes, is maturity.

"I think I've turned into a better pitcher," he said. "I think early on in my career, I made a lot of mistakes, kind of like I did to [Carlos] Quentin tonight, and they were able to capitalize on them. But as you minimize those against a lineup like this, you see less and less runs up on the board. Just because their lineup's so good top to bottom, the more mistakes you make, the more opportunities there are to hurt you. So you really have to focus on making your pitches, and I feel like the last few years, I've gotten a lot better at doing that."

It seemed like his focus might have been finely tuned toward this opponent. He usually throws fastballs at 93-94 mph starting out, then gains velocity as the game continues. That was part of his maturation process.

His first two pitches of the night were 95-mph fastballs to Juan Pierre. He struck out Pierre with a 97-mph heater on the ninth pitch of the at-bat. And he never let up. He topped out at 100 mph on a fourth-inning pitch, according to the Comerica Park scoreboard.

"It was up, big time," catcher Alex Avila said of the velocity.

It wasn't just a pitcher trying to get in his innings before the rain might've picked up. It seemed like something more.

"I just felt really good," Verlander said. "Me and [pitching coach Rick Knapp] worked on something with my backswing on my arm, just to get me going a little bit quicker. I think that helped. I felt like the ball was coming out the best it has this season."

Considering Verlander's other outings this month, that's saying something.

Verlander sent down Chicago's first 11 batters in order, striking out two of them, until Quentin connected on a 96-mph fastball for a 427-foot drive to left field with two outs in the fourth for his fifth home run of the season. Quentin came up again leading off the seventh and did the same, this time a 409-foot shot and the first of back-to-back homers. Paul Konerko followed with a drive off the left-field foul pole.

The only other damage against Verlander, however, was a fifth-inning single from Pierzynski. Verlander (2-2) didn't walk anyone and reached relatively few three-ball counts once Detroit's offense gave him a comfortable lead.

"Justin did a good job keeping them off base," manager Jim Leyland said. "That's why the home runs didn't hurt as much."

Once Konerko homered and Adam Dunn worked Verlander for a nine-pitch at-bat that ended in a popout behind first base, the Tigers had two relievers warming. Verlander settled in, racking up back-to-back strikeouts on Alex Rios and Pierzynski. Both came on offspeed pitches out of the strike zone.

The latter made him the 15th Tigers pitcher to reach the 1,000 mark, and the first since Jack Morris.

While Verlander continued his recent success against the South Siders, Mark Buehrle (1-2) gave up more runs than he had against the Tigers since 2007. Jhonny Peralta tripled in a run and scored on a Brennan Boesch sacrifice fly in the second inning, then Ryan Raburn hit a rare opposite-field shot an inning later for his third home run of the year. Avila hit a pair of doubles, driving in Boesch in the fourth and setting up Casper Wells' RBI double in the sixth.

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