DETROIT -- A matchup pitting one of the National League's bigger surprises against one of baseball's best tipped in favor of the more distinguished of the two on Tuesday night.
On a night when Lance Lynn never looked comfortable, defending American League Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander preserved his offense's early lead with relative ease. Verlander led the Tigers to a 6-3 series-opening win over the Cardinals in front of 36,733 fans at Comerica Park, where St. Louis is now 2-12 all-time.
"Our guys did all right," manager Mike Matheny said. "We weren't overmatched. It would have been nice to see Lance do what Lance normally does and then we go out there and have a nice tight game."
Instead, the Tigers raced out in front early and endured only a brief scare from the Cardinals, who didn't score until the sixth.
Looking to match the Mets' R.A. Dickey with a Major League-best 11 wins, Lynn instead took his third loss of the season.
"With a team like this, if you're behind in the count, they're going to hurt you," Lynn said. "And that's what happened tonight. I have to be better than that, especially with who they had going for them. You have to come with your 'A' game if you plan on having any success against this team. Tonight, I didn't have it."
Lynn threw first-pitch strikes to just 14 of 25 batters he faced, largely the result of untamed fastball movement. The Tigers were aggressive early, when Lynn was too often over the plate. Detroit then found success in being patient late, driving Lynn's pitch count up as he labored.
The Tigers scored more runs off Lynn on Tuesday than opponents had combined for in Lynn's other three June starts.
"He looked a little bogged down from the beginning," Matheny said. "It wasn't how he's pitched all year, but young pitchers are going to have those days. Those first two [innings] were really tough on him."
A pair of two-out hits and a walk helped move the Tigers in front, 1-0, in the first. Three more Detroit runs scored in the second, which began with three consecutive singles.
The third hit of that bunch was intended to be a sacrifice bunt, but David Freese's decision to cover third instead of charge in on the ball cost the Cardinals an opportunity for an out. Runners were on first and second at the time.
"He bunted it further than I thought," said Freese, who retreated, thinking that Lynn could throw to him for a forceout at third.
"It's obviously a ball that I have to read better and go get. There's a lot of factors with it, but it's definitely a ball, when you look back on it, that was critical, because we didn't get the out."
Indeed, while Lynn did field it, the bunt ended up not as a sacrifice, but as a single. By the time he got to the ball, Lynn didn't have a play at any base.
"When I first took off after it, I thought there was a chance," Lynn said. "But he put it right between us. It was kind of a do-or-die play. He laid down a good bunt. That's all there is to it."
Austin Jackson's one-out double plated two. Quintin Berry followed with an RBI groundout.
Detroit increased its lead to five with Delmon Young's second RBI single of the night in the fifth. Shortly after, Lynn exited with a pitch count of 102.
"I just wasn't sharp," Lynn said, "and they made me pay for it."
Lynn's ERA rose from 2.42 to 2.80, pushing him out of the NL's top 10 in that category.
Verlander, on the other hand, was mostly what he usually is, though with a few more walks than is the norm. With a four-pitch mix, he limited the Cardinals to two hits through the first six innings. St. Louis finally scratched across one in the sixth, when Matt Holliday drove Daniel Descalso home with a groundout. Descalso and Carlos Beltran had knocked singles earlier in the inning.
"He's a tough matchup," said Descalso, who accounted for two of the five hits Verlander allowed. "If you get to two strikes, he's got a bunch of stuff he can put you away with."
No better was that displayed than in the seventh.
After a two-out fielding error by Tigers left fielder Berry gave the Cardinals two gift runs in the seventh, Verlander then walked Holliday -- who represented the potential tying run.
He answered by going at cleanup hitter Allen Craig first with three straight fastballs -- all of which clocked at least 100 mph on the radar gun. He missed with a curveball and then got Craig to swing through a slider for strike three. That left the bases full.
Afterward, Verlander said of that pitch: "One of the best sliders I've thrown. Ever."
It was his last pitch of the night. Verlander is now 18-2 in Interleague Play.
"He can tune it up when he has to, obviously," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He made a nasty pitch. He got a big, huge strikeout, which we needed at the time. That was big for us."
Tigers' relievers Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke retired all six batters they faced to close out the win and drop St. Louis to 4-6 against AL teams this season. The Cardinals, whose record sagged back to .500, have lost the first game in each of their last six series.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.