PITTSBURGH -- Justin Verlander couldn't have hoped for much run support as he prepared to pitch Sunday, not after the five total runs he had seen Detroit's offense produce over the previous four games from his spot on the bench.But as it turned out, the ace right-hander would toe the slab at PNC Park against the Pirates backed by an early two-run lead, thanks to a first-inning homer from Quintin Berry. That went a long way in supporting No. 35, who went the distance at PNC Park, allowing five hits and striking out seven in the Tigers' 3-2 victory.
With the win, Verlander moved to 4-0 in five starts against the National League this season. The right-hander's career record against the NL is 19-2."We had the horse going, and he pitched like the horse is supposed to pitch," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Guys that throw it 98-100 [mph], they're usually more mentally tough than guys that throw it 88."
Verlander (8-4) never actually dialed up the velocity that high Sunday, topping out in the ninth inning at 97 mph. When he reached back for extra heat, he said it didn't come as easily as he's used to."I actually didn't feel particularly great, but at least my location was there," Verlander said. "I got a lot of weak contact because of that. I didn't have the flashy fastball or anything, but I was able to pitch and go nine innings." After Verlander nearly no-hit the Pirates in May, any no-no watch evaporated practically instantly in this one, as Alex Presley led off the bottom of the first inning with a bunt single. Verlander retired the next six batters, though, not allowing another baserunner until the third, when catcher Michael McKenry reached on an infield hit.
"I wasn't too happy about the first two hits they had," Verlander said. "It's kind of like [Presley] was trying to make a statement: 'Here's our first hit.' But it was a bunt. Heck of a statement."But, it's early in the game, and that's part of his game plan ... It worked out, didn't it? I'm just glad he didn't score." Through six, those two hits were it for Pittsburgh, and neither of them came close to reaching the outfield grass. For the majority of the afternoon, the Pirates looked as lost at the plate as they did at the season's start. It seems that Verlander tends to have that effect on opposing lineups. Everything changed in the seventh inning, however. After retiring Casey McGehee for the first out, Verlander yielded a line-drive single to Pedro Alvarez. It was the first hit by the home team that left the infield, and it was followed by a game-tying, two-run blast when Garrett Jones took advantage of an ill-advised changeup. "Stupid pitch," Verlander said, "Bad location. Stupid pitch. All of the above." "He seemed to be throwing a lot more offspeed stuff," Jones said. "I was geared up for the fastball, and he gave me the good changeup that hung a little bit. I was able to stay through it and get the barrel on it." Just like that, Detroit was back at square one. The Tigers wouldn't wait very long to regain the lead, though. Berry reached on a walk in the eighth inning and promptly stole second. He scored when Delmon Young singled through the right side two batters later. Berry, a rookie, was the offensive catalyst for the Tigers on Sunday. After Austin Jackson led off the game with a sharply-hit single, Berry hit the third pitch he saw into the right-field seats. The big fly was the first of Berry's Major League career, and it came on a day when the 27-year-old was instrumental to a Tigers victory. "I willed that thing out, ever since it went up in the air," Berry said. "I was trying to push it out with everything I had. I was excited when I finally saw some fans grab it and stuff like that, because I knew it was official." The home run came as a surprise to Verlander, who was watching the game from the tunnel and thought Berry popped up. He was shocked to learn that the ball landed over the fence. Still, he was happy to have it, especially on a day when Detroit's offense underwhelmed -- again. The Tigers finished with seven hits on the afternoon. Berry's homer was the only one that went for extra bases. Prince Fielder, Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta went a combined 0-for-11. But because of Verlander, three runs were enough to win, as the Tigers finished Interleague Play with an 11-7 record. "This was a big one for us. You can't afford to come in here and get swept," Verlander said. "We won today. Hopefully, we win tomorrow."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.