CHICAGO -- All season the Tigers have played with a No. 11 patch on their right sleeves to pay tribute to their late former manager Sparky Anderson.
On Tuesday, that number took on added significance as the Tigers won their 11th straight game in a 5-0 shutout of the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Led by Justin Verlander's 11th straight victory and designated hitter Victor Martinez's 11th home run of the season, the Tigers matched their longest winning streak since Sept. 9-21, 1968.
The win also extended Detroit's lead in the American League Central to 12 1/2 games, its largest advantage since holding a 15-game edge to close out the 1984 season. Anderson, whose No. 11 jersey was retired earlier this season by the Tigers, led the club to its last World Series title that season.
While the World Series is still a long way off in the Tigers' minds, they took another step toward clinching the Central against the White Sox, lowering their magic number to four games. And even more important, perhaps, is that Verlander said Tuesday's outing was the best he's felt in about the last month.
Though the ace found himself in some early trouble, he battled his way through it, throwing 106 pitches over seven scoreless innings. The right-hander used a double-play ball to strand a runner at third in the opening frame, then came through a two-on, two-out jam in the second and a bases-loaded situation in the third unscathed.
"There's positives and there's negatives," said Verlander, who improved to 23-5 on the season and 14-1 with a 2.54 ERA in 15 starts against the AL Central. "The positives are there were no runs on the board; the negatives were I was just a hair off. However, it's probably the best I've felt in the last few starts. I really felt like I was getting back into that rhythm I've been trying to find for a while now."
Through five innings, however, White Sox starter Gavin Floyd seemed up to the task of trying to hand Verlander his first loss since the White Sox defeated him back on July 15. In the second inning, Floyd gave up a leadoff double to Miguel Cabrera, who later scored on an Alex Avila fielder's choice to second baseman Gordon Beckham, but then silenced the Tigers until the sixth.
Clinging to that 1-0 lead, Verlander forced Beckham to fly out with two on and two out in the second and then retired Beckham in a bases-loaded jam in the fourth. After walking Brent Morel for the second time, Verlander struck out Beckham on what manager Jim Leyland called "unhittable pitches" from the "best pitcher [he's] ever managed."
After two fastball strikes topped 100 mph on the radar gun, Verlander got Beckham looking at a 1-2 pitch on an 85-mph curveball that caught the low outside corner.
"Well, we got first and third early in the game and we couldn't score," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "We got bases loaded a couple of times and we don't have the big hit. When you face a pitcher of that caliber, you got to get it done before he starts making his pitch."
With the White Sox missing out on those opportunities early, Martinez finally gave Verlander a little more breathing room in the sixth. Following a one-out intentional walk to Cabrera to put runners on the corners, Martinez fouled off six pitches before depositing Floyd's ninth pitch of the at-bat into the right-field seats, extending the lead to 4-0.
"Well, he made good pitches in that at-bat, and I was kind of lucky to get a hit," Martinez said. "At least make contact and get it foul. He made some tough pitches to me, and he just left one up over the plate and I just put a good swing on it."
"That was huge," Verlander said. "1-0 is a lot different than four. It's not too hard to score one run, but four is a little bit different, so that definitely allowed me to go out there and be more aggressive. That's probably the reason I was able to go seven innings."
Verlander retired six of the final seven batters he faced after Martinez's long ball before turning things over to reliever Joaquin Benoit in the eighth. Benoit retired his first two batters, but then gave up a walk and a base hit before issuing another walk to load the bases. The right-hander struck out catcher Tyler Flowers to preserve the 5-0 shutout.
While the Tigers have outscored their opponents 89-31 during their best run in 43 years, Leyland isn't paying too much attention to his club's September surge.
"It's nice, don't get me wrong," Leyland said. "I certainly can't say we haven't gone on a nice run at the right time, because we have. They're going about their business like pros and, right now, winning games. That's what it's all about."
Paul Casella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.