Thomas powers Tigers past Orioles
Verlander wins sixth straight; Granderson also homers
BALTIMORE -- Justin Verlander needed some backup on a night when he acknowledged throwing way too many fastballs to a team loaded with aggressive hitters because he couldn't command his curve. His savior was a guy not renowned for a power stroke who slugged two opposite-field solo homers to help the right-hander salvage a victory.
Clete Thomas homered twice and drove in three runs, Curtis Granderson connected on a solo shot and Verlander won his sixth straight decision, as the Tigers beat the Orioles, 6-3, on Saturday night.
"I don't think I've [homered twice] in professional ball. I've done it in amateur ball. [The power] is there. It's just a matter of getting it to show up. It showed up tonight," Thomas said.
Thomas' second solo shot, a leadoff blast to left-center off Matt Albers (0-2) in the seventh, negated a three-run Baltimore rally in the sixth and put the brakes on the Orioles' season-high five-game winning streak. After two nights of struggling against rookie Orioles pitchers, Detroit hitters found veteran Jeremy Guthrie's offerings more to their liking. Bases-empty homers off Guthrie by Granderson, leading off the second, and Thomas, with one down in the third, staked Verlander to a 2-0 lead.
"Not the way I would have drawn it up," Verlander said. "It wasn't easy out there for me tonight, but my guys picked me up. I gave [Thomas] a big, hard high-five. Obviously, that was the pivotal point in the game. It was huge for us. We were able to take the lead and able to hold on to it. I was just as excited as he was, I think."
Neither Verlander nor manager Jim Leyland seemed surprised by the power display from Thomas, who has three homers in 80 at-bats this season after going deep once in 116 at-bats as a rookie last year. Leyland praised Thomas' approach of going with the pitches and just trying to drive them.
"You can watch him in batting practice, and he's got a lot of pop," Verlander said. "He just doesn't show it in games yet. Tonight he showed it in a big way, and we really needed it. That's the story of this team, I think. It's not a singular effort, night in and night out. It's a group thing and you never know who the hero's going to be."
"In batting practice, he hits them as far as anybody and as hard. It's a matter of time, playing and more experience," Leyland added. "He'll hit some home runs as long as he's not trying to -- and you know he's not trying to because he hit them both to the opposite field. ... As long as he doesn't start getting home run conscious, he'll be fine."
The three clouts helped Verlander (6-2) prevail after running into trouble in the fifth and sixth innings. The right-hander allowed three runs on nine hits, walked one and struck out five.
Verlander allowed Matt Wieters' first Major League hit, a leadoff triple off the wall in center in the fifth, and Nolan Reimold followed with an RBI single. But after loading the bases, Verlander coaxed Adam Jones to bounce into a 1-2-3 double play and then struck out Nick Markakis on three pitches, the final one a 101-mph fastball.
"I put a little extra on it. I gave that pitch everything I had," Verlander said.
In the sixth, Verlander allowed a game-tying two-run homer by Luke Scott, his fifth blast of the series. Leyland has spent two days lamenting the fact that his pitchers keep putting pitches where Scott can drive them. He said it won't happen again Sunday, in the finale of the four-game series, if Scott comes up in an RBI situation with first base open.
"I won't pitch to him with an open base tomorrow, I can promise you that. I've seen enough. If a guy behind him does it, so be it," Leyland said.
Scott worked Verlander for a nine-pitch at-bat before crushing his 11th homer to right field. Wieters followed with a similar patient approach -- he doubled to center on the 10th pitch of the at-bat. But Wieters was stranded at third when Reimold grounded out to third and Cesar Izturis struck out.
"I was giving them an opportunity to key on one pitch. At this level, it doesn't matter how hard somebody's throwing. If you feed a bunch of fastballs in a row, eventually they're going to catch up to it," Verlander said. "That's what I did to [Scott and Wieters], put them in situations where they knew a fastball was coming and I knew a fastball was coming."
After Thomas put the Tigers back on top, Leyland used three relievers to get through the seventh inning, with Joel Zumaya getting Melvin Mora swinging with runners on second and third to end the threat.
Detroit got some insurance in the eighth when Orioles shortstop Izturis booted pinch-hitter Gerald Laird's grounder to score one run and Thomas doubled in another for a 6-3 cushion after botching a suicide squeeze. Fernando Rodney followed 1 1/3 flawless innings by Zumaya, working the ninth for his ninth save.
Guthrie matched a career high with 10 strikeouts, but exited after six innings with the game knotted at 3. He allowed three runs on seven hits and walked one.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.