09/19/07 12:07 AM ET
Verlander hurt by long ball in Cleveland
Tigers ripped by Indians as Central climb gets tougher
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
"Six hits, four home runs," Justin Verlander said. "I've never seen a line score like that."
The other numbers aren't going to be any easier to digest. With the Indians' lead in the American League Central back up to 6 1/2 games, their magic number is down to five. Meanwhile, the Yankees continued to beat up on the Orioles, widening New York's Wild Card lead to 4 1/2 games with 10 games to play and reducing that magic number to seven.
Even with the Tigers mathematically alive, they've been forced to admit that the Indians are surging towards finishing off this division race.
"You can see it. They're inspired," Ramon Santiago said. "You can see their record. They play really well at home. Everybody's playing good. It's one of those years, like we had last year. Everything went our way. They've been able to do that.
"What we did last year, we came back like that. When you come back like that, everybody's inspired -- the pitchers, the hitters, everybody. It's unbelievable. They're playing great. That's all I can say."
If anybody on the Tigers could put a stop to that momentum, it was Verlander (17-6), who entered this must-win game with a dominant four-game winning streak that included just three runs allowed over 28 2/3 innings with 26 strikeouts. The only extra-base hits he allowed in that stretch were three doubles and a home run.
Asked to explain the difference in this one, Verlander needed just six words: "Every mistake I made got hit."
Verlander had more to say after that. Manager Jim Leyland's postgame comments lasted about 20 seconds.
"All his soft stuff was up," Leyland said. "He made some mistakes with it, and they capitalized and hit it over the fence. That pretty much sums it up."
Only one of the four home run balls he allowed was a fastball, though it was the deciding one. Victor Martinez hit a 95-mph heater out to left leading off the sixth inning to break a 4-4 tie.
In terms of momentum, however, the big blasts came earlier. The Tigers built leads in the second and third innings, only to see the Indians tie it up both times by inning's end.
While the Indians thrived on the long ball, the Tigers had 12 hits in five innings against Jake Westbrook. Marcus Thames' second-inning double, however, was their only extra-base hit. That set up the first of two RBI singles by Santiago, making his third straight start count with his second straight multi-RBI effort.
Three pitches into the bottom of the inning, that advantage was gone, courtesy of Ryan Garko's home run to left-center.
"It was early in the count. I was trying to throw a get-me-over curveball," Verlander said. "It stayed up in the zone."
An inning later, three straight singles from the middle of Detroit's order set up the bottom half again. Westbrook nearly escaped, inducing a fly ball to shallow left on a 2-0 pitch to Carlos Guillen before striking out Ivan Rodriguez. With the bases-loaded scoring chance seemingly vanquished, Westbrook lost Thames to a four-pitch walk that scored Placido Polanco and brought up Santiago for another ground ball through the right side. Two runs scored on that play.
Cleveland needed four batters to answer while Verlander battled his command. After Casey Blake flew out on a 2-0 pitch, Verlander issued back-to-back walks to Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera. With a 1-1 count on Travis Hafner, Verlander wanted to mix up his pattern and go with a changeup.
The offspeed pitch hung just enough, and Hafner was waiting for it. The ball went 429 feet out to right, giving the Indians a tie game again.
"He was right on it," Verlander said. "He was thinking the same thing I shouldn't have been."
Verlander actually settled down from there, retiring eight out of his next nine batters, but Detroit couldn't give him the lead back. Once a Rodriguez groundout stranded runners at the corners in the fourth, the Tigers had left eight runners on base through the four innings. The Indians had stranded two.
"We did a poor job of hitting," Leyland said. "We got them out there. We had Jake on the ropes and didn't do anything about it."
Westbrook allowed four runs, three earned, on 12 hits over five innings had a no-decision. It was the same result he had last month at Comerica Park, when he dueled Nate Robertson to a game that remained scoreless into extra innings.
"He was in and out of trouble all night and was able to make some big pitches to get out of it," Verlander said. "He and I had about as opposite line scores as you could."
The final two homers proved the difference. After Martinez connected on Verlander's fastball off the plate, Franklin Gutierrez followed Kenny Lofton's single with a 434-foot drive midway up the left-field bleachers.
Six hits, four home runs, 1,672 combined feet. As vastly different as the line scores looked, the distance between the teams seemed bigger than the course of the games would suggest.
"You can see it. They feel like they're close," Todd Jones said. "We helped them with that by letting them win those first two games of the series, but they're a pretty darn good team."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.