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ARI@DET: Verlander strikes out 14 over eight innings

DETROIT -- The pitch came from Justin Verlander. Justin Upton swung and missed, as so many have recently. Verlander struck out the side after allowing the first two batters to reach second and third in the eighth inning.

The crowd of 43,163 -- the first sellout since the home opener at Comerica Park -- roared both for what Verlander did and what he has done.

The Tigers' ace had a career-high 14 strikeouts in Saturday's 6-0 win over the D-backs, continuing an unbelievable run that is complicating the question of who is the best in the game.

Verlander is 6-0 with a 0.72 ERA in six starts since May 29, giving up 26 hits, five walks and striking out 51 in 49 2/3 innings over that span. Since his no-hitter on May 7, Verlander is 8-0 with a 1.56 ERA.

He has hurled a quality start in 16 of his 17 outings and passed Roy Halladay for the Major League lead in strikeouts. The Tigers' ace has not lost since April 27, winning eight consecutive decisions over that span -- including his past six starts.

Verlander has had dominant streaks before, but never like this.

"I feel like I'm throwing the ball really well," Verlander said. "I feel like my fastball control has been outstanding, for the most part, during this stretch. Most of the good games I have are built off of that, being able to locate that, and mixing the offspeed off of that.

"I feel like I was able to do that tonight pretty well, keep guys off-balance and start to get them guessing."

Verlander gave up four hits over eight scoreless innings against the D-backs.

"He was everything we heard he was, and I saw him when he came up for his first game and we knew he had electric stuff," said Arizona manager Kirk Gibson. "We watched him on TV, so you have to tip your hat to him."

Verlander had his top three pitches working well for him -- the fastball, curveball and changeup. He finished with 119 pitches, 84 for strikes. He spotted the curveball for a strike 19 of 25 times (76 percent), which was better compared to the fastball (33-for-50, 66 percent). He also threw nine sliders, eight of them for strikes, according to MLB.com Gameday data.

"You just don't see stuff like that," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "I think one of their guys remarked to [third-base coach Gene Lamont], if you get a pitch from him to hit, you'd better hit it."

The career-high eighth consecutive win for Verlander not only made him the second 10-win pitcher in baseball this season, it moved the Tigers back into a first-place tie in the American League Central with the Indians -- who lost to the Giants, 1-0.

"Obviously, I was kind of the poster boy for this game, but you look around and there's many guys, and that's the way we've been winning," Verlander said. "It's easy for those guys to get overshadowed, everybody kind of battled tonight, it was a team effort. Everybody went out there and did a fantastic job, top to bottom in the lineup."

Verlander's counterpart, catcher Alex Avila, backed up the pitcher with an offensive outpouring.

One day after Verlander started a Twitter campaign to get Avila into the All-Star Game, the catcher helped his pitcher with a 3-for-4, four-RBI game, which included a three-run home run in the fourth inning that put the Tigers up, 5-0.

Despite the early lead, Verlander didn't feel in rhythm until the fifth, when he worked out of a 2-0 count to strike out Wily Mo Pena.

"I went 2-0, and was able to really spot up two fastballs down and away to get myself back in the count, and that was kind of the turning point for me," Verlander said. "I know that was a little bit deep in the game, but that's really when I felt like I could establish a rhythm and locate pretty well."

From then on, Verlander allowed just three baserunners -- two of which came in the eighth, when a leadoff walk and double put runners on second and third with no outs.

But Verlander struck out Ryan Roberts, Kelly Johnson and Upton to end the threat and his night. The final at-bat included a 100-mph fastball, as Verlander didn't expect to be coming out for the ninth.

"Once second and third happened with nobody out, I kind of said, 'Well, no point in saving anything,'" Verlander said. "Let's go after these guys and see if we can strike some guys out."

Verlander became the third Tigers pitcher since 1972 to strike out 14 batters in a game, joining teammate Max Scherzer -- who did it on May 30 of last year -- and former teammate Jeremy Bonderman -- who did it in 2004. The franchise record for strikeouts in a game is 16, set by Mickey Lolich, who did so twice in 1969.

During the eighth inning, Verlander let himself soak in the moment. The fans roared, not only hoping Verlander would get out of the jam, but do it with style. A swing and a miss by Upton and a small fist pump gave the fans what they wanted.

"I kind of took a minute and took it all in after I struck out the second guy," Verlander said. "I just stepped off the mound because it's easy to let your adrenaline get to you in that situation. Just take a step back and kind of soak it up a little bit, because it's not often you hear a roar like that.

"I've heard it a few times in this stadium -- I've been through some pretty special moments here -- but that was one of the most vocal performances that these fans have put on."

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