Verlander denied win No. 19 as Tribe rallies
Hurler's 10 K's not enough as Tigers are swept in Cleveland
CLEVELAND -- This was Justin Verlander going out his way. It just wasn't the result he or the Tigers wanted.
Verlander's 3,745th and final pitch of the season, and his 121st of the night, was a 101 mph fastball that he blew past Shin-Soo Choo to strand the bases loaded in the seventh inning. His final seven pitches all hit 100 mph or better on the Progressive Field radar gun -- some of them in the upper 90s on the SportsTime Ohio gun -- leading to his 218th and 219th strikeouts of the season.
Still, no matter how hard Verlander threw, he couldn't pitch the Tigers back in front. It's the result, not the velocities, that stuck with him after a 4-3 loss to the Indians completed the Tigers' second doubleheader sweep in Cleveland this year and their eighth straight loss here.
"It's not what we wanted, not what we needed," Verlander said. "My team gave me a three-run lead, and I wasn't able to hold it."
It wasn't anywhere near what the Tigers expected. Thanks to Tuesday's rainout, they sent their top two starters, Max Scherzer and Verlander, to the mound on the same day against a young lineup that Tigers pitchers have largely commanded this year. They had every right to look for two wins that would clinch their fourth winning season in five years.
Instead, they left town two games over .500 heading into a deceptively difficult, season-ending four-game series at Baltimore, and wondering how they could've been swept here again.
"We found ways not to win," manager Jim Leyland said, "and they found ways to win."
Hours earlier, Leyland said his team played in the 4-0 loss in Game 1 "like it was a Spring Training B-game." He meant the offense, though he said Scherzer looked very much out of sync after seven days of rest.
The nightcap was different. Detroit had a 3-0 lead in the middle of the second inning thanks to Ryan Raburn's two-run homer and a rare infield bloop single from Johnny Damon. Verlander was trying for a second straight 19-win season and perhaps a chance to earn his 20th with a start Sunday on short rest. Leyland entertained the possibility.
At the very least, Leyland badly wanted to get Verlander this win, which is why he stuck with his ace during the seventh-inning jam. Verlander wanted it for his team, which explains in part why he could reach back for that kind of velocity at the end.
"In all likelihood, it is my last start of the year," Verlander said, "and there's no reason to keep anything left in the tank. Just let it all go. Obviously, the situation warranted it."
His downfall wasn't those pitches, but a few key ones several innings earlier. A two-out breaking ball in the dirt to Luis Valbuena skipped past catcher Gerald Laird for a wild pitch that allowed Jordan Brown to score without a throw in the bottom of the second.
Verlander struck out three of Cleveland's next five batters before Shelley Duncan connected on an 0-2 curveball for a one-out double off the left-field wall in the fourth. Verlander retired Brown, then put Jayson Nix in an 0-2 hole.
Nix fouled off a 97 mph fastball, then got an 89 mph changeup over the plate that he centered back through the middle for a single and a 3-2 game.
"I felt like I made some not-so-smart pitches, in particular the changeups that I threw, knowing that's not one of my better pitches right now," Verlander said. "Sometimes it comes and goes. Right now, it's not there."
But the fatal blow came in the fifth, once Verlander lost ninth batter Lou Marson to a one-out walk after an 0-2 count. Michael Brantley hit his next pitch to the right-field fence for a triple, tying the game and setting up Trevor Crowe.
"We had to do what we had to do just to score to get ahead in the game," Indians manager Manny Acta said, "because you just can't sit back and challenge that guy."
Leyland and Verlander suspected they might try the squeeze bunt, but they did not call the pitchout on that pitch. It was actually a reaction on both Verlander and Laird.
"I was prepared for it," Verlander said. "I felt like he took off a little bit early from third, which gave me the opportunity to elevate it. I just did what I could. Gerald saw it, too. He was coming out like it was a pitchout, so I probably could've thrown it a little farther out."
Maybe, it was still high enough that he shouldn't have been able to get it down.
"With runners in scoring position and less than two outs, he tends to work up with his fastball," Crowe said. "So I just kind of anticipated that it was going to be up. I didn't know it was going to be that up. I just tried to get on top of it."
Somehow, he did. Once he did, Brantley's jump and his speed gave third baseman Brandon Inge no play.
"I was really surprised," Laird said. "That pitch was like 97 mph up. He just did a good job. That's a tough pitch to get on top of, but you have to tip your cap."
It was a combination of a big night's adrenaline and an offseason's worth of conditioning that allowed Verlander to reach for triple-digit velocity and keep them in it from there. But the damage was complete on both sides. Those three early runs comprised the entire Tigers scoring in 18 innings Wednesday, perhaps reflecting how valuable Miguel Cabrera is among MVP candidates.
Verlander (18-8) was at the top of the dugout in the eighth inning to see if his team could turn Ramon Santiago's two-out single into a tying run. When they didn't, he went back into the clubhouse, nothing left to do.
He was impressive, overpowering, but not victorious.
"That's a game we should've won and didn't," Leyland said, "because we didn't execute."