Tigers' late rally comes up short in loss
Sheffield, Magglio go yard as Tigers drop second straight
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland feared something was off when he saw Justin Verlander's warmup tosses on Saturday night. He could tell it more clearly once he saw Verlander fire a first-pitch fastball high and inside on Orlando Cabrera.
And after a second straight one-run loss to the White Sox, this one a 7-6 decision Saturday night, the Tigers' predicament in the American League Central standings is quite clear. This was a big game, and Verlander -- like everyone else in a ballpark filled to capacity -- was all too aware of it.
"I didn't like what I was seeing," said Leyland, whose team is now 7 1/2 games behind the White Sox in the division. "He was a little like a bull in a china shop tonight, just couldn't get himself under control. And that happens. I'm certainly not mad at Verlander. I'm just making a point. He couldn't get himself under control."
Verlander has become the Tigers' big-game pitcher for a reason, and with an eight-game unbeaten streak, he came into the night as one of the hottest starting pitchers in baseball. Still, he had to battle perhaps the one irrefutable frustration of his career: The White Sox have a way of hitting him.
The last two nights, the White Sox have shown a way of making big plays to pull out a close game and thwart a Tigers comeback.
Verlander entered the game with just two wins in 11 career starts against the White Sox, but one of those victories was in their last meeting. His complete-game four-hitter against them June 11 started him on his unbeaten streak that included wins in his last four starts and eight straight outings with two earned runs or less. With a Comerica Park record of 45,280 in attendance, this was Chicago's night to gain some revenge.
Verlander went through the White Sox order with three hits and three strikeouts, taking a 1-0 lead into the third on Gary Sheffield's second-inning solo homer. However, Verlander needed 45 pitches to do it. He went to a full count on four of the nine hitters as he tried to corral his arsenal.
"I was out of rhythm," Verlander said, "and my fastball control in particular was nowhere near what I wanted it to be. It was all over the place. It's one of those nights where it's like even the good pitches I made they hit well."
The big hits came in a four-batter span of the third. After Cabrera and A.J. Pierznyski hit back-to-back gappers to plate one run, Verlander left two 96-mph fastballs over the plate and paid for them. Carlos Quentin turned on the first, sending it deep to left for his AL-leading 27th home run of the season. Six pitches later, Dye put one into the left-field seats for a solo shot, his second homer in as many nights against the Tigers and 23rd lifetime against Detroit.
Verlander settled down to retire six straight after that, allowing a three-run Tigers fourth to tie the game. Soon after that, however, Dye's go-ahead RBI single chased Verlander from the game with nobody out in the fifth, 110 pitches thrown and two runners left on base. Jim Thome's double off Bobby Seay and Nick Swisher's sacrifice fly plated the runners, leaving Verlander (8-10) with seven runs allowed on nine hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
According to research on baseball-reference.com, he became the first Tigers pitcher since at least 1988 -- and just the fourth Major League pitcher since 2001 -- to throw 110 pitches in a start and not record an out in the fifth inning.
"Verlander was just totally out of sync, all pumped up before the game apparently, just way out of whack," Leyland said. "That happens. We talked to him on the bench to try to slow him down a little bit, slow the game down a little bit. But for whatever reason tonight, he just couldn't do it."
It was a reminder that even with Verlander's talent, he's still a young pitcher in just his third full big league season. It was also a reminder of what the White Sox can do against a good pitcher, especially Verlander.
"I thought they did a good job with their at-bats," Leyland said. "The last time he faced them, he pitched very well against them."
For all of Verlander's low-scoring no-decisions and losses early on this year that put his record in a hole, the Tigers almost returned the favor on Saturday. After Magglio Ordonez's sixth-inning homer off White Sox starter John Danks drew Detroit within 7-5, the Tigers loaded the bases off Chicago's bullpen, setting up a two-out showdown between Carlos Guillen and Octavio Dotel.
Guillen fouled back three straight 0-2 pitches before Dotel fired a fastball in the dirt that skipped past Pierzynski and continued to the backstop, allowing Edgar Renteria to score and put the potential tying run at third. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Dotel came back with a cutter at the knees and off the inside corner that sent down Guillen swinging.
"He threw a cutter," Guillen said. "Everything moved. He threw strikes."
White Sox relievers ended the last three innings with strikeouts to strand the potential tying run in scoring position each time. Dotel overcame an Ordonez double leading off the eighth by retiring the side in order after that, fanning Miguel Cabrera and Marcus Thames. After Curtis Granderson's two-out double in the ninth extended the game against Bobby Jenks, the White Sox closer pulled off a rare feat by striking out Placido Polanco on a full-count fastball.
"Jenks struck out one of the toughest hitters in baseball to strike out," Leyland said. "Give him credit."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.